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

Came to believe…

When I staggered into my first AA meeting in July of 1986 I didn’t know what exactly to expect. I had a few friends who’d managed to stay sober but knew nothing about what it took. Like many before and after me, I heard the word God in the reading of the steps  at that first meeting and immediately bristled. Why? I don’t know. I was not brought up with any religious background and really had no reason to be afraid of the word God, but, nonetheless, it bothered me. In fact it bugged me so much that I went back out and tried to control my drinking on my own for another three months after that initial meeting.

On sheer will power, I managed to string together a few days of sobriety but, inevitably I started up again. I quickly realized that my own will power was not enough for me to stay stopped. I had to find a power greater than myself. I found that in the second step of AA:

Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The founders of AA understood the varied dynamic of people’s spiritual, religious, agnostic, and even atheistic leanings and address it in great length in the basic text of 12 step recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, aka the “Big Book.”

In fact, they discovered that those who managed to stop and stay stopped had a common thread-spirituality. This was baffling to many in the medical community at the time.

As I mentioned in my  previous post, I had no problem with the first step when I finally had been beaten. I knew I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable.

But, when it came time to work the second step, I struggled.  Even after reading “More about alcoholism” and “We agnostics” in the AA “Big Book,” I didn’t know if I could “get it” and worried I would drink again. These chapters address very real concerns for those struggling with a concept of a higher power. My sponsor at the time said that I didn’t have to fully explain it or even understand it. Rather, he asked me to address this short question from page 47:

“Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?”

When I was willing to believe, my life began to change.

At first my higher power was a doorknob-something to focus on besides the floor, when I sat in a meeting.

After a month or two, I began to feel better on the inside. The mental obsession to drink began to wane. Soon my eyes lifted up from my shoes or the doorknob and I began to witness the “lights go on” in other newcomers who came in after me. I saw them smile. I listened to their stories and those of others and identified with what they were going through. In the meetings, many AA’s talked about a “Higher Power” or spirituality as the key to their sobriety. I listened and began to believe that this “Higher Power” would work for me too.

As a reminder to the steady stream of newcomers in meetings, one old-timer used to say,”If the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will scare you right back.” His statement always got a chuckle, but it was true. It took me awhile, and the word God scared me away at first, but I had nowhere else to go. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober, even if that meant developing a better understanding of the spiritual experience necessary to stay sober in AA.

Today, I honor my faith daily. I nurture it and maintain constant contact with my higher power whom I call God. It has become a regular part of who I am.

The benefits are clear:

Not only has the obsession to drink been removed, but when I maintain and grow my connection with God, my days are good. When I don’t intentionally practice a spiritual way of life, I drift along in self-will. I quickly become selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking and my days turn to shit in a heartbeat.

Getting sober is not an easy task. It takes work. You may think that after thirty years of sobriety it is automatic for me to be nice and “spiritual”. Hardly. I have days where I am a complete asshole. Fortunately, I am much quicker to recognize it and change my attitude and when I don’t, I have a wife who is not too shy to let me know.  Like anything worthwhile, I must practice spiritual living daily. When I do, I am filled with joy and gratitude and life doesn’t seem to be such a struggle. Today I choose to be happy, joyous and free.

For more on my personal journey, check out Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.

Peace.

Shawn

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” – Lao Tzu

The first step in any endeavor is always the most difficult.

For some the fear of failure keeps us stuck where we are and trying to find the courage to begin often becomes paralyzing. We think of all the things that could go wrong and may worry that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, brave enough, educated enough or whatever.

For others, the converse is true. It may seem silly, but there are many people who are actually afraid of success.

It doesn’t matter what it is that we seek,the reality is that it takes courage to start.

When it comes to addiction this can’t be more true. Millions have vowed to never drink again or ____ (fill in the blank). Yet, for those, like me who have addictive tendencies, the day comes again when temptation and desire overpowers any modicum of self will and, once again, we’re off and running.

For me this was a vicious cycle that, though it only lasted a short time, brought me to my knees, begging for help.

When I was nearing the end of my drinking career I vividly recall the utter insanity in my head-

It was a summer day in 1986. Stoned, coked out, and drunk, my heart pounded inside my chest.  I laid on my back in my 8′ x 8′ room staring at the 7′ wainscot ceiling above gasping for each breath, afraid that if I fell asleep I would not wake up.

My mind raced. Voices entered into my head as if they were speaking to me. I heard my mom telling me to get help. Others- my grandmother, my brother, and close friends and relatives, all implored me to get help. They were all talking over each other. I got scared. The room started to spin and I couldn’t shut the voices off. I put one foot on the floor hoping it would stop the room from spinning. It helped for a bit but the voices clamored on- “You need help.” “We love you!”  “Hang on.” Each one seeming to call out to me like angels from on high.

I heard them but wanted them to go away. I thought I was either going insane, dying, or that I may have a problem with drugs and alcohol.

“God help me!” I cried out. “Make it stop!”

That incident was the catalyst that brought me one step closer to seeking help.

As many before me, I wasn’t done yet. I thought I could control it. I would stop for two or four days then be right back at it for another week or more.

Near the end, I recall actually going to a bar one night with the intention of getting wasted. I ordered a double-nothing. I ordered two more. Still nothing. Alcohol had stopped working.

Why? Because I was an alcoholic; I had lost the ability to control my drinking.

But I had not yet been beaten down to the point of admitting it. That would take a few more crazy episodes, one in which I literally hallucinated that my mom had called an insane asylum. They were going to put me in a straight jacket and take me away.

Eventually I gave in. I admitted lost the ability to control my drinking and checked into a 28 day rehab. That was on October 10, 1986.

After three days of detox, I was introduced to the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Step One:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives were unmanageable.”

I was beaten and fully surrendered to taking the first step toward a journey that would change the course of my life forever. For that, I am eternally grateful.

This is the first of  twelve posts, in which I will outline a portion of my experience with the twelve steps for one sole purpose- to carry the message of hope for those who still suffer.

If you or someone you know has struggled or you are currently in recovery, I encourage you to follow this series. Share it if you want. I am just another alcoholic who has not found it necessary to drink or use drugs, one day at a time, since October, 10, 1986.

Step One
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—
that our lives had become unmanageable.”