Stepping Up

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings

Note: This is the third post on my experience of working the Twelve Steps.  The first two are here and here.  I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, just sharing an experience that has been important to me.

It is my experience that the most common place for people working the Steps to stall out is at the beginning of the Fourth Step.  For some, it’s the prospect of something that sounds as intimidating as a searching and fearless moral inventory.   For others, it’s the prospect of admitting what they find to another human being.  Whatever the reason, they procrastinate or do superficial self-assessments, hoping that scratching the surface many times will allow them to avoid going deep.  Of all the Steps, the Fourth is where I think the old adage … you get what you pay for … rings truest.

By the time I finished the third step, I was ready to DO SOMETHING.  I’ve always been an introspective self-help junkie, so I was unintimidated by the Fourth Step.  I had also been working with a therapist and working The Artist’s Way, both of which contributed to my readiness.   Still, I found myself stuck … how should I do it?  One person I knew wrote an autobiography, another built it around the seven deadly sins.   I knew that as long winded as I was, I’d never finish an autobiography and the seven deadly sins sounded a bit too much like religion.   I looked at Al-Anon’s guide to the Fourth Step inventory, Blueprint for Progress, but while it covered ever possible human trait, I wanted depth, not breadth.  I finally settled on a variant of the Four Column Method from the AA Big Book which starts out with resentments … I had plenty of those.   In column one I listed my resentments; column two – who they were against; column three – how they affected my life; and column four – my part (my part? really?).  I wrote at length on columns three and four, producing the Great American Novel of Fourth Steps, about forty pages.

When I told my sponsor I was ready to do my Fifth Step, he set aside a Saturday Morning.  He told me two things: that he expected me to tell him something I’d never told anyone; and that it was his job to help me see patterns in my story that I might have missed.  I know I told him something I’d never told anyone else … but I have no idea what it was.  Isn’t that the way it is with secrets?  Once revealed, they lose their power.   Anyway, it took me three hours to read him my inventory.  He interrupted frequently to ask questions … or tell me how similar we were.  We laughed at shared characteristics.  Somewhere several hours in, he stopped me.   He’d found one of those patterns he’d talked about.  He asked, Do you know you’re very self-centered?  To be honest, it ticked me off but when he explained, I saw what he meant.  You think everything is about you.  Yikes.  So, three hours rolled by and he told me it was a good fourth step.  He told me to go sit under a tree and read it to God, then use it to create a list of defects of character.  Don’t forget the assets, he said.

So, now I had my list and I came to what was and is the most frustrating of the Steps for me.  Were entirely ready.   Entirely ready?  Every defect?  Doesn’t the act of doing the inventory … and sharing it … prove I was ready?   I said, I’m ready and moved on to ask God to remove my shortcomings.  My sponsor had me write a Seventh Step prayer, patterned after one in the A.A. Big Book.   It begins, God I turn these defects of character to You not only to humbly ask You to remove them but to help me remember they can return if I don’t remain mindful of where I’ve been, followed by my list.

Did they all just disappear?  Nope … a few did but most took effort.  For me, it wasn’t magic … working Steps 4-7 had made me aware of my shortcomings and life presented opportunities to work on changing.   When defects lingered, I needed to go back to Step 6 … was I entirely ready?  When I mentioned persistent defects, people asked me, What is the payoff for holding on?  They suggested that, Perhaps a defect was just an asset carried to extremes.   They told me, Take actions contrary to what you usually do … for example, if I’d normally argue with someone, perhaps I could say, Maybe you’re right (choke … gasp).  So, it was a process, one defect at a time.

After 19 years of Step work, quite a few defects of character have faded … or have been reeled in a bit to become assets.   Some seem to pop up again when a new situation carries echoes of an old one.   A few hang on determinedly.  Every few weeks, I read my 7th Step prayer (which resides in my Blackberry) to help me keep track of the little buggers.   I’ve changed … although many of the changes are internal.   I know who I am in a way I never thought possible and I accept that persona.  Consequently, I’m less defensive and more secure.  I listen better and don’t think I know what’s best for everyone.  In other words, I feel right with myself.

I know that my experience with these Steps in uniquely mine.   But I also think that anyone could benefit from working them in their own unique way.   Next Sunday I’ll talk about Steps 8 and 9, in which I tried to get right with others.

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5 Comments on “Stepping Up”

  1. Jeni Hill Ertmer Says:

    You, long-winded? Oh Bud, you know now you don’t hold a candle to me, don’t you?
    That inventory thing is crucial, for sure, but one key thing I learned was NOT to take inventory when you are feeling really low and crappy, when the ego has gone almost to being totally non-existent! At times like that, the tendency to blame ourselves for everything and anything and then some, becomes so overpowering that there is little to no thought of realizing we do have some good and decent attributes to contribute to self and society after all. Sometimes, striking a bit of a balance there can be difficult but it is what is necessary then to be able to view everything in its proper context. Very good post though!

    • oldereyes Says:

      Much of my inventory was done in journals when I didn’t know I was doing one. I’d then add it to my inventory later. Since I journal no matter what my mood is, I escaped the problems of inventorying while in a bad mood. As I said, my sponsor was also insistent on assets as well as defects.

  2. undividing Says:

    Again, thanks for sharing Bud, your posts on your experience with the steps has been very thought-provoking for me! How did you get involved with them originally? Did you go to an AAA meeting?

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’m glad you are enjoying them. You gave me a chuckle asking if I went to an AAA meeting. Isn’t that the Auto Club? The answer is that I went to an Al-Anon meeting because someone in my life was using. Al-Anon is for families of alcoholics (or drug users).

      • undividing Says:

        lol yes, I did add an extra “A” there, didn’t I? It would truly be a comprehensive auto club if they were that concerned about your overall well-being that they provided information about the steps 😉

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