Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Taking A Personal Inventory

  • A tush check is standard procedure for new kilts.

  • Back in November and into early January I posted a lot of the work I was doing on reworking the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous online. Some of you noticed that this kind of died out. The reason for that is simple; I was procrastinating doing a fourth step. In itself this is not an unusual thing in recovery, I would venture that if you walked into any 12 step group and asked, you would find at least one or two people procrastinating doing a fourth step. You would probably find another one or two people willing to admit they could not stay sober, drug free, whatever, until they completed a fourth and fifth step.

    The fourth step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step five is intimately related: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. All kinds of people have all kinds of different suggestions about how to do a fourth step, but the instructions in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous are pretty blunt and explicit and you won’t go wrong if you follow them to the best of your ability. I screwed up my first fourth step pretty badly if you compare it strictly against the rules. But you know what? It was good enough to keep me sober until I was capable of doing a better fourth step. So if you are facing your first fourth step and hesitating, just wade right in, the water is fine.

    I strongly recommend that you work with a sponsor throughout this process.

    The point of the fourth step is pretty straightforward. We look at the people, places and things that cause problems for us (resentments, fear) or where we experience problems (sex, other harms). We try to learn what we did, if anything, to put us in the position to be harmed. From this we can see behavior patterns that can be changed.

    My first two fourth and fifth steps changed my life. Before my first one I thought I was a pretty nice guy who drank too much and if people would just stop fucking with me, I would be fine. As I filled out page after page after page of resentments, I began to see how angry I really was. During the fifth step, talking with my sponsor I learned that almost all of these people and situations that enraged me were situations I had created. Until then I did not understand that I constantly placed myself in positions where I would be hurt. As soon as I saw that, most of my anger simply left me; it was just gone.

    The second fourth step I did contained much less in the way of resentments. However, the fear section had really blossomed. Looking it over, I realized that almost everything that made me feel angry was something that frightened me.

    Let me repeat that: almost anything that caused me to feel anger also caused me to feel fear.

    I learned that anger has its roots in fear. Fear that I won’t get what I want. Fear of facing consequences of what I have done. Fear that people won’t like me. Fear that I will look stupid.

    I also learned that my mind has magickal, mystical magnifying powers: it can take any fear I have and make it bigger. If I disagree with my wife about where to put the desk, it will surely lead to divorce. Should I make a mistake at work, I’m taking home my personal belongings because I am certain they’ll fire me.

    Alcoholics Anonymous, through the fourth and fifth steps, has given me the tools to deflate my fears, make them right size and manageable.

    I’ll tell you a secret: that is one of the reasons I started to wear kilts. To challenge my fears that people won’t like me or accept me. I can kind of tell how good of a day I am having by my willingness to drop trou in favor of pleats. If I am not willing to wear pleats, odds are I am either really depressed or afraid.

    My latest fourth step is now complete and on Thursday I will do a fifth step with my sponsor. This one is actually a pretty big one. With a baby on the way there are a lot of fears and resentments. There’s things with work, marriage, relationships with my family and how I think about myself that are really fucked up. And that’s why I have been delaying my fourth and fifth step. I keep hoping that if I ignore these things they’ll go away.

    But they don’t go away. In fact, they get worse and want more attention and time. I’m okay now, but I know that if I ignore them too much longer the thought will pop into my head: you know, a couple of shots of vodka would really help you relax right now. No harm done, nobody needs to know. You’re under a lot of stress right now, you deserve a break.

    See, I have a baby daughter on the way. I don’t want her to see her father drunk. Ever. I have to take action. Otherwise, I truly believe that I will sooner or later wind up drunk.

    My sponsor tells me this story about how smoke jumpers fight fires in the west. When the wind shifts towards you, you can try to run away from the flames. That is what your instinct tell you to do: run away. But the fire will be faster than you and it will catch you and roast you alive. The only way to live is to turn and face that fire and run towards the fire and through it to the other side. The other side has already burned. There is no fire there. You are safe.

    That’s what steps four and five are. Turning to your resentments and fears and walking through to the other side and freedom and regrowth.

    But if you’re anything like me, you won’t do it until that fire has really toasted your ass.