from The San Diego AA Coordinator, January 2008
I am grateful for the ever-changing quality of the inventory I generate each time I do a fourth step. In the beginning of my sobriety, the process itself felt grueling and difficult. Having to pause long enough to cull through the worst of my behaviors and admit and account for each and every one of them felt painful and left me in a sea of remorse. I felt great sorrow for how my behavior hurt me and hurt many people whom I had injured or insulted. And too, I remember the kindness and compassion that was offered to me from others who had traversed this road and had learned from it, grown from it and had truly become better people for it.
I listened to their counsel, put one foot in front of the other, and made my way into a stronger, freer place in the world. There are times, as I continue in my sobriety and move through the steps again and again, that I realize the journey of the fourth step begins to feel easier, lighter. I have wondered, often aloud with my sister and fellow AAers, what the ‘right way’ was to take on a fourth step even after the ‘worst of’ the behaviors were behind me. And through my own repetition of this step and growing sense of belief in myself, I have evolved and broadened the essence of it.
Now, moving through a fourth step brings me a different kind of experience. I won’t go as far as saying ‘I look forward to it.’ No indeed. It still brings up angst and discomfort, but it is not solely distress and uneasiness that I encounter. For me, the fourth step calls up a more well-rounded look at who I am and how I show up in the day to day, and allows me to recognize the majesty in me. I get to see my strengths as well as my weaknesses, my light as well as my dark, my talents and accomplishments as well as my wavering and uncertainty. This is truly a grand process that takes me into a much larger grid where I know I am connected to something much larger. The wholeness of all of us journeying along as humans endeavoring to be our best selves is profound.
In this current process of my fourth step, I started by encouraging myself to take a look at all the places in my life that are working well. As I listed them, I sent a feeling of appreciation for each and every gift that I experience. It can be as simple as having connections with friends, family, co-workers, and other members of AA where camaraderie and care are shared. It can include the little moments of the day-to-day where I feel connected, share a smile with someone, open a door for another, or say a simple ‘thank you’ for a courtesy. And too, this list of what is working well includes the great accomplishments of landing a lucrative client, buy- ing a new product — big or small — that brings me pleasure or support. I appreciate them all. Once filled and surrounded with this frequency of appreciation, I am then strong enough to look honestly at what is not working so well, situations where I experience conflict, disappointment, or despair.
I create this second list on a separate sheet or in a separate column. I maintain as much appreciation as possible, and I call up compassion to help me stay steady and proceed as honestly and diligently as with the first list. At this stage of my sobriety, I no longer have the outrageously dreadful actions or behaviors that used to appear in my life. However, I treat even the smallest of issue sincerely — the argument I have with a loved one in which I say something destructive or unjust, the unkind thoughts I have when someone does something I judge or detest. I list them all, and along the way, I identify what lies beneath each of these short comings, so that I can see myself fully, hiding nothing. If I become despondent, I stop and get centered. Sometimes I can do this on my own, other times I need to reach out to another to regain my poise.
I resist the drama of thinking ‘I am so horrible.’ The power or the fourth step is to stay humble and compassionate about my humanness. I remind myself that no one of us is perfect; we stumble and fall. That’s simply part of being human. I make a contribution to myself and to the whole — the grid of life — when I stay in compassion and deep care, loving myself no matter what. And as we get stronger in our sobriety, our responsibility is to go far beyond ‘not drinking no matter what’ and resolve to show up each and every moment with our best self. To be fully ‘sober’ and strong in our recovery, we must use the gift of the fourth step that calls us to experience and express our whole self — yes, to admit and correct our flaws along the way — and too, to see and communicate the gold — our magnificence and our light. We do this for all to see and benefit from. That which restores one of us, exponentially heals us all.