Thursday, February 3, 2011

“Step Four: Courage”

(This blog is fourth in a multi-part series, “Thoughts On The Steps”. This series is not a guide on how to work steps; steps can only be worked under the guidance of a sponsor. The twelve-step program is a spiritual program; it teaches us how to live a spiritual life. Working each of the steps gives us the chance to practice a spiritual principle. Whatever your particular fellowship, the Steps are the same, as are the spiritual principles behind them. These are my thoughts on the steps and on those principles.)

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step four--the 'big one'. It separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. Completing this step says a lot about someone's dedication to their Recovery. I don't know if any statistics exist, but think about it like this: most people who go to a meeting don't ever go back; of those who do go back, most don't get sponsors; of those who get sponsors, a lot of them don't actually work the steps; of those who actually do work steps, most don't make it through Step Four.

Why is this step such a big deal? What is the difficulty? All it does is ask us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and admit to our own part in all those situations where other people have pissed us off. All it does is teach us to own our own shit and stop blaming other people. What's so hard about that? Besides... everything? It's easy for us to point a finger at someone else, point out what they're doing wrong, how they hurt us, etc. Pointing the finger at ourselves is DAMN difficult. Admitting that we might be partly to blame for situations where others have hurt us? Really. Hard. It takes a lot of inner strength to own up to what we've done (or haven't done). It takes a lot of Courage.

We play a role in every aspect of our lives. Every scenario, every scene. I think human beings in general, but those of us with this disease in particular, have a tough time admitting we may have been wrong. We have a tough time owning up to what we've done--especially when we can only see what the other person has done to wrong us so badly. Part of the genuis behind this step is that it asks us to look at our resentments. What are those things we've been holding on to, those things we can't let go of? We can't make anyone else own their part, we can only own ours. By admitting to ourselves what we have done, where we went wrong, and what we can do differently in the future, we can let go of all these things that are poisoning our souls.

Sometimes the letting go happens by realizing that we weren't to blame for something that happened. Sometimes we've been holding on to things because we thought we were at fault, and we learn to accept that they weren't. Those who were molested as children, for example. Or all the times we thought we 'should have known better'. We didn't. In one, fell swoop, we learn to take responsibility for what we did (or didn't) do and at the same time allow responsibility for others' to rest with them. We learn to draw that line. We learn where our side of the street ends and where the other begins. We start taking responsibility for ourselves and stop taking responsibility for things that aren't ours. We take serious action towards putting the past to rest, letting go of the things we can't change.

It's been said many times: the fourth step isn't a thinking exercise, it's a writing exercise. Who are you pissed off at? Write it down. What did you do? Write it down. Who'd you sleep with? Write it down. You already feel the feelings, you've already done what you did; just write it all down. Once we've got it all on paper, we step back and take another look. Almost by magic, the patterns of our lives start jumping out at us. We see, time and time again, how we handle things, situations, people, and where the way we have done life has led us. We have a blueprint of ourselves and how we conduct our affairs. From this, we pivot. We see these things we have done and, with that knowledge, now have the opportunity to do things differently.

Changing takes Courage, too. For a lot of us, once we see where our previous actions have led, it becomes easier to change. We don't want to go there anymore. We want to do things differently and get different results. The Courage we learn in this step is two-fold: it takes Courage to look at ourselves honestly; it takes Courage to change and do things differently. Through making the inventory, we learn the Courage needed to make the changes that are necessary.

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