Overcoming the Fear of Step Four

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

(A.A.’s Step 4)

One, two, three… drink.

There’s an adage my friends in AA use to describe the fear of transformation, “One, two, three… drink. – One, two, three drink.” This is a reference to working steps 1-3 in recovery, only to return (often briefly) to drinking and using. To the uninitiated, this pattern may seem perplexing.

In the fantasy novels I read in my youth, I recall seeing a map of old worlds to explore. The maps would often have an area that was labeled, “Here there be dragons.” That’s what I think of when folks tell me they’re approaching step four. The opportunity to free ourselves of resentments – past pain and anger is a liberating and transformative experience.

It is generally approached with great fear and trepidation.

Start with yourself

The suggestion I most often offer to folks is to start with themselves. What are the things we need to forgive ourselves for? What are the grudges we hold against ourselves? I often find that resentments with self are held as a safeguard – as a means of ensuring that we don’t repeat the behavior. We hold them long past their expiration date.

We stay angry at ourselves to ensure that we don’t do things that we truly don’t want to do. That’s insanity in a nutshell. Our lack of self-trust is reflected in these types of behaviors. The opportunity to be seized is to see the value of forgiveness. Withholding it creates distance in any relationship. We have spent much of our lives dissociated and detached from parts of ourselves. The prospect of becoming whole requires healing each piece of our broken selves.

If we choose to work through and resolve resentments with ourselves, we are likely to discover that much of what we blame ourselves for is not our fault. We tend to redirect pain and anger caused by others at ourselves. We maintain the illusion of control through the mindfuck of “I allowed that” or “I was wrong to trust them” instead of “They hurt me.”

The need for support

There are many cautions I offer to folks who approach step four. The first is to consider that we need to have an active support system before we start dragging the skeletons out of the closet. The second is to consider our propensity for developing new resentments in the present. The steps are placed in a sensible order, but I often ask folks to simply read and practice step 10 as it’s written in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

That chapter describes taking a daily inventory as a way to ensure that we’re not building new resentments nor living in a way that will require future amends. It doesn’t make sense to me to address old resentments if we’re going to keep on building new ones. I simply ask folks to notice what they’ve collected over the course of a day that either doesn’t belong to them (other people’s pain and problems) or that they don’t wish to carry (minor slights and often anger over trivial matters).

Resentments are what most people call “baggage.” We get to determine whether we’ll continue to carry so much and whether we’ll add to that weight daily. Maybe the best way to “lighten up” is to practice forgiveness of self and to view forgiving others as a service done for self.