Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step 4 & 5

Step Four - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step Five - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

"When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically."

As I have been in the rooms of AA, I have seen many people stop working the steps at Four and sit at Step Two or some version of Step Three for years. Maybe they have not hit bottom, are to fearful to continue, maybe they are not desperate enough or are not willing to be honest with themselves; I don't know. But whatever the reason, eventually they either drink again or in some cases they do stay sober but live sick in a life filled with shame, resentment and unhappiness. Before AA I had never taken a searching, fearless and honest moral inventory of my life before, in fact I doubt I was aware enough about my life to even do so. However, once my sponsor got me to Step Four and Five and walked me through how to do them it made perfect sense that a honest moral inventory was vital in order for me to begin to view life and myself in a different, more healthy way. I was also desperate enough to continue working the steps and I wanted to live a happy, joyous and free life. I wanted to be free of the bondage of my past and gain a clean slate so I could live life to the fullest and learn how to be present. It was clear that I personally could not simply live life without alcohol without having some sort of relief and my sponsor told me that Steps Four and Five within the program of AA would bring me that relief.

Step Four consists of making lists of people, institutions and ideas that we have resentment towards, our fears and our sex conduct. It also uncovers the worst of our actions and the harm we have done to others. The Big Book lays out directions on how to do a Step four in great detail and I come from a line of sponsorship that takes those directions very literally. It works and has worked for many years so I don't feel a need to explain or add to the method that is written in the text.

Although every single step is vital and life changing as it is worked, I personally feel that Step Four and Five are especially life changing and therefore important to do carefully. My sponsor describes our lives before working the steps as being like a garbage full of toxic crap and waste. If all the crap in this garbage can is not emptied out, the can scrubbed clean, set back up and refilled (by our Higher Power) it will continue to fester, ferment and will keep us in bondage. Over the years my actions, dishonesty and selfishness continued to add more and more toxic garbage into my life until it almost completely blocked anything and everything good from my view. I would drink to feel but more often I drank to not feel, think or consider where my life was going.  As such I had to find things outside of myself that I could latch onto to give me any sense of meaning or happiness. Most of the time I would latch onto another person who seemed to have some sense of themselves and where they were going. Problem was I had nothing to offer in exchange, or so I thought, so I would be whatever I thought they liked or wanted. I would continue to use that person/relationship until I used it up, they moved on or I saw that the person was as lost and mixed up as I was. Then I was on to the next thing or person on my never ending search. The end result of my lifestyle was emptiness, loneliness, a dishonest fraudulent life and an incapacity to feel anything close to genuine affection for others. I was 100% convienced that I had nothing to offer, no one really liked me and if you knew what I was really like inside you for sure would not want to have anything to do with me. Yet I longed to connect and yearned to belong.

It is often said in AA that we are only as sick as our secrets. I never considered the fact that my secrets separated me from others, blocked me from having healthy relationships and made serenity or peace impossible. Many alcoholics feel somehow unique in life, like you don't quite fit in anywhere and most of the time never feel a "part of."  I didn't realize that I lived my life in the state of "terminal uniqueness" and I used my secrets and "uniqueness" to excuse my behaviour and my drinking.  It didn't matter what the topic, I had some reason or event that could be used to rationalize, justify or excuse my behaviour. In my mind, I had a "unique" childhood, inattentive, absent parents on one hand and highly religious, overly aggressive with discipline on the other hand. I was forced to move a great deal as a child, which always made me the new kid or "unique", rarely developing deep friendships or bonds that lasted through the next move. My education as a child was "unique" since I was always changing schools, which meant I was always behind in the material and had no parental push to apply myself. I had every excuse to not succeed in school. I was sexually abused by a person of authority at my boarding school when I was 15 years old, which made me carry tremendous secrets. I was married the first time at age 18, and later I grew to resent the fact that I had missed out on my teen years, college, partying, dating and adventure. In my first marriage I live on a farm and was fairly isolated from anything other than work and church. I felt that I had nothing but chores and church facing me day after day and I of course felt completely different from the other "farmwives" in the community. I was extremely discontent as I stood by watching my life pass me by without having really lived at all. So once I started drinking at age 28 I used those attitudes to excuse any excess I had with drinking. I would claim that I was only doing what everyone else had done in their teens and college years. That I was having to learn late in life how to drink responsiblely and that I was just inexperienced. Since I had spent my 20s on a farm working, I felt entitled to live it up to the fullest and my favorite montra was that "I'm only trying to have a little fun."

Once I discovered alcohol I felt for the first time that I could relate to others, I could relax and I could get relief from the discontent inside. Once again, I felt I had found people who "really knew" about living life, having fun and these people didn't judge me. When I found drinking friends I truely felt accepted, that they really cared about me, they encouraged me and never made me feel bad about myself. I was 100% sure my new lifestyle which included alcohol held the answer to my happiness and the key was right around the bend or in the next fun filled alcoholic night. However, my search for happiness did not end and as my drinking progressed the emptyness remained and only increased. The path of destruction I left in the wake of my search grew wider and included more and more innocent people. As frustration, guilt, despair grew and my merry-go-round search for happiness never ended, the only solution I had was to stay numb with alcohol. It worked, I did not care about anything or anyone, except where it benefited me. Alcohol made life possible, it allowed me to laugh, cry, dream, still the guilt and fear. Alcohol allowed me relax. Nothing bothered me and nothing much mattered after the fifth martini or into my third bottle of wine. When I was drinking I could also continue to excuse, rationalize and justify everything I did. Life was short and I was on a single minded quest for whatever would bring me the happiness I longed for and thought I deserved. I thought that if only I could find the right person, idea, experience or amount of attention and affection I would be happy in this life. I was always on the hunt for THE party, THE fun, THE relief, THE answer, THE relationship, THE attention, THE job. Problem was I simply was having a hell of a time finding it, so I kept running and searching. Step 4 and Step 5 brought me to a halt, dead in my tracks. Everything I thought about my life, about other people and what I thought would make me happy was turned up on its head. I got to see what was inside me and who I really was as a person. I was gently shown that I was an extreme case of "self will run riot."

I have come to believe, and have observed enough real life examples, that terminal uniqueness if not addressed can cause depression, a very dishonest, destructive life and in extreme cases lead to suicide. Although for me the writing required for Step 4 turned out to be insignificant in the overall scheme of things, what my sponsor did with my written list during Step Five had a tremendous impact. It was what my lists revealed about my life, under the direction of my sponsor, that enabled me to begin to look at everything from an entirely different perspective. As the Big Book points out, Step Four is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process in an effort to discover the truth, to disclose damaged or unsalable items and to get rid of them promptly and without regret.

One of the most important insights I had during these Steps is that I had been held in bondage by holding onto my past, by my resentments, anger, self pity and by my fear. Resentment is the number one offender and it destroys more alcoholics than anything else. A life that includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. I wasted years of my life, that might have been worth while, by living in anger, resentments and self pity.  One thing is clear, I never lived in the present and I was never in the moment regardless what I was doing. Instead, I was always living in the past, re-feeling (resentment) everything that had been done to me or I was in the future with some fantasy of how I would show everyone. I lived my entire life thinking that eventually I would find something or someone that would fulfill me and I lived with a "I will be happy when" attitude.  Problem with how I lived was that I was looking everywhere but at myself.  I fought against the reality that my past could not be changed or be any different than what it was and that I could not control the future regardless how hard I tried. Since I had never taken a honest moral inventory I thought what was wrong with my life was everyone and everything else. Although untrue, my mind told me that nothing ever worked out for me and that if only things would go in my favor I would be happy. In reality I had every opportunity and many successes. I was able to attend college in my late 20s, I got almost every job I applied for and have had several prestigious jobs, I earned a law degree and successfully practiced law, I have been able to travel abroad and extensively in the US and I have had many fun adventures along the way. However, because of my mind, secrets, shame, selfishness, resentments, etc., it was never enough and I never could enjoy the moment because I was always running from something or grasping for more.

With alcoholics our hope, of living a happy, joyous and free life, is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience. Living with resentment is infinitely grave, in fact the Big Book tells us it is fatal. When I harbor resentments, self pity and secrets I shut myself off from others, myself and my Higher Power. I had tried everything in life to be happy; I tried self help books, thinking positively, relationships, material things, alcohol and drugs nothing worked. As such I had to be prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. I came to realize that people who wronged me in my life were spiritually sick, just like I was spiritually sick. I also came to realize that although there were some events in my life that harmed me, that I did not deserve and were not of my doing or choice how I continued to view or use those events throughout my life kept me in bondage even though years had passed. I came to realize that I had to put out of my mind the wrongs others had done to me and I resolutely looked for my own mistakes in how I used my past or how I acted in the present. I had to look at where I had been selfish, resentful, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? If I looked at my life, while completely disregarding the other person involved entirely how did my life honest look. I realized that just because I had the best of intentions at times that did not mean my actions matched up at all. I could not look at what I meant to do in life or how I meant to act, all the "could haves" "should haves" "going tos" and "if onlys" didn't count. I had to look at "I did" "I was" "I am."

I also came to realize that fear touched almost every aspect of my life. I would have told you I was a brave person and many people would have said the same about me simply because I did what I wanted. However, that was not being brave, it was being selfish. The truth was that I was completely afraid. I was afraid of not being loved, not being liked, not being smart enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, funny enough, being alone, looking stupid, of failing, of not being right, missing out, not being included, not "being" somebody, the list goes on and on. I was afraid of not getting what something I wanted or losing something I had. In the Big Book it says that fear is an evil and corroding thread and the fabric of our existence is shot through with it. In my life, fear set in motion trains of circumstances which brought me misfortune that I felt I didn't deserve but eventually I realized that I had set the ball rolling. In my past when "terrible" things happened to me, even in early sobriety, I could not or did not see that I myself had (I am going to say 99% of the time) set the ball rolling and brought the trouble into my life. Now there are some things such as being sexually molested at 15, that I did not deserve nor do I take blame how another human being harmed me. Unfortunately, when people's self will runs riot other people do get hurt. (I have to admit that I also have deeply hurt others, even people I love.) However, even in a situation such as being molested what I have to be concerned with and take a look at was what did I do with that event once it was over? How did I use that event in my life? I now see that I carried that event for years and used it to justify whatever I did in relationships. In my mind, no matter how unfeeling or selfish I was in a relationship, it was never as bad as what happened to me at 15 and so how could anyone be upset with me for hurting them. I was victimized so I was not to blame. 

One of the reasons I had, and still battle fear is that I do not feel that I am enough. I have never been "enough" and so I tried to fill that huge gaping hole inside of me with everything and everyone. I discovered that nothing I could fill it with was enough either. Not the sports cars, the Harleys, the money, the job, the men, the excitement, the clothes, the attention and not the alcohol. Through AA I have realized that I am god's kid and that is enough.
Another reason I was so fearful and resentful was that self-reliance failed me, I could not manage my life, my mind or my feelings. During the Third Step (and every day since) I gave my will and my life over to my Higher Power to do with and build with as my Higher Power saw fit. If that is the case and I wanted to be free (just how free do I want to be) I had to let go of all my resentments, all my fears and all my unforgiveness. I had to be released from the bondage of being controlled by everything and everyone, of my past and my future. I had to be willing to see that others are sick and I had to take action by spending time praying for each and everyone of those people I hated and resented (yes each one). By letting everything and everyone out of the mental jail I had placed them in, what really happened was that I found my own freedom from that prison. I could be 100% free of them, the harm that was done to me, my past, my shame, my secrets, my lies, my resentments and my fear. I could be an open book. I could talk about everything and I could admit I was also wrong. I could admit that I didn't know everything. I could be useful rather than right. I could feel that lightness in my heart and mind, instead of heavy depression and the wish to die which I had carried with me for over a decade. I could be still, have peace and a calmness. I don't have to push my agenda in every situation. I do not have to carry my "story" with me in life. I learned that I don't have to deny my past or wish to shut the door on it, but instead my past, in god's hands, has become the greatest asset I have in helping others. I had to forgive and be free of my resentments and fear in I wanted to stay sober and live happy, joyous and free.
The Fourth Step also deals with our sex/relationships. We are asked to review our own conduct over the years, not other people's conduct. Where had I been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had I hurt? Where had I unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? It does no good for me to review all that had been done to me, again that is all beyond my control. The good news is that I can do something about my own behaviour and that I have found has rearranged this whole area of my life (as long as I practice these principles). I was taught to ask god to mold my ideals with sex/relationships and to ask god help me to live up to them, then I must be willing to grow toward it.

As I mentioned before, Step Five seems to be the step where many of people stop working the AA program.  I know that my fear, abandonment, rejection issues and resentments, plus the walls I had built around my heart certainly made Step 5 a fearful proposition. However, a solitary self-appraisal is insufficient and our secrets keep us sick. To tell another person all of the issues that we have just written about is a fearful and humbling experience. But most alcoholics lead a double life when we are drinking so this is the time where I for the very first time became entirely honest with one other person, who was my sponsor. I have come to believe that getting all this crap out of our lives is a life and death errand with every twist of character being illuminated, every dark cranny of the past was looked at. It is my hope that anyone who does these Steps has a sponsor who works closely with them and who guides them carefully through it. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. I was positive that my sponsor would reject me, judge me, "dump" me or at the very least, feel different about me. But none of that occurred. I found true acceptance, love and understanding for the first time in my life. My sponsor took time to interject and share some of his own story with me when it related to what I was sharing. By doing so he gave me assurance that I was not judged, others had done exactly the same thing or worse and above all he cured me of my terminal uniqueness (which was just ego in disguise). I have to admit it was difficult, scary, painful, emotional, draining and it upset everything I thought I knew for sure. It actually tipped my whole world upside down...how I related to god, the world, ideas, to others and to myself all began to shift.

As my sponsor helped me through that time and the world stopped spinning, I found that this new way of life was awesome! I can say that I was free of so many things right away and have continued to get free of many others as I discover other areas of my life in which I have been in bondage. I can honestly say that now I can look the world in the eye. I can be alone at perfect peace and ease. I have learned to forgive because I so desperately want to be forgiven. My fears and resentments have subsided as I have learned to let my "story" go. I am able to live my life right here, right now and not in the wreckage of my past or in the fear of my future. I am able to be of service to others. I realize that it is none of my business what other people think or say about me and I don't have to bristle when I am criticised or ignored. I can promote others instead of myself and truly listen to what others have to say. I now try to daily to trust and rely upon god on a daily basis; an infinite god rather than my finite self. I am in the world to play the role god assigns. Every morning I take the action and give up my life for that day. Throughout the day I try to remember to do as I think my Higher Power would have me do and treat others as noble guests that are brought into my life, which does not leave any room for fear or resentments. I ask my Higher Power to remove my fear and resentment and to direct my attention to what I should do and be. When I take these action I at once commenced to outgrow fear and resentments.

Do I do any of this perfectly or all the time...absolutely not! However, it is a comfort for me to know that it is progress not perfection and that every day I get to get up with a clean slate and see how I get to serve god's kids in that day. I can also honestly say that because I have done the work required in Steps Four and Five and I continue to take the actions that I learned in those steps, I  have began to feel the nearness of my creator and I have had a spiritual experience (which has become daily spiritual growth). I have felt a new freedom and a new peace. I get to walk hand in hand with the spirit of the universe and it doesn't get any better than that!

1 comment:

  1. Hello ,

    I am an internet marketing manager for Hickory Wind Ranch, a sober living environment in Austin, TX. I am contacting you about the opportunity for a guest post on your site. We've got some great articles about sober living and addiction recovery. We would also be open to posting some of your content on our blog as well.


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    Chris Galis
    Hickory Wind Ranch