Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 4, 2014

Steps Four and Five: The Healing Power of Inconvenient Truths

      Well, after the personal battle of Steps Two and Three, Steps Four and Five are the beginning of respite. Even as they are terrifying to consider, for all of the anger and guilt and fear, they continue Step One’s foundation of the process of healing the whole self. They are the embracing of life after having lived a sort-of waiting-room death.

      I’m going to return to the original six steps for a moment before moving on to the versions of Steps Four and Five as are applied in the rooms:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We got honest with ourselves.
3. We got honest with another person, in confidence.

4. We made amends for harms done.
5. We worked with other alcoholics without demand for prestige or money.
6. We prayed to God to help us do these things as best we could.

      There is power in self-reflection, and there is power in confessing what we think we have hidden so well. I do not think there is an addiction out there which is truly hidden from the world. I know my actions while in the throes of addiction tend to have electronic freeway billboard qualities. Those who live closest to us see our actions; they know us through what we do. Otherwise, what would be the point of Steps Eight and Nine? If we didn’t act out in the real world through the filter of our fantasy world, we wouldn’t need to make amends.
      In my own life, others were affected when I acted out on the compulsive food behaviors. For example, I hid food. I hid trigger food behind healthy food, and I thought no one else knew about it. After I started my abstinence, within two weeks I saw my adolescent constantly go to the cabinet where I had hidden my pre-abstinence trigger food. Eventually, I learned that my kid had been more surreptitious than I, for I had no idea he was eating out of my stash and he knew where the stash was. I thought I’d been eating it all, because I had no concept of how much or little I ate when I binged near-daily. I had no self-awareness of what or how much or when I ate, and I lamented being overweight because I truly believed I moved more and ate less.
      So, Step Four, in my mind, is getting aware of what people already know about me. I suppose Step Four is letting myself in on the secrets, learning the patterns of behavior which can help me with Steps Six through Nine. Step Four is looking into the mirror, even as I’m afraid I’m looking into Nietzche’s abyss. It’s just a mirror, just looking at myself as I am. Being honest even as I am afraid to admit to myself that others saw me at my worst and my best when I refused to see myself at all. For me, that’s the purpose of this fearless inventory, as complete as my mind will allow this time. Step Four inventories and Step Five “confessions” are regularly repeated in 12-Step programs. There’s no finish line, just one day of living in reality and recovery at a time. I believe it’s because we can’t take the worst of it when we first start out. I believe there are secrets we protect ourselves from which could mentally break us before we’ve had enough recovery to face them. After confessing these secrets to myself, I then get to fret over confessing them to a trusted-enough person.
      I like having someone in program to do a Fifth Step with because I’ve found more empathy in program than with professional therapists (the doctor-patient relationship is based on an authority who can cure and a petitioner who needs curing). People in program understand the motivations and rationalizations that filter up through the addict-dysfunctional mind, and people in program have experienced snippets of my own addict history here and there in their lives. It’s part of the power of the fellowship, why it’s said one should stick around until one hears his or her own story. I consider my story is quilted from the shares of others in program, that no one person has done precisely what I’ve done. However, I am pretty sure that in the fellowship, everything I’ve experienced has been experienced by at least one person in program.
      So, Step Four as it applies to me:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (OA, CoDA, SLAA, ACA)

      There are many kinds of inventories, I’ve found. In ACA, for example, I believe the words of the step-as-written don’t actually reflect the ACA program book’s inventory. ACA seems to focus hurts done to us when we were powerless growing up and what we’ve done in response. In all four programs, one is encouraged to also write about one’s strengths, not just one’s faults. In the Big Book, however, it seems to be a list of what we’ve resented in others and ourselves. I think the strongest-worked fourth step included these questions to be answered (from my one-time SLAA sponsor):

Person, Place or Situation
The Cause (of fear, resentment, shame, guilt, etc.)
Affects (The source of Grudge List: self-esteem, security–personal/financial, ambition, personal relationships, sexual relationships, pride)
My Contribution (behaviors and attitudes which caused/escalated the situation)
What has this taught me?
What can I do about it?

      Those last two questions are practicing recovered thought after the fact, allowing for an alternative choice to be contemplated when one’s not in the thick of a situation which sends one to default to addict behaviors. Even that one option is a lifeline to give pause, to remind one that there’s not one option. It is how seconds can be split, the moment when one can act from recovery instead of react as an addict. Having a choice is very powerful, even if I choose to act out. These days, I withdraw when the anxiety gets too much for me and I know that my default reaction is a verbal tempest worthy of a toddler’s tantrum (though with the stinging vocabulary of an adult). Sometimes I don’t, and I have yet one more regret and one more amend to make.
      The ACA inventory is based from the ACA Laundry List, and is pretty complex. It’s feelings-focused, and it acknowledges the inner child’s reaction to a situation (in my case, a tantrum of anger and tears or hiding myself where no one can find me). It’s not as much an exposure of what I resent or fear or regret as much as an exposure of a pattern of behaviors which one picks up to avoid the feelings associated with childhood-related PTSD. The ACA Fellowship Text is available at meetings with a literature table, the ACA literature website, and is available in ebook format (Kindle and Nook). In OA, SLAA, and CoDA, I’m aware a Big Book Fourth Step Inventory can be done (I’ve worked BB Inventories in OA and SLAA). It depends on the sponsor as to how the inventory is done. Well, if one uses a sponsor. There are also many other guides and workbooks out there which are not conference-approved but are quite helpful. For SLAA, pretty-much any book by Patrick Carnes is considered a recommended book. I’m definitely a big fan of the publisher Hazelden Publishing, which puts out a lot of supporting literature for 12-Step recovery.
      However I choose to do that inventory, the most important part, in my personal experience, is that I choose the courage to make it honestly uncomfortable. I’m revealing the truth to myself after choosing to use addict substances to stay blind to the things which I want to numb out of existence or distract myself out of existence. The hurts don’t go away, even if others forget because they weren’t so profoundly affected by the events. For me, the purpose of a Step Four Inventory is to look at the uncomfortable truths that haunt me. Sometimes they haunt me daily; other times, I act out surprisingly, and a memory surfaces. Other times, something happens around me, and a feeling deeply reminscent from my childhood or adolescence (or a memory from childhood, adolescence, or adulthood) surfaces. The Fourth Step Inventory is a pretty good reason to carry a small notebook journal and pencil or pen everywhere. Triggers abound, and the worst hurts will burrow back into the inky depths of my psyche. If we are sick as our secrets, then the secrets from my very self likely makes me even sicker, for those secrets are the sources of my most honest and tearfully-frustrated self-query: “Why did I just do that?”
      So, next comes Step Five. Yup, after I’m raw and open to myself, generally mired in some pretty great self-loathing, I take it to someone whom I can trust:
      Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (OA, CoDA, SLAA, ACA)
      As an atheist, I toss out “to God”, and I am good to go. Some step rewrites I’ve read make “the exact nature of our wrongs” a little clearer for me. The language of the steps-as-written is definitely of its time. While I have said previously that I don’t think the organizations need to do a full rewrite of the steps, I wish that the conferences of the 12-Step programs would reach for that kind of courage needed to do Steps Four and Five to conference-approve literature which focuses on the spiritual meaning behind the religiously-worded steps. I think atheists and agnostics are treated like heathens to be converted, that a rejection of the Big Book’s God is simply my personal self-delusion brought on by a grandiose self-will. My problem is that, in program, I see making up a trancendent deity is my addict self-will run rampant . . . even if that deity has supporting literature which proves its existence to others in program.
      As an atheist, I’ve never seen any god in action. I’ve seen the program in action. I’ve seen the fellowship in action. Program is very real to me, very much exists to me. Fellowship exists, because I can drop everything and find a meeting right now if I wanted–telephone, online, or face-to-face. I’ve had spiritual experiences that can be had by any human, which have been attributed to different gods over the milennia. And yes, if the Big Book God wanted to shake me aware to belief, I’d believe. I have tried to believe; I have prayed. I “acted as if” and lost too much momentum by trying to find truthiness in an invisible aether. When I finally found a mentor in program who I truly believe could have gotten me all the way to Step Twelve for my first time, that mentor died. I was left to question “acting as if” one last time, and all I decided was that if the Big Book God existed, it was cruel and punitive to keep me from finding recovery with the help of my mentor–who was not an atheist.
      My mentor, though I did not know it until the memorial service, had grown up Catholic and did believe in God . . . though I’m not sure if my mentor was religious or not. I knew my mentor was spiritual, but I am still not sure if my mentor was religious. That mentor was willing to guide me to an atheist recovery, as he had done for others. That loss is still deeply-felt in that particular program; that mentor believed so strongly in the power of program that the spirit of the steps were more important than the steps-as-written. I carry that hard-won program lesson forward even as I struggle today with a resentment that I want to release (my resentment against organized religion and the followers of it, out of fear that I will be forced to pray to nothing in order to gain approval and indulge my codependency). I know my resentment against Abrahamic-God theists is a character defect I want to release. It’s not part of choosing to live the steps and traditions and concepts of program, just as I strongly believe the exclusionary tactics and hurtful words against atheist/agnostic groups is not part of a strongly-worked program. Exclusionary tactics fundamentally break down the fellowship and takes safety from the rooms where we are to feel safest as we struggle to extricate ourselves from lives of addiction. The promise of inclusion and the acts of exclusion are seen by newcomers. I believe program cannot survive if our individual words do not match the program principles.
      Program is supposed to be inclusive. I was told that any Higher Power would do, that I only had to act as if a Higher Power than me or my addict behaviors and substances exists. I was not told that I was supposed to “come to Jesus” in program; I would have walked away if that were the case. If religious conversion under false pretenses is what program is today? Then I have personal experience with a Christian cult which used similar tactics to get me so deeply invested that I rebelled with a ferocity which still makes me cry to remember what I did and how my confession and submission was met with disgust and anger and cruelty. I do not want to rebel against program, because it works for me, though I know not why or how. Religion and I have spent decades in a dance of betrayal and rebellion, of testing me and of testing its followers. If I am to face judgment by those in the fellowship . . . then the fellowship is lost to me and I to it.
      So, I am holding on fiercely, because of those proved gifts of program. I got mental clarity. I started seeing the promises come true in my life. I started appreciating life instead of clocking time and stirring up codependent and romantically-obsessed drama. And, most important to those who come to OA for the vanity? I lost a hundred pounds in program and have kept it off for nearly three years.
      Food abstinence, both abstinent as a COE and anorexic, is the path to a physical health that once generated a mental health and the beginnings of emotional health through a spiritual journey. However, I also see how I became grandiose in program, a “born again” 12-Stepper. I thought I had it all figured out, and my humility went by the wayside. Atheism in program is deeply humbling, because it has allowed me to revisit some of the greatest pains I have experienced. Abandonment. Exclusion. Neglect. Fear of speaking my truth because I fear being a “booted-out bastard”. I’ve been a “booted-out bastard” since childhood, and it hurts as bad in my mid-forties as it did when I was four.
      So, Steps Four and Five, which I consider have the redundancy of “admitting to self”. Step Four is admitting to myself what I’ve done to myself and others, simply in the act of being fearless enough to write down what I’ve done. It’s about not letting it pass as a fleeting thought through my mind, to be numbed away by food or social intrigues. It is an epitaph of a maladaptive thought which once saved my physical or mental or emotional state. I clung to that thought for dear life, once; I’m aware that it’s time to grieve the life where those thoughts ran my unmanageable life even when I refused to acknowledge them.
      Step Five, perhaps, is the strength to sit with another person and read the epitaphs of regret and shame and fear . . . then to have the strength to accept that the other person doesn’t condemn me for it. That the perrson has sympathy and empathy for the regrettable actions I’ve tried to run from, that I’ve tried to erase with acting out my addiction (which inevitably causes MORE regrettable actions). To be chosen to hear a Fifth Step is one of our most somber acts of service in program, I think even more than being a sponsor. We are given a life in tatters and are to embrace that person’s frailty and pain and rawness with unconditional compassion. We are an individual asked to represent the purest spirit of the twelve-step fellowship, that not one of us has an empty Fourth Step Inventory if we’ve worked it as fearlessly as we are asked to work it.
      To me, the Fourth and Fifth Steps are the fine line between humility and humiliation. The Fourth Step can be as painful as the first, in that I pick through my unmanageable life and allow myself to grieve those destructive-yet-oddly-comforting coping mechanisms. The Fifth Step is letting someone in to help me grieve, to hold my hand through my despair at what I’ve done that–had I been mentally and emotionally healthy–I would never have chosen to do. And a well-chosen recipient of my inventory reminds me that I am not alone and that I don’t have to pursue perfection. I can live my life honestly, make honest mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. I can consider my actions, past and present and future, and I can consider my choices with mindful awareness and clarity.
      The hardest part, I think, with the Fourth and Fifth steps is getting past that trust barrier. I know I didn’t trust myself when I first walked into a 12-Step room. I wouldn’t have needed to enter a room for help if I trusted my decision-making. I definitely didn’t trust others, because my mistrust of myself led to me being a target for many unscrupulous people. And even then . . . and even then, I feel so horrible that I acted unscrupulously so often, that I chose from a sense of powerlessness to be unscrupulous toward others and get a “power” high at the expense of another person.
      I regret so much of what I’ve done, and I admit that I sometimes want to go back to that in order to escape feelings of powerlessness. Another gift of program is being able to take a decision all of the way to its most bitter end and choose anything else. Unfortunately, I tend to sit in my self-loathing for even having addict-fueled thoughts instead of reaching out fearlessly to the fellowship knowing I am safe.
      Step Four and Five are about having the courage to change what I can, and I am deeply aware that I can change that self-isolating behavior if I can get through the fear. Yes, I may be betrayed, but getting it out so I can hear myself speak it and have a witness to me speaking it . . . I suppose that’s part of the first real work of program. Admitting I’m an addict doesn’t do much if I don’t examine the addict’s life as I manifested it then admit to another person the results of that examined life.
      And, having done a Fourth and Fifth Step once? I have to say that there is no relief like it when I choose the right person to tell it to. I was so lucky in my first choice to hear my first Fifth Step, and I still remember it vividly. I was expecting judgment, but I received compassion. The weight of the past, even in that limited and imperfect inventory, was lifted from my shoulders. Someone knew what I hoped was secret but knew wasn’t secret. I felt unburdened because someone accepted me as a whole person that day–light and shadow.
      I think maybe the reality of the power of fellowship was gifted to me at that Fifth Step. We didn’t pray; I think we were both agnostics. We decided not to worry about praying, since even putting it down on paper was enough to let whatever Higher Power we believed in know our intents. What was most important was that I felt human for the first time in a very long time. Fully and utterly human and not apart from humanity as either greater than or less than.
      Of course, that’s how I remember it today. There’s a journal entry which talks about it pretty-much when it happened. I used to journal all of the time. Curious how my first year or so journaling here looks nearly the opposite of the last year. I guess it’s because I truly believed I had something worthwhile to say back then . . . and now, I am left with a lot of “I don’t know”. Or at least, “I don’t want anyone to think badly of me because I am still deeply affected by my past, which I finally admit is affecting my recovery today.”
      I don’t want anyone to think badly of me because I am still deeply affected by my past. However, it’s affecting my recovery today. I have hope, some day, that I will have worked a strong program and I will have left behind these ugly thoughts sourced from my terror of being victimized in the name of someone else’s Higher Power. I hope that I will know what leads me to say such terrible things today, and I hope I will have serenity with this part of my past. It’s pure fear that fuels it all, absolute fear that someone in the fellowship will reach to me for a reason other than fellowship. I confess I am nearly paralyzed with fear that someone will speak softly and speak program gently and will comfort me before I understand why I found not-God instead of God in program. I am afraid that something will happen like it did when I was gently led into those religious institutions in the name of unconditional love and acceptance. I am afraid that I will be left, again, to tear myself apart more than the person who victimizes me, for being gullible yet again.
      And when I am hurt and shamed when I realize I was gullible? I act out my addictions. Seeing as I’m a food addict, a codependent, a romantic obsessive, and an adult child of addicts raised by adult children of addicts? A relapse will be pretty ugly if my last refuge becomes yet another place of betrayal and mental and emotional torture by people who reassure me that they are my program betters.
      Then again, I know that red flag, don’t I? Someone who thinks they’re better or worse than me in program is missing the point of 12-Step being a fellowship of equals–God-fearing, God-questioning, or Godless.

[Wow. I reread this post, and I came away a bit confused. I want to add (mostly for myself) that I’ve got some sort of wretched virusy-bacterial something-or-other today, which I received from my wonderful adolescent–who I mentioned earlier as better at hiding his trips to my trigger-food stash from me than I was from him. So . . . I’m not sure this entry (or the last, to be fully honest) makes much sense. It’s a doozy of a cold which has decided to take up residence in my sinuses after gaining quite the diseasy momentum and robustness evolving in the petri-dishlike hallowed halls of the local high school.]

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