Step 4: Soul Searching
There is a saying in the 12-step programs that recovery is a process, not an event.
The same can be said for this step — more will surely be revealed.
This is the booger bear, the big one, the step that every new recovering addict is scared to death to tackle. I know people that waited years and years before they eventually folded from the guilt, remorse and emotional pain and took this step. In fact, I was one of them. I had to relapse after a LONG dry time before I was motivated to look inside myself and see the hand I’d been dealt in this lifetime. The underlying growth that I did in Step 4 was to face my fear. You write down your fears in this step, but I faced an even bigger fear by facing myself. The act of starting Step 4 was a huge act in facing my biggest fear – looking at what I’d done and been over the past 40 something years.
I finally realized that Step 4 was just a formality. All of this stuff that was inside me was there, eating my lunch, whether I chose to acknowledge it was there or not. I was like the cat who hides her head behind the table leg thinking he’s hiding. So, 16 or 17 years after I first got into recovery, I was eager to take this step. I was dying. And, I was told that this was the answer to heal.
For those of you not in recovery, Step 4 is the fearless and moral inventory. You write down all of the resentments you have. Comcast Cable was one of mine. I resented Fundamentalist Christians. I hated their judgment of others. I had resentments against a lot of people who had hurt me, disrespected me and otherwise trampled all over me. But, the kicker is that I also had to look for my part. My part was often that I had motives that were pretty self-serving. My part was often that I expected them to be different than who they are. I often had to get help figuring out my part on those because I truly was ignorant as to my part. Now, that I have some recovery behind me and I know my patterns, it’s easy for me to pick out my part. But, this first time around was truly a learning experience.
I chose to write mine on the computer because that’s the way I think best. I know some sponsors don’t like that, but mine didn’t mind. I ended up with 33 typed pages of fears, resentments and shortcomings. It was ugly. But, it was me. It was the me I’d lived with all my life. It was the me that had acted on my own impulses to try to make myself happy. It was the me that was a baby inside but wanted so desperately to grow up and be whole. I just didn’t know how to get there. What I didn’t know was that there were some wonderful things hidden in there that my sponsor would help me mine during the next step. What I didn’t know was that Step 4 was the ticket to getting out of the hell I’d been living in. Step 4 is the one that separates the chaff from the grain.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”
All spiritual paths that have any merit encourage soul searching. The ones that don’t really don’t offer any healing or growth. You can’t grow if you don’t know where you need to grow. You can’t forgive if you don’t know what to forgive. You can’t begin to set boundaries if you don’t know what’s yours and what belongs to others. I always hear that our secrets keep us sick. This step is the one that is designed to get all those secrets out on paper. And I know that writing is the catalyst that gets something out of my head so that it quits jerking around with my brain and my heart. It’s the act that frees me.
In reality, Step 4 is the preparation for an even scarier Step 5. It made me write down and search through my own heart for what I needed to share in Step 5. But, I could only take Step 4 without looking forward to Step 5. If I thought about the fact that I would have to share this with another person, I might censor my inventory. “Don’t worry about Step 5 yet,” my sponsor said. “Just concentrate on doing the most thorough Step 4 that you can.” I did……because I realized …..finally….. that I didn’t know it all. All that crap I was writing down was evidence that I needed some additional input. And…I wanted….longed for….craved…what she had. And this is how she got there.