Step Four

Step Four: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Personal housecleaning. Steps four and eight in the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) are my favorite steps, and I think we all should work through them even if our addictions are not to drugs or alcohol or we don’t agree with the other teachings in the Big Book. Personal housecleaning is essential to our future progress. Imagine you’re about to start working on a project, but your desk is littered with trash and old unorganized papers. If you don’t clean up the mess, the old trash will start to mix in with the new, and soon all your notes and papers will be scattered around in an even bigger mess. Even if you manage to finish your new project, the finished product will likely be unorganized, sloppy, and much more time-consuming than if you had just cleaned up the old mess. More likely though, you’re going to become so overwhelmed by the chaos that you’ll give up and finish your new project. 

Your mind is your workspace, and every once and a while you need to do a little housecleaning. If not, you’re going to get overwhelmed and unable to complete simple tasks just like you would if the physical space around you was cluttered. 

The first step is to make ourpersonal moral inventory. The most important thing to remember as you write down your inventory is to be honest. No one will see this. You can burn or shred or eat the paper when you’re done if that makes you feel better, but if you’re not honest with yourself, all the work you do will be pointless. 

From the BB, “We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry… We set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our security, our am­bitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?” You can set up your list like the example below, or any other way that makes sense to you. Be specific; be honest; and be very detailed. 

I am resentful at…The cause…Affects my…
My partnerHe doesn’t give me enough attention; he spends more time with his friends than with me; he doesn’t compliment me or say nice thingsSelf-esteem and self-image; my security in our relationship
The job marketI have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, but my field isn’t hiring and I can’t find better than a minimum wage jobMy security (I’m living paycheck to paycheck and am unable to put aside any money for savings); my ambitions (I feel I’ve been cheated; I feel I’ll never find a job that I like)

Poisoning yourself. The reason we do this inventory is to clear out our emotional and mental spaces so we can make room for new ideas, new relationships, and new progress. I’m sure you’ve heard that holding onto anger and resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It’s true. The people that have wronged you might feel guilty, or they might not; they might one day make amends to you, or they might not, but that’s all up to them, not you. Thinking about the people who wronged you, what they did, or the amends they should make to you only wastes your time and energy, and if you let your resentments get out of control, they can make you bitter and hateful towards, not only the person who wronged you, but to everybody and everything. You’ll be suspicious, hateful, friendless, and unwilling to try anything. What a miserable existence! 

After you make your inventory, go through each resentment. Try to view the scenario from their perspective, or simply grant the person forgiveness. Likely, that person wronged us because someone had wronged them in the past and they were never able to let go of their resentment. The BB tells us that their bitterness and cruelty are a part of their spiritual sickness, and we should treat them as if they were physically sick (i.e. with tolerance, pity, and patience). 

I know that forgiving and forgetting are difficult. When I was 20, my boyfriend and I got pregnant. We had been together for a few years. I had just finished college, and although it was a surprise, I was really excited. My boyfriend, I found out, was not. He didn’t want kids. He left, and I moved back in with my parents who were elated to be having their first grandchild. I wasn’t resentful. But nine months later when I was all alone to give stillbirth to my daughter, a bitterness and hate towards him sprouted inside me like a seed of goddamn evil. That resentment grew, and for the next two years I was so miserable, I could barely function. 

A new beginning. On her birthday, two years later, I realized I had three options: I could spend the rest of my life miserable and useless; I could kill myself; or I could forgive my ex for leaving me and the universe for taking my daughter away. Of course, I choose the latter. I moved halfway across the country and started a new life. Over time I realized a few things. Losing my daughter made me a beautiful person. Grief and loss sculpted me from a rough marble slab into a goddamn Greek statue, and although it hurt like a bitch to get broken down like that, I’m so grateful to see the resilient, compassionate, grateful woman I have become. I also realized that my ex’s ‘wrong-doing’ was completely imagined. I hadn’t been angry about his decision to leave when I was expecting to have a healthy baby, so how could I be upset with him just because it didn’t turn out that way? 

Not just once. Do your personal housekeeping often. The goal is to make it a habit so that in our daily lives, when someone hurts us, we can act appropriately. We can ignore our immediate response to retaliate, argue, and escalate the situation into darker bitterness and violence. We can try to see the situation from their perspective. We can develop a deeper understanding of the situation and find a solution that benefits both parties, or simply walk away and feel satisfied that we acted as ‘the better man.’ We can show tolerance, pity, and patience to the other person, knowing that, at the end of the day, we will close our eyes and sleep soundly while the other person lies awake with their regret, guilt, and resentment. 

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