While doing the 12 Steps I had a profound change of thought and attitude. It changed my whole view of the world from negative to positive. It made alcohol an afterthought. I didn’t even have to resist drinks. I hardly noticed them and didn’t miss them. Part of the total change was doing my Step 4.
A vital component of Step 4 was looking at my resentments and fears. In particular, while listing all the people I hated and what I thought they’d done to me or thought of me, I looked at what faults in me contributed to the hatred, anger or regret. For each grudge or regret I made a list of my defects of character. If I hated Fred for cutting me off in a meeting at work: it would be my pride (how dare he, I’ve been told what to do and I don’t like it, he doesn’t respect/like me). It would be my self-pity (poor me, I’ve been humiliated again). It would be my dishonesty (what a hypocrite, I cut off Jim just the week before!)
I basically got honest. Before the Step 4 I was blaming Fred for all my bad feelings. After the inventory I realised most of my bad feelings where caused by my emotional reactions. Reactions I could not blame Fred for.
But here’s the thing. While doing the Step 4 I hardly had to think. I had a list of defects, with generalised descriptions. I write down a name, the thing they’d done or I thought they’d done, how it had harmed me, and my defects of character involved. I rarely had to think deeply about my defects. I simply looked at the list of defects and descriptions and scribbled down the ones which were relevant. For some reason, my brain understood before I did. The repeated application of this process in Step 4 led to a creeping honesty. Before the end of the Step 4 I understood I HAD THE POWER TO NOT FEEL BAD. Not all the time obviously. But most of the time.
In addition, I began to view everyone in the Step 4 in a new, more forgiving, way.
Then I got to the last 3 steps, which are the steps we keep doing for the rest of our sober lives. Step 10 said: keep using the technique of Step 4 when you get more resentments and fears. So I did.
For a while all was fine. I’d do a Step 10 (i.e. Step 4 technique) and feel some relief as I looked at the truth of my defects involved. It wasn’t some other person that made me feel bad, it was my reaction. Phew! I feel better already.
As the years went on, without even noticing it, this began to change. The Step 10 seemed to stop having the impact it used to have. I would convince myself it did. Perhaps pretend I felt better and push down the resentment. Or if it was too much, seek relief by calling my sponsor, moaning, and getting him to say “It’s ok”.
Was I being dishonest? Yes and no. I was being dishonest in that I was doing Step 10 too automatically. Way back, when I did the Step 4, I could do the whole thing automatically and it still worked. It was new to my brain, and it could change my brain. But after years of Step 10, my brain was unimpressed. It was just seeing another list of words, which through repetition had come to lost their emotional content. I’d become too “good” at the writing which meant I could almost list the defects involved without thinking.
I wasn’t being dishonest, I was being irresponsible. Once the Step 10 stopped being effective in the way I was reacting to it, I should have noted this, and sought a solution. But I didn’t. I just ignored it, or moaned to my sponsor. He presumably assumed I was being honest with my Step 10. I certainly presumed that I was!
Eventually, I had to admit to myself that the Step 10 was not working with the way I was reacting about it. I then changed my way of doing inventory a little. In the years since then, after I have written down a defect I either make a note of why it’s relevant, or think in detail in my head all the reasons why it’s relevant. I don’t just write down Pride and carry on to the next defect. I think or write something like: I hate the thought of him thinking he’s better than me, people would hate me if they knew how weak I was, the truth is that I want to get away with putting people down like he does, etc. I wouldn’t just write down dishonesty, I also write or think: I’ve done something much worse than that so how can I think he’s a sh*t, wait a minute he may not even realise he did it, actually I’m not sure it’s what he meant at all, etc.
The downside with this was that IT TOOK MORE TIME AND EFFORT. But the upside is: I feel like a responsible adult.
People sometimes say “I do exactly the same things now as I did when I started in AA”. This is laudable, but a little inaccurate. I cannot stay happy in the 12 Steps today with the same attitudes to them and my life that I had all those years ago. I need to grow in understanding and practice. My sponsor can’t take responsibility for this. He cannot keep a spreadsheet of all his sponsees and where they are in their spiritual growth and their practice of the principles of the 12 Steps and AA. It’s up to me to change. This requires honesty. But honesty doesn’t help unless followed by action.
And that requires responsibility.
“All A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just two words: humility and responsibility”, Bill W.
Member of Plymouth Road to Recovery Group