Let the spring tide wash away the past – How to do a 4th step.

(The fourth installment of a series)

As we move further away from the cold and damp of winter, the sun begins to shine, and the air becomes fragrant with the early blossoms of spring. Sparrows, finches, and doves  work diligently to prepare their nests for their new chicks.

Spring is full of all that is vibrant and new.  It is full of life.  A time of Easter and baseball, and, for many, it’s also a time of spring cleaning.

We throw open the rain-stained windows letting fresh air in. Old toys and clothes are hauled away to a local charity. Gardens are planted in anticipation of a bountiful harvest of juicy tomatoes and fresh, home-grown, organic vegetables in late summer.

It’s also tax season. For many businesses this is a time to take stock in what has happened over the previous year and set budgets for the new fiscal year. Some business owners may look at ways to improve their revenue or cut expenses asking: Are we better off this year than last? What do we need to do differently to change, to grow? Where can we improve? What new opportunities are there? Challenges? How about our people? Are we pouring into them, training and equipping them  to benefit all stakeholders?

The nice weather may inspire a fresh start at new year’s resolutions that were quickly kicked to the curb through the last of the winter doldrums. Ones to work out, eat better, or plan summer vacations. Every day we have a fresh start, the key though is to start.

Did you know people spend more time planning a vacation than planning out their goals for the coming years?  It is no secret that many successful people have a healthy perspective of their strengths and weaknesses, and are what many call, “self-aware” and  diligently set and achieve goals. For those with lasting recovery, it is no different. There are steps to follow if one is to achieve lasting sobriety.

In previous blogs, I have written about steps one, two and three.

The First Step: A Journey of a Thousand Miles
The Second Step: Came to Believe
The Third Step: Made a Decision

The steps need to be done in order to the best of your ability, before attempting the next one.

Today, I am going to talk about the 4th step:
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Like spring, the fourth step for those in recovery represents a fresh start – a way to look at the underlying causes and symptoms of our addictions – the things we “drank and used” over.

You might be wondering what a fourth step is – what does it mean and what does it require?

There’s a simple plan to properly complete a fourth step. The entire process is outlined on pages 63-71 of the basic text for AA, 4th step

In summary, to start, one makes a list of their resentments – people, institutions, and principles –  that they are angry about. In addition, it is imperative that the inventory  include sections that outline and list our defects of character, fears and sex conduct.

For those new to the 12 steps or not in recovery this may sound like an easy task right? I mean how hard can it be to make a list of some of the things that piss us off or that we are afraid of? Well, that’s usually the easy part. The more challenging part that many don’t want to address lies deeper – taking an honest look at our character defects, or sin, and our sex conduct along with trying to look at the seeming cause of, and our part in, each situation.

It is easy for the simple things like making a shopping list, or cleaning out our garage, but for the things that cause us pain, shame, or guilt or which evoke some form of emotion, even making a list can be a challenge. Those are often things we don’t want to look at, let alone make a list of to later share with a trusted friend or pastor. We procrastinate and find a hundred other distractions to avoid taking an honest look inside at what the root causes of our inner turmoil.

I was no different than many in early recovery when it came to starting my fourth step. I balked. Why? Because I thought I was alone. That nobody could understand what I was going through. I was ashamed and full of fear and guilt. I was also worried about telling some of my secrets to another, but was reminded by my AA sponsor, that that comes in the fifth step and that I only had to complete an inventory now.

For alcoholics this is a life or death step. As the AA big book says, “Resentment is our number one offender…” Holding onto resentments leads us to drink and, for us, to drink, is to die.

Therefore, for the alcoholic, completion of this step, as well as the eleven others, is critical to not only lasting recovery, but to life.

There is a specific format and instructions on how to do this in the Big Book.  As with all the steps, counsel with a sponsor (someone in AA who has already worked these steps) is highly recommended.

You’ll want to get a notebook and create four columns. The headings should be as follows:

  • Resentments (broken out into three sections)
    People, Institutions, Principles
  • Fears
  • Character Defects (Flaws)
  • Sex Conduct

Here’s a sample outline:
4th step outline

Be mindful however that the list as discussed above is only part of the solution. The complete solution as outlined in AA, is found by reading through the Big Book and working all 12 steps, with a sponsor, and developing faith and trust with a power greater than ourselves through the fellowship of AA.

The solution is spiritual.

I know I cannot get sober of my own will power. That I found, was part of the problem that keep me out there so long. I can’t merely work my way into sobriety. Don’t get me wrong, it takes effort. But for the mental transformation to bring about lasting sobriety,  I had to get to a place of surrender as I have already discussed in previous blogs; to admit my problem, come to believe in a power greater than myself, which  I call God, and becoming willing to turn my will and life over to that power greater than myself.

By design, the spiritual solution and concept of a higher power is open-ended to enable alcoholics of any faith background, or none, to get sober if they want to.

As Maxine, an old-timer, used to say at virtually every meeting, “if the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will scare you right back.”  She also would make it clear, that, “if you don’t do your 4th, you’ll drink a fifth! ”

Those words saved my life on several occasions. Usually when I was stuck in feeling sorry for myself agonizing over a new resentment that had surfaced. I knew I had work the step and pray to have it removed. I did the work, and left the results up to God. It worked.

The good news is for the fourth step we need only make the list and take a look at our thoughts, attitudes and actions and be willing to change. Faith is what relieves us alcoholics from the deadly grip of the spiritual maladies we’ve outlined in our fourth step; we see what the problem is, admit it, become willing to give it to God, and move on to the next step.

Don’t quit before the miracle. The miracle of recovery happens in the next step.

Know this, you’re not alone. Chances are high that we have a few things in common.

If you’d like to learn more about my own personal recovery journey, of pick up a copy of my book.

Thanks for stopping by.

God bless,

Shawn

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