Step Four – Josephine's Experience
Step four has undoubtedly been the most helpful and beneficial exercise that I have ever undertaken. I hope that I can offer some encouragement for those about to embark on their moral inventories, by sharing some of my own experience with you.
To begin with my Sponsor had me reading pages relating to this step in the Big Book (pages 64 to 71). Prior to taking the steps my entire life was ruled by resentment and fear and stuff that went on in my head. I was paralysed by them.
Page 52 describes their devastating effect on me: "We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people." Resentment and fear drove me back to drink time and time again, ensured that I messed up every opportunity I was given and eventually led me into a nuthouse.
I was shown how to do my inventory in three sections: resentments, fears and sexual conduct. The Big Book tells me that resentment is the "number one" offender. It kills more alcoholics than anything else. Your sponsor will explain to you in detail how to write down your resentment inventories and also give you some real life examples from their own experience. I was shown how to write my inventory in columns. I listed the people, institutions and principles with whom I was angry. I asked myself why I was angry – keep it brief and to the point though. In the last column I matched my own shortcomings (or defects or character) to each resentment.
The precise method and list of defects may vary but the basic principle is the same in all cases. The book is trying to get me to see my part in the resentment. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The Big Book now encourages me to look at these resentments from an entirely different angle. I needed to put out of my mind the wrongs that others had done. That was irrelevant at this point. Even where someone else may have been in the wrong, I still had to disregard them entirely. I was to resolutely look for my own mistakes. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man's.
In many cases, I was so sore and burned up with resentment that this seemed almost impossible to do. How could I look at my part in things when the other person’s fault was so glaringly obvious!? Well if I wanted the promises that the Big Book tells me about, then that’s what I needed to do. It took some praying to my Higher Power to show me part in things, but the more I practised and persisted the easier it became. I learned not to linger in the second column but to get straight into the third one.
On a practical note, my Sponsor suggested that I do no more than an hour at a time each day. I was working at the time, so I did an hour as soon as I got home and first thing in the morning at weekends. I then put it in the draw and out of my mind until the next day. Taking ten minutes out to ask God for guidance and perhaps call a newcomer helped get my mind focused. Like many people I had an unusually tidy house during my step 4! You will probably find yourself doing things like ironing your curtains to avoid all this paper work. I just kept reminding myself that one of the best and most practical ways of demonstrating that I had been serious when I took my third step was to crack on with my step 4. I made sure that I was meeting up with plenty of newcomers and also keeping in touch with longer-term members, who gave me the encouragement that I needed. I also found it helpful to carry a small notepad around with me during the day. Often old resentments would all of a sudden pop into my head at the most inconvenient moment. With a head like mine, it would bug me until I could get it down on paper. By jotting it down I could forget about it until later. We absolutely insist on enjoying our lives – even whilst taking our fourth step!
Once I had come to the end of my resentment list I was shown how to list my fears. Again, your sponsor will guide your through this, but basically there are two types of fear. Phobic fears and self-centred fears. Phobic fears are often things like fear of spiders or fear of heights. They do not usually have defects attached to them. Self–centred fears are things different; they have defects attached to them, the fear of going bald for example. Defects such as pride, lust and envy are raised. We list each fear and in the second column we take it down to its root. What is the very worst that can happen? Very often it is death.
The book gives us a solution to fear. We ask God to remove our fears and direct our attention to what He would have us be. At once we began to outgrow fear.
I then moved onto my sexual conduct. This part of my inventory was again done in columns. The name of the person I had harmed in the first column, then the nature of the harm and then my faults. Like with my resentments I wrote down events fancied as well as real. It was often the things that went on in my head that worried me the most. I was told that I was ‘as sick as my secrets’ and sharing these things with another human being would relieve all the shame and guilt that I had around these types of things. It really helped that my sponsor was willing to share things with me. If they had had the courage to write these sorts of things down, then I could too. I knew they had done similar things, or worse, then no one could judge me. As Bill W. said "Who dared to be judge, jury and executioner of his own sick brother?"
Whatever things you have done and whatever things that you have thought, you are welcome here. Nobody can chuck you out for what is on your step 4.
I was given some helpful tips by those who had gone before. At this stage I am taking my step 4, not my step 5. I did not need to tell my sponsor any of this stuff at this stage; I only needed to write it down. Personally, I found it really helpful to get the ‘big stuff’ down first. I prayed for the courage and wrote it down precisely. Again, no essays – brief and to the point. Then I headed straight for the last column. It was then done and out of the way. I didn’t need to worry about it anymore. Besides, once it was down on paper it never look as bad as it was in my head.
An important word of warning now! It is very worthwhile to keep your step 4’s well hidden from family members, house mates etc. I kept mine in one of those metal locked boxes that you can buy from newsagents. Having a loved one find it could cause unnecessary grief for everyone concerned.
You’ll notice the benefits as soon as you start this step. I would often find myself getting cross in a supermarket queue and then realising it was just my impatience. I would say something a bit silly and know that it was only my pride. I felt certain that I was on the right road and really going somewhere. Family relations started to improve as did my work life. It was no coincidence that when I was putting daily effort into my inventory, my life outside of AA improved. If you work full-time, speak to those who did also and find out how they managed to fit it in, similarly if you have kids. If you are not working, don’t use coffee as an excuse to balk at your step four – get an hour done first and you’ll be at your best for the newcomer.
Josephine P., Road to Recovery group, Plymouth, April 2010