Recovery — Step 4

Happy New Year! This is a terrific time to get to work on ourselves! For anyone working a 12 step program, or anyone who wants to use this method for emotional and spiritual growth, the hard work continues with step four. Some say that this is the step that separates those who really want to recover and change from those who just say they do. A saying that goes around recovery groups is, "One, two, three, drink," a commentary on what often happens to people who are beginning recovery from addiction but are not willing to do the difficult work of step four. Experience shows that if he just does steps one, two, and three, without continuing through the rest of the steps, the alcoholic usually drinks again.

So, settle down with pen and paper, or with a new document on your computer, and begin. Make sure your foundation is solid by reviewing steps one, two, and three and asking your higher power for guidance. Step four is our "fearless and thorough moral inventory." It is a way we can look at ourselves and begin to get free from our past. So many of us live in resentment, anger, old pain...and new pain. We are in bondage to our thoughts, slaves to our feelings. We allow outside stuff to occupy space in our brain, rent-free, to keep us unhappy and maybe to make us drink or use again. When we are thinking about old events, re-feeling (the word resentment is derived from the Latin verb sentir, to feel; our resentments are our re-feelings) old anger, we are tied to that event and time and we miss the joy of being free in today.

Step four provides a route to freedom. We get to look at us! Yuk! I can hear the din of everyone screaming, "but it's not me!", it's the other person, my abusive, sick family, my partner, boss, coworker, or the other people on the road, or the slopes. Well, they are not here, and you are. You are the one in ongoing discomfort because of your resentments. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves and our reactions to others.

There are many workbooks and formats one can follow to do a fourth step. If you are lucky and are in a recovery group, you can ask someone to help you get started, perhaps to "sponsor" you and help you walk through all the steps. Remember to KISS, "Keep It Simple Sweetie!" If it gets too complicated, it becomes too difficult for many to finish. The point is to move on, not obsess about the past. This is not rocket science; just follow some simple directions found in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous and do it! If you do not have a big book and want one, contact me and I will give you one, no charge to the first ten responders.

First, make a list of people, places, institutions against whom you have anger and resentment. Include places, like the college you dropped out of, institutions like religion, the IRS, etc. Get it down on paper...just a list. Write a few sentences about why you have negative feelings and thoughts related to this person, place, concept or institution. Write as much or as little as you want. Just do it. If you need to expand, now or later, do that, too. If you develop more anger at the same person next day, write about him again.

After writing about your resentments, write down what is affected in you...your sense of self, your self-esteem, relationships, whatever. If it is your boss or coworker who is the recipient of your anger, perhaps your job and financial security are at risk. You do not have to do this perfectly. It is not for publication or a PhD thesis. Just do it.

Now, here's the hard part...the fourth part of the fourth step is where we look at our part in these resentments. Most of the time, we have participated in them. If we are honest and careful and have someone help us, a sponsor or someone who has been through this process themselves, we can begin to see our part. Caution: children who were abused did not do anything to cause it. Repeat: if you were abused as a child, it is not your fault. This step is not about perpetuating the myth that children who were victims are responsible. If you were randomly assaulted as an adult, that is not your fault either. We can however, learn from everything. Sometimes we find out that our part is simply in choosing unhealthy people to keep in our lives. Sometimes we find out that we did harm to someone and wonder why they retaliated; often we know. Either way, we need another person to help us see ourselves. Remember, our head can be like a bad neighborhood; you don't want to go in there alone!

Get to work. It will not be easier to do this tomorrow; do it today and find someone to help you and be available when you have finished so you can do step five...that one requires the participation of another person.

 

Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver info@docdawn.com.


 

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