A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 4

This is the fifth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend.  There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

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

The Fourth Step is where the rubber meets the road.  It is where, for the first time, we begin to put some real work into our recovery.

It is probably safe to say that the very last thing any addict wants to do is take a good look at his or her past.  Many of us have pasts that were horrible. We suffered trauma ranging from physical abuse and sexual assault to the soul-killing experience of complete indifference from those whom we depended on for love. Many of us watched as others were abused, and carried away the weight of their abuse, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. We may have lost loved ones, before or during our addictions. Some of us witnessed or experienced trauma as a result of our careers. We may originally have begun to drink or use other drugs to kill that pain, or we hay simply have drifted into our addictions. Certainly we used the pain as an excuse, once our addictions were established.

Even if we escaped personal tragedy, the effects of our addictions on our sense of self, our sense of honor and our self esteem were hurtful in their own ways. We did things that we knew were wrong, because we saw no other way to get through the next day, the next hour. We hurt people, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes because the drugs let our demons out to play. In many ways we were not nice people, and looking at the reality of our pasts is painful. We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, how we were, how we acted.

So the idea of a searching and fearless moral inventory has frightened many of us away from our best shot at recovery. There is something about the word “moral” that immediately fills us with dread, as if the only things we had to remember were our “sins.” But that is emphatically not the case.

Perhaps the most important part of the 4th Step is looking at the ways in which we did live our lives as we would have liked. We look at the kindnesses, the ways we were able to contribute, the skills that we brought to bear for the good of others. We look at how we loved, and how we showed it. Perhaps we failed to do the best possible job, but we did try — often. And often we succeeded. To deny these things is to deny half of who we are. Just as we must come to terms with our mistakes, so must we come to understand that we had our successes as well.

Our inventory must take into account all of our selves — not just the part that we numbed with alcohol and other drugs, but also the parts that we can feel good about. We look at our lives realistically, and in doing so we find not only the things that we must change, but the parts of ourselves that we must nurture.

The principle behind the 4th Step is Honesty. If we are not honest with ourselves about our past and the ways, skillful and unskillful, that we dealt with life and other people, how are we ever going to completely understand the changes we need to make? Most of us went into the process terrified, but finished not with the overblown, superficial self-image of addicts, but with a clearer idea of who we are and of the person we would like to become.

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