The AA 4th Step

“There are things known, and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Aldous Huxley

I was a newcomer in recovery for fourteen years. I was in and out the whole time and was unable to acquire any time more than 90 days. It took me that long to run out of ways to try life minus a sponsor, the steps, and a Higher power. It’s not like I didn’t have questions that I was asking about my life, relationships, and circumstances. My mind focused on little else. When the big book wrote, “We usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient.”, It indeed applied to me. Just like the book predicted I was in collision with people in every area of my life and at best I could only conclude that my intentions were often good and that I was doing things that were making my life miserable.

There are many types of recovery inventories, maybe as many kinds as there are different types of 12 step fellowships. The original version as set out in the Big Book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous is unique. The format of columns gives an advantage that stands out. Outside perspective.

When a traffic report is presented on the news, it’s never taken from a car, or someone standing on the street. Distance provides perspective. This is why the news stations use a helicopter to report on a traffic jam. A bird’s eye view is what’s called for in an inventory. The columns make this very simple. Simplicity makes for effectiveness.

Column 1
Who – who are we resentful at?

Column 2
What – what did they do to offend me?

Column 3
Effect – what part of me was affected?

This comes down to the emotional impact of the injury. Did it affect my: self-esteem, personal relationships, sexual relationships, security or ambitions? This is sometimes called “the feelings column.” Often addicts and alcoholics use substances not over what is happening, but rather how it makes them feel. We use and drink to blot out our emotions.

Where the AA 4th Step Turns Around: The Freedom Column

Column 4
The instructions here are crucial. “Putting out of mind the wrong others have done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes.” What did we do? If anything, we set in motion trains of circumstance which caused people or institutions to hurt us and eventually led to our resentment of them doing so? This is the column where freedom may be won. The adage says, “The truth shall set you free.” When looking back at the past offenses of others, the curse becomes the blessing. The responsibility was on our side of the street in most cases.

We are given a hint at this in the earlier part of the book on step three. “We step on the toes of others, and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some point in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. Victims rarely get sober. Nor are they usually victims, excluding random acts of violence and harms to children usually we play a part in being victimized.  Those of us in abusive relationships always choose the partner, those that were locked up chose to break the law, those that borrowed without repayment chose to lend, and so on. By seeing our own mistakes, we now have been granted a choice. Before this awareness, it appears as the world is happening “at us.”

With new knowledge and insight, we can more clearly see how many of our decisions based on our needs, desires, expectations or demands have set us up from the start. The cause of these brings us to the next column.

Character Defects in the 4th Step

Column 5: Defects
Which character defect leads to the false conclusion or action in the mistake in column four. The cardinal four are Selfish, Dishonest, Resentful or Afraid. These are the topic of the next blog.

The purpose of the inventory as a spiritual practice is to switch the position of columns we see the world from. An unhealthy person will most often want to stay on the first two columns as a topic of conversation. The will focus on “who” is doing “what” to them: victim mentality. A healthier perspective is to be the mindful practice of looking through columns four and five. This person wants to face the truth head on and look at “what was my mistake?” and “what defect below my actions” lead me to that make that mistake. This is the beginning of freedom through accountability.

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