STEP FOUR, PART 1: Housecleaning.
Hi. I'm Penny, a compulsive eater and food addict.
I hear many OA's say that of all the steps, this was the one that they feared the most. While this is certainly true for many OA's, it wasn't especially anxiety-producing for me. I was looking forward to purging myself of my past (although thinking about Step *5* terrified me). By the time I got to Step 4, I had struggled painfully with God and food and my body; I figured there was nowhere to go but up. And honestly, I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to clean up my life because it had become apparent that I had a whole arsenal of nasty, unhealthy and unproductive attitudes.
I have also heard that - other than *not* doing the Step - there's no wrong way to work Step 4. I completely disagree with this. There are many ways to work Step 4. There are at least two ways to completely screw it up. 1. Write it based on how you want your sponsor (or whoever is going to hear your Step 5) to respond; and 2. Keep eating compulsively.
I'll explain. My first (well, second, really) inventory was written to impress my first sponsor ... how bad I was, how horribly I had behaved ... how serious a "case" I was. My inventory read like a bad novel where I was a disgusting human being. I knew I was in trouble when I worked Step 5 with my sponsor and, instead of feeling the release I had expected, I felt even worse with waves of shame washing over me.
I wrote my really first inventory when I had just come into OA the first time about 25 years ago; I was still eating compulsively (I thought the suggestions applied to other people, not me). Bad news ... I had to deal with the feelings and thoughts that came up from the inventory *and* the guilt/shame from bingeing and compulsive eating.
The "moral?" When you begin to work Step 4, remember that you are writing *your* story and that this is *your* recovery, not your sponsor's or anyone else's. And work as hard as you can to turn your food problem over to the care of your Higher Power - and to make abstinence a priority in your life.
So why Step 4? Well, "Our past problems have been controlling our actions and feelings for years, often in ways of which we are not aware. As we face the problems, they lose their power to overwhelm and control us. The chains of self-obsession drop from us one by one, and we are able to know and do our Higher Power's will more easily, without the need to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings by eating compulsively." (OA 12&12, p. 30)
AA literature talks about our lives being like a business; periodically a business needs to undertake an inventory of its stock - finding out what sells, what doesn't, what's left in the storage room. Step 4 does that for us. We are going to find out what attitudes and behaviors have worked for us and which ones have worked against us.
Why now, after Step 3? I think it's because if we have worked the first three steps to the best of our ability we are ready and "ripe" for the task. Those first three steps are crucial to a successful 4th Step, especially Step 3, where we make a decision to trust our Higher Powers to take care of us and our lives.
Why "searching and fearless?" Because years of compulsive eating and the behaviors associated with it make us terrific liars. We maybe tempted to gloss over certain things and at the same time focus obsessively on others. As the OA 12&12 says, "... we need to change. We *must* change if we are to recover. Change begins with honesty." (p. 30)
Please don't let the word "moral" get in your way. "Morality" has a nasty reputation because many of us associate it with judgment and condemnation. I see "moral" here as relating to those attitudes and behaviors that block us from our Higher Power and society, things that might involve lying, cheating, stealing, unethical behavior, sexual impropriety, etc. There is a certain amount of judgment and condemnation, and I think it's important that we recognize that this isn't so bad. After all, we wouldn't be holding on to the things we did wrong if we didn't think we did anything wrong! By doing a moral inventory we acknowledge to ourselves that we made mistakes.
We also acknowledge that to a great extent we are not the victims we might have thought ourselves to be. And as much as we sometimes relish the idea that we are victims and the world is out to get us, many of us find from our inventories that being a victim is an awful way to run a life.
If you are nervous, anxious or fearful about writing your inventory, please know that many of us felt the same way - until we began writing. Many of us found that once we began writing, we felt the floodgates open and we felt compelled to get all "the wreckage of our past" out of our over-loaded and guilt- and shame-ridden hearts and heads. "Looking back over what we have written, we shouldn't be discouraged if the negative outweighs the positive. After all, if we found nothing wrong, we wouldn't need our program of recovery. In fact, we've found that the more defects we uncover, the more our lives can improve as we continue working the twelve steps." (OA 12&12, p. 44)
Nudge time: We are going to take 2 weeks or so to work Step 4. If you don't have a sponsor, please, please, please get one to help you work through feelings and thoughts that may arise. Before you work Step 4, please go through the first three steps and make sure that you are on a solid foundation. As you work Step 4, please make sure you are connecting with your sponsor and using as many tools as you can. Please make sure that abstinence is a priority in your life ... working Step 4 while you're still eating compulsively makes for a nasty reaction of even more guilt and shame. And please don't put off Step 4 until you find the "perfect" format - or the "perfect" abstinence or food plan - or the "perfect" anything. Take a deep breath, find a format (more about that in my next post), pick up a pen (yes, you do need to write out the inventory) or put your hands on your computer keyboard, and go for it. I promise that the benefits will far, far outweigh any concerns you might have. Quoting the OA 12&12 again, "Each of us who completes a fourth-step inventory in OA finds it essential to our recovery and a major factor in changing our lives."
Questions for journaling/sharing:
1. What are your feelings and thoughts about writing a "searching and fearless moral inventory?"
2. If you have done a 4th Step before, would you share your experience with the group?
3. "Change begins with honesty." (OA 12&12, p. 30) What do you think?
4. Checklist: Do you have a sponsor? Are you willing to make abstinence a priority? Have you worked the first three steps to the best of your ability? Do you trust that your Higher Power will take care of you as you work the 4th Step?
5. If the answer to most of those questions is "no," are you willing to get yourself ready to work the 4th Step?
6. If the answer is "yes," get in touch with your sponsor and get ready to take the 4th Step.
Next time: formats.
Yours in recovery,