The 4th Step Is Not Reading the Poster at the Meeting – Excerpt from ACTS, Chp. 4

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STEP 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
     Why keep such a miraculous elixir in the dark, hidden from the rest of the world? Written moral inventory is a mind-opening and potentially life-changing tool that should not be exclusive to alcoholics and drugs addicts. The 4th Step has the power and wisdom to entirely shift our perception of self and others. As we reach new depths of honesty and clarity, the 4th Step combined with the 5th, 6th and 7th may even restore or dramatically alter our brain chemistry. How could it be? Because we are about to rid ourselves of a lifetime of resentment, fear, self-deception and the emotional turmoil that has fueled and maintained our patterns of thinking and behaving. Imagine exorcising years of baggage you’ve been lugging around and the effect that would have. Sure we can become ‘hard wired’ by our habits and our ways, but our brain chemistry is by no means static and can change at any time, especially when such an enormous amount of internal filth falls from you instantly. The potentially euphoric emptying out and shower of relief is something you do not want to miss.

     In our 4th Step, we sit down and write resentment inventory, fear inventory and sex inventory to expel the emotional and psychological garbage that has piled up inside of us. We are human. Nobody is immune or exempt from anger, resentment, bitterness, frustration, judgment, projection, false assumptions, anxiety, fear, dishonesty, self-seeking and selfishness. Emotional or spiritual poison left unchecked can turn into a volcano just waiting to erupt… yet once dissolved, there is room to allow for something much greater and more powerful to come in and fill the void. The idea for addicts and alcoholics is to replace our addiction with something at least as powerful as the addiction itself, and the same goes for any other demon. Soft, fluffy, hollow remedies won’t work when we are powerless over something. We are going to need an engine with some real horsepower.

     The problem with harboring resentment, fear and sexual misconduct is that they slowly rot us from within, eating away at our physical, mental and spiritual health. Resentment is like a psychic acid, slowly burning the soul and eventually destroying us with jade, cynicism and self-delusion until we wind up depressed and full of self-pity. It will convince us that we are somehow victims and that something outside of us is to blame for our woes, but despite the problems we may have, whether real or imagined, to blame anything but ourselves is false. The French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, once asserted that our “existence precedes our essence”. While we are certainly born with certain proclivities, traits and personalities, the idea is that we ultimately make ourselves into who we become, regardless of external circumstances. If I become a hero, I have made myself a hero. Conversely, if I become a failure, I have made myself a failure. Inventory teaches us this truth, but only if we are willing to find it and then accept it once we do.

     The Big Book notes that resentment is the “#1 offender for alcoholics”, but one of the purposes of this book is to point out that resentment will crush anybody, addict or not. The secret is to realize that resentments are born within and therefore can be vaporized without anything outside of us needing to change. People tend to think the only way to dissolve resentment is for external circumstances to change, but that is not correct. Once a resentment grows within, its energy is there to stay until we ourselves change.

     We cause ourselves to resent because it is often easier to blame others than to swallow our pride and feel the discomfort of personal responsibility. By nature, we tend to be selfish, ashamed, emotionally immature and ignorant, and it is up to us to rise above our more banal, lower selves. If we loathe or dislike some part of who we are, we often project that quality onto others, seeing it in them instead of ourselves. In doing so, we develop a false perception of events, thus clearing the path to resentment. We see events as acting upon us as opposed to creating or attracting the events to ourselves.

     Even if we are wronged terribly by someone, the resentment that burns inside is still birthed and fueled by our reaction and response to the event as opposed to the event itself. No person or thing outside of us actually turns a switch and makes us feel, say or do anything, as we alone are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Not to realize this is one of the great human illusions, next to fear. It is therefore our responsibility to rid ourselves of the resentment, and the truth is that only we can do this, with the help of God. The beauty of this process is that when we see the light and gain the ability to let go of our resentments, we can forgive. Once we can forgive ourselves, we can forgive anybody, and that, my friends, is a recipe for freedom.

     Close relationships cause most of our resentments, especially those with our parents and spouses or x-spouses. Mom and Dad are in almost every case the first two people on our list. It’s easy to resent our parents because we care so much about what they think of us. We care about how they see us and we seek their approval. When Mom or Dad disapproved of who I am or what I was doing, or if they criticized or ridiculed some part of me, you can probably guess what my natural response used to be: defensive anger, underneath of which was sadness and shame. To avoid the discomfort of my feelings, I threw it right back at them, accusing them of the very same things. Perhaps I was aware on some level that what I did was wrong. Perhaps I didn’t do anything wrong but simply felt unheard and misunderstood.

     Whatever the case, as the resentment grows, it began to warp my perception. I failed to see that I wanted something I didn’t get, that I wanted to be seen a certain way, that I was trying to cover something up and got exposed, or that some fear or shame of mine was triggered. Perhaps I was ignoring something I previously did to antagonize them, or perhaps I failed to see that Mom or Dad were just trying to protect me or teach me something and it came out the wrong way. Let’s say they did actually say or do something hurtful. Maybe I failed to see that they themselves were suffering and it wasn’t about me at all. Sure you can’t expect a kid to understand everything a parent might be going through, but we can go back and reassess what really happened. We can get honest about our own feelings and actions to see if our assumptions may have been off. Not everything is about us!

     One time my dad was on the phone with his sister, joking sarcastically that I did nothing with my life and happily leeched off of him. I fumed. It infuriated me… but it was TRUE. I was weak, depressed, insecure, and intentionally avoided my discomfort and responsibility by isolating and avoiding the world. Part of the ensuing resentment towards Dad was fueled by the deeper truth that I was a coward. Another part of it is that my dad was quite sarcastic on the phone, which I interpreted as him using my shame and low self-worth for his amusement. He wasn’t consciously doing any such thing, but because everything was somehow about ME, it solidified an enormous grudge I had towards him for years – that he never really heard, understood, knew or accepted who I was, and that he didn’t really care about me or how I felt inside.

     By writing inventory, I discovered that Dad wasn’t trying to hurt me. For one, he was having a private conversation and I was eavesdropping on the other line, and whose fault is that? Two, I failed to see how HE might be feeling. Perhaps he was worried about me or about his own finances and our future. Perhaps he was expressing that fear indirectly and I chose to construe it as offensive. In fact, years later I discovered that my father was unemployed at the time and hiding it from us. As well, he was developing early-onset dementia and was anxious about money and our future. It is so easy to make false assumptions about others, assumptions that mold our point of view – the way we see others and the way we react. The point is that we have to see where other people are coming from. What might they be going through? What are their true intentions?

     My sensitivity was also characteristic of my life-sucking depression, the conditions of which led to a very unhealthy sort of narcissism. We who are depressed are pathologically or hyper-focused on self and it becomes a self-fulfilling loop. The depression feeds the narcissism and the narcissism feeds the depression. Inventory helps us to expand our view of the world around us so we do not see ourselves as a victim, as the only one suffering out there. It prevents us from thinking that the world owes us something because of the way we feel. The world owes us nothing.

     People generally have some very old and well-cemented patterns of thinking and behaving. If we have been ridiculed as a child or had no stability growing up, we may develop a guilt complex or a pattern of self-doubt. We may even resent others for being annoyed by the doubt in our tone of voice, as the guilt practically creeps out of our pores. The truth is that we are only mad at ourselves for not being able to communicate confidently or straightforwardly with others. We are unable to say what we mean. We are passive and indirect. We beat around the bush, expecting people to read our minds. We do this because we fear being rejected for who we are. We are afraid to be honest. Imagine that.

     This sort of scenario is typical with both addicts and codependents, and unless we know why others are responding to us negatively, we will constantly be frustrated and hurt. Ironically, we usually have no idea how we come across, and sadly, this lack of self-awareness leads us to project our flaws onto others. Feeling misunderstood by nearly everybody, we become bitter and cynical and even begin to judge or criticize others in much the same way mom or dad ridiculed us. That is how we become our parents, which happens so frequently that it has become a cliché.

     My parents weren’t perfect, and I doubt if anybody’s were. I was shamed and misunderstood at times. I was also made fun of horribly all through elementary school, but should I blame any of that as the reason I became an alcoholic? Sorry, nope. To state the obvious, the booze didn’t crawl its way up my throat and pour itself down my throat. I chose to drink and use drugs because I wanted to drink and use drugs. In fact, I loved drinking and using drugs. That was my solution for life. I wanted to feel comfortable 24/7, even if it came at the expense of others, let alone my own well-being and sanity.

     So long as we continue to blame our parents, we won’t get better. Even if we don’t believe we mold ourselves into who we are voluntarily, what’s the point of blaming our parents when nothing they do can fix us or change the way we perceive things? Even if they begin to love us in the exact way we’ve always wanted to be loved, the skewed frame of mind and worldview we have developed over time can only be undone by us and us alone. I know it doesn’t sound fair, but when push comes to shove, it is our own responsibility to heal the damage that has already occurred, regardless of who or what is to blame. 

     Next to Mom and/or Dad, spouses usually come next on our list, and why not? Intimate relationships can be a hot, sticky mess, especially down the road when we have children and are left with little or no time at all to nourish ourselves or pursue our hobbies and passions. As we temporarily lose ourselves, our most challenging parts begin to surface and when the going gets rough, we are faced with the question of whether we truly accept these parts in each other and if we truly love the person we are with. Matters of the heart are complicated and confusing, and the dynamics are easily misunderstood. We often resent our spouses because 1) we know them so well, as they do us, and 2) we have expectations of them. When we cannot reconcile their respective flaws or quirks with what we want from them, we cop resentments at will…

7 thoughts on “The 4th Step Is Not Reading the Poster at the Meeting – Excerpt from ACTS, Chp. 4

  1. My husband left after 15 years of marriage. I tried to be supportive but somehow failed because i did not understand his addiction. I have been reading your blog for the past 3 years soon after he left I needed to understand why. I still find needing to understand why his addiction is more important. He blamed me for labeling him an alcoholic when he is not. He tried rehab for the third time while he was away, but soon after started drinking again. He claims that he is not drinking any more. I do not know, I have not seen him since he left 3 years ago. I have told him numerous times that I am waiting for his return, but he does not. i want to let go but I still have hope. I have no one to speak to about my pain. Addiction is very cruel to the addict and to those who love them.

  2. 👍❤ YES! YES!!! YESSSSS! OMFG I love your no BS approach to 12stp recovery. Im very similar and have been for a number of years. It was such a relief when I found your site, almost validating. At so many meetings I go to in my town they just look and act all funky towards me for sharing my experience in a no BS way.Thank you for your blogs.

  3. I want to express my appreciation for your blog and book. My SO relapsed after about 3 years of \”sobriety\” from heroin. It's pretty iffy what he was doing/not doing for 3 years, but he definitely relapsed by last summer. As most of the stories go, there were lies, manipulations, gaslighting, unilateral decisions, excuses, all with a smile on his face. He got \”wierd\” by November and I chose to leave for my safety and sanity. I went from a nice townhouse to a parking lot, and intermittent couch surfing. He became sinister and frightening. He ended up killing himself mid January. My heart broke and I struggle to come to terms with it all. After his death I read his multiple emails to me and in them he blamed me for everything in life. I discovered that he had a woman on the side since October, and had been hooking up for sexual escapades through an app. A friend later discovered that his new \”narc supply\” had posted loving comments and photos on hers and his Facebook before I left or even knew about any of it. He made up lies telling his contractors that I was stealing all his money, and many other slanders. He's left me penniless, without a home, facing this global crisis, and feeling confused trying to come to terms with my grief, despair, his behavior. I agree with your take on addiction being a spiritual matter and selfishness. When he got clean for whatever duration it was, his grandiose behavior actually was magnified, he never made face to face amends, acted like his intermittent rages up til I left were normal and never acknowledged them let alone apologize. I'm struggling to heal with the help of 12 steps I do on my own. Frankly, I haven't found Al Anon groups much different from the watered down AA groups you describe. I've found my support and tribes in other venues. I'm determined to heal and it is very hard. I still cry every single day for hours on end and I work hard to hold on. I get angry that I'm scrounging for food after he spent many thousands of dollars monthly (money he hid from me he earned). A power greater is restoring me to sanity. On another note, I had a similar spiritual experience as you describe in your book. I'm learning to not keep chasing after that although it was more real than real, filled with loving presence. So grateful.

  4. Charlie, “he who The Son sets free, is free indeed”. It’s been a 30 year Road for me dealing with this kind of living. My husband had 11 years clean when our kids were young, they had a very happy childhood runnin around playing like children should. I met Jesus when my oldest was in 1st grade n He has been around ever since- Thank God. My husband went t back to using when my oldest was 14 n my youngest was 11. Looonnng story— my husband overdosed and died on February 6, 2019. Both my guys are alcoholics- it’s been an insane road. My youngest has 7 months sober, truly looking to The Lord n growing. One of my prayers so mercifully answered. My oldest son is 30 and hasn’t been sober since he was 20. He’s constantly in rehabs, sober houses- gets landscaping jobs then just throws everything away again. I don’t know where he is – what a strange feeling— to have someone on this earth n not know where they are. But the truth is, when he was right in front of me I didn’t really know where he was or who he was. My husband died in a hotel room and the hooker he was with had taken his car. I sit with The Lord all the time. What would’ve happened to me if I didn’t know Christ? I miss being married ( even though so many years were in turmoil and I really wouldn’t accept who he really was). I miss who my boys were before they took up a bottle instead of Gods book. I’m blessed to have one son alive and grateful to God for saving his life and committing himself to follow His ways ( we all know what a battle that is, but we also know that He’s True). The big book is right out of His Book —principles above personalities. I have been arguing for years with psychiatrists, phycologists n Consolers – all who see me as unfortunate n uneducated. I have a naranon group I go to weekly that is really helpful- very plain. I’m writing to encourage you in Christ. He has given u a wonderful gift of communicating plainly. “ like water spilt on the ground that cannot b recovered, so We must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him. (2 Sam 14:14). God promised that He would make a way out for all of us – where ever we’re tempted— but it’s up to us to take it. You are holding out one of His ways. Praise God. This post before mine I understand far too well, deeply. We did the best we could with what we knew n understood. The Lord can n will put right our hearts n make a place for us to leave what died- n go on living. I’m very sad with how my husband chose to live and die, I know he had an addict mind but I also know he knew what was right and wrong. All that you have spoken about is true but very hard to accept. There’s no way to begin anything until we accept the truth and— if we want to live— any of us — we have to find out how- thank you for your writings and I know you will go in front of The One who lifted u out of that pit for the responses to so many confused and broken hearts. I’ve yet to see Satan bleed blood that’s his own. Godspeed son. —Tammy

  5. God Bless You, Tammy. Thank you for reaching out and for writing so honestly. It is people like you who inspire me to continue writing, and more importantly, to continue walking in the path of the Lord. We will be lifted up through spiritual action. Many, many thanks.

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