Episode 126: Step Four with Angela and John

In this episode Angela and John discuss Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We will continue discussing this step as we go into Step Five, and we would love to hear from you. Please email your experiences, questions, or comments about this step to john@aabeyondbelief.org, and we may discuss your email on that episode.

Transcript

00:00 John: This is AA Beyond Belief, episode 126.

 [music] 

00:23 John: In this episode, Angela and I discuss Step Four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” but feel free to put in your own words. This will be the first of two parts for the Step. We’ll cover the other half as we go through Step Five. In the meantime, if you have any comments, suggestions or questions about the Step, please email them to us at john@aabeyondbelief.org and we’ll respond to your emails on that episode. Without further ado, Angela and I talking about Step Four.

00:54 John: Okay, Angela, we’re here today to talk about Step Four. How are you doing?

00:57 Angela: I’m good.

01:00 John: I think I’m going to let you lead the way. This is quite a step and I’ve talked about it before on another podcast and I would really welcome your perspective, probably more than my own. So why don’t you just kind of go into it, a little bit, if you would, Angela, what you think the Step entails and basically how you would work it, and what you do with people that you work with today?

01:28 Angela: Yeah, yeah, definitely, there’s so much. So yeah, so I think that starting with some of the things that I hear about Step Four is that it’s about ego deflation or that it’s about humiliation. And I think initially, from what I understand, some of that was true for the ego deflation part because of the people that were in AA at the time, they kind of needed that, but for nowadays and particularly for women, that’s really not usually what we need, that I look at it more as a systematic way of understanding my psyche, the way I think about things and why I think about them or to look over the stories that I have going in my head. I guess the principles are supposed to be self-examination, personal honesty and self-acceptance, and I do think that that’s… That’s what you get out of it. But there’s a lot more.

02:47 Angela: So and I’ll talk about what I’ve done in my initial Fourth Step and then how I do it now. And then there might be some Fifth, Sixth and Seventh intermingled into it, because it’s hard for me to take all of those apart, because it all goes together for the work, at least the way that I understand it and do it. But one of the things that I was thinking of when we were talking about doing this one is, I was looking at Joe’s book, and one of the things that he wrote down, it was a quote from Robert Frost and he had it with one of his musings on the Fourth Step, but Robert Frost said, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” And that’s what I think about with doing the Fourth Step and the work that comes after it is trying to understand what those fences are, what are these coping mechanisms or character defects that I’ve developed, first identifying them and then understanding why they’ve been there, why do I need them or did I need them and what purpose were they serving? And then in Six and Seven figure out what I can do differently. 

04:12 John: I like that concept of the coping mechanisms. That’s something I never thought about until just this last year about thinking about character defects as coping mechanisms.

04:23 Angela: Yeah, yeah, and I like that, because again, I don’t think that most of the things that come up under character defects are bad, they can be used in negative ways. But yeah, like manipulation. It’s definitely considered negative in most circumstances. But manipulation helped me get things done, so it was useful to me at different times in my life, so I don’t think of it any more as necessarily bad. I just have to consider if I find myself going to that, why am I going to that? And is there a healthier way to handle the situation and a better resource or a newer tool to help me get through whatever it is that I’m reaching for manipulation to handle. And that’s how I think of my alcoholism too. I don’t think of it as that thing hiding in the corner waiting to get me, it’s part of who I am. And it helped me or it attempted to help me through different parts of my life, to cope with things. 

05:36 Angela: And it’s still there and if I ever needed it it’d pop back in. But to acknowledge that it’s just part of me and not an evil part of me helps with the way that I think about things and I function in the world and then that way I’m not fear-driven to do the Step work or to stay sober, it’s something that I do because I just now want to improve my life, so anyway. 

06:00 John: I like that. I like that too. That makes total sense. I think that when I was going through the program originally I was thinking in terms that I have to tear myself down to build myself up, and that’s not really necessary. You can just start building yourself up from wherever you are. You don’t have to break yourself down any further. 

06:19 Angela: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think in the secular guide or the Alternative Steps, the Secular Guide, one of the things I was reading is they said, “We examine what we actually think and the consequences of our thoughts, we examine what we actually feel and the price we pay for the feelings, but before we examine all these things, we need to identify them.” And I liked that as a way to look at it rather than I need to write down all this crap from my life, my childhood, my drinking, and then live through it again, and that was one of the things that one of my sponsors had emphasized to me, was that writing this stuff down, we’re not doing it to try to relive the past, we’re trying to do it so that we can reach a better understanding of the stories that we tell ourselves about the past or the meaning that we’ve created to different situations and that we’ve encountered with other people, and then that way we can think of them differently and move on. 

07:23 Angela: So yeah, so that’s some of the stuff that when I first started thinking about how to talk about this came to mind. My first Fourth Step, let’s see, I recall… Let’s see, I was probably… Do I have the date on here? I think I was in, probably four months into sobriety before I got to the Fourth Step. And I liked the idea of it from the get-go because I knew that my brain was crazy and I wanted to get stuff out, but there were a few items that I was concerned about. 

08:03 Angela: Those things that automatically triggered a sense of shame if they even popped into my head, but for the most part, I was excited about the process. And I needed to get the perfect notebook, that was very important to me. It had to be exactly the right size, shape, college-ruled, it had to be a nice color, otherwise I wouldn’t want to open it up if it didn’t have a cool design on it or something. I’m serious. [chuckle] And I needed to have the elastic cord around it so that it didn’t fly open at some point and people saw all of my secrets, which of course is not likely to happen. But these were the things that my brain did when trying to get ready to do the Fourth Step. So there probably was a little bit of fear and procrastination in there because I needed to make sure everything was perfect. I had to have colored pens.

08:57 John: Oh, wow. [chuckle] 

08:58 Angela: And then… Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I was… Yeah. And I’ve talked to other women about this before and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I definitely did that too. Got the ruler.” And I went so far as that I did lines in my, you know, with the ruler all the way till the last 10 pages of the notebook. So before I even started, I wrote them in all into columns, [chuckle] yeah, except the last 10 pages. So I’m thinking that had something to do with our being superior and inferior at the same time. So I felt inferior enough that I was going to have to use this entire notebook, but not the last 10 pages, I’m not that bad. Yeah, I usually joke about it as I consider that if there was a periodic table of character defects there’d be angelinium in there. And so, [chuckle] yeah, I had, obviously a little bit neurotic and that hasn’t completely left me, but I’m much better about it now. So one of the girls, and my partner has two girls that I’ve helped raise, and the 18-year-old had a friend over the other day and we were joking about stuff and she… Have you seen this show, Atypical?

 10:18 John: I have not.

10:20 Angela: Okay, it’s on Netflix and it’s about a young man who’s on the autism spectrum, and his family and stuff. And so she told her friend that, described us four as being like the show Atypical, except we were all the main character and [chuckle] that’s kind of how our family is, we’re a bunch of weirdos, but yeah, but we work with it. So yeah, so I did that. For that first one, my sponsor had five columns instead of four. So yeah, so what she did was we had the who, where, what part at the first column, and then the why, which was the second column, and then she had a column called puke on paper. And yeah, and that was basically for me to write down everything about whatever it was on that subject just to get it all out, every story in my head that I was thinking about that subject.

11:28 John: So, were you looking at resentments at that point?

11:31 Angela: Yeah, we were starting with resentments. And yeah, and so just writing the whole story on it and then the what it affects was the next column and then my part was the last column. And so for resentments, let’s see, we had…

11:48 John: Let me just, when you first were getting going in this, did you have a problem with that word resentment?

11:56 Angela: I understood basically what it meant or at least what I understood it meant was angry at, mad at.

12:02 John: That’s what I thought. That’s what I thought, yeah.

12:03 Angela: Yeah, I didn’t understand until later that it’s like the recurring.

12:08 John: Yeah, it’s just re-feeling something, is all it is. It’s re-feeling some past event and having the emotions today that you would have had at the time. And it is kind of an interesting phenomenon because I never realized I was carrying these things, but they do take on a life of their own. And as you put it, it’s like the story you tell about yourself, isn’t it? 

12:33 Angela: Yeah, yeah, it is, and so, yeah. So I look at it differently now, but yeah, back then it was just like, who are you mad at? And in fact, one of the different formats, so I’ve done the inventory with my first sponsor in a full form. And then I attended a couple of workshops where doing the Fourth Step was part of it, there’s one that we have in this area called, one of the districts puts it on, they call it, when chocolate doesn’t work anymore, and it’s on dealing with emotions in sobriety. And so one of the formats they had was just like, “Who are you mad at?” “Why angry?” 

13:19 Angela: Yeah, “My injustices,” and then “My part.” Yeah, so that was one. Another one is just the “I resent.” The second column is “Because,” third column is “Affects my,” and then, “My part.” And then, let’s see, some of the relationship inventories that I’ve seen are… The columns are: “Who did I hurt?” “What did I do?” “What part of self was affected?” and “What was the exact nature of my wrong?” And, let’s see, another one was just the name of the person, what happened, or the story. “Where was I selfish, self-seeking or dishonest?” and “What would I like to have done differently?” or “How would I have liked to respond?” And then, the fear inventory is a little bit different as well. 

14:13 Angela: Let’s see, what were… The first ones that I think the Big Book talks about for inventories is fear, resentment inventory, and then, sex conduct inventory. So, those are kind of the ones, but the fear one was more of what my fear is, when I first remember having it, or the story I tell myself about that. And then, in affirmation, how would I like to think about that? Or, if I were advising somebody else and they were sharing that they have this fear, how would I like them to think about it? What do I see? Or, a positive type of attribute to help balance that out. So, those are some of the formats. You can find a ton of them. 

14:58 John: Yeah. And that’s something that’s nice to know, too, because when I… I was obsessed about doing it just the right way, I wanted to do it just like everyone else did, and I had this Big Book and that’s what I was wanting to do. But I walked around to different people at my group and I asked them how they did the Fourth Step, and I got a different answer from almost everybody. Yeah, so you find your own way. But I think the mechanics of how it’s done is less important than the introspection and what you get from that, I think. 

15:34 Angela: Right, right, definitely. Let’s see… We started with, yeah, with the resentments, and I think I started with family stuff. The other thing that she talked about was principles and institutions, as part of the resentment. And I liked that, because I already pissed at financial aid and student loan stuff, so that worked pretty well. And so, some of the things I thought I would list, principles and institutions, that I came up with that, I think one of the workshops… Because it’s a little abstract, if you’re just starting this, but… The shoulds is one of the things, anything that says, “I should.” Old ideas, Leave it to Beaver families, I wrote, “Respect your elders, children should be seen and not heard… ” 

16:36 John: Yeah, that’s how I grew up, actually. 

16:38 Angela: Yeah. Diet mores in society, marriage, the healthcare system. Definitely, “You can’t get sober without God.” Race, education, middle-class idealism. Holidays, I wrote, because it turns out holidays are a big deal for me, as far as emotions and things, growing up in a dysfunctional family. Let’s see. I was often told to pay attention or get my head out of the clouds. The “Drink like a lady” stuff, the whole “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

17:20 John: Wow, that’s really smart, I never even considered that. But these are basically things that you’ve been taught about how… This is what either society or your parents place on us as our roles in the world, how we should be.

17:37 Angela: Yeah, yeah. My step-dad used to say, “If it don’t bleed, it don’t hurt,” and “You can never be too rich or too thin.” And then, one that I wrote down and shared with people was the, “Never turn down an AA request.”

17:54 John: Wow, wow, that’s so right.

17:56 Angela: Yeah. [chuckle] Yeah. And so, for that one, how I wrote it down is, we had the columns “I resent,” the next column was “Because,” the next column was “Affects my,” and then the last part was “My part.” And so, I put, “I resent the idea of never turn down an AA request because sometimes I don’t have time or I feel like no one else is doing it, so why do I have to?” And then, I put that it affects my security, that I feel like if I don’t do that, that I’ll be rejected in my AA community. It affects my ambition, because sometimes I have other things that I really need to do to make money and stuff. It can sometimes affect my personal relationships, because if I feel like I have to take every AA request, then I might be neglecting family or a partner. And so, then my part was that I’d be dishonest, so I’d either lie as to why I didn’t want to do it, give excuses, I… Sometimes it was self-seeking, that I just didn’t want to do it, and that I wasn’t honoring my boundaries. 

19:13 John: That’s really a healthy thing to do. When you did that, if you looked at something, like some sort of a concept like that one, for example, did you look at specific instances where you felt like you had to do something in AA because of this, what you’ve been told? Did you look at that? 

19:33 Angela: Yeah, yeah. I didn’t always write them down, for this one. But in different times, I’ve had to, so there was definitely an experience as to why that was coming up for me. [chuckle] So yeah, but just even writing that out to know that that is something that is affecting my sobriety, it’s affecting… It’s taking up space in my brain, as they say, without paying rent. And so, being able to take that apart and seeing… And then, I would look at that. “So, what are my choices, now that I know my part?” If I were to take it through the rest of the steps, I would look at what… Why do I believe that… And then what can I do instead? 

20:20 Angela: And for me, it was boundary setting and being able to be clear, and then my sponsor said, “So what are some things that you can do if someone asks you to do something and you’re not sure at that moment?” And so, she taught me, which seems silly that you have to teach an adult these things, but that I could say things like, “I don’t know,” or, “Let me get back to you on that,” or “I don’t think that would work for me,” and just things like that to either buy some time so that I can really think about it or just be able to say that, “I don’t think that would work for me.” 

21:00 Angela: And that was hard for me and as I went through different steps I started to understand why there was a lot of stuff that I had, that I needed to do these things in order to be accepted and for people to like me. And to be doing it right, there was a lot, as we’ve talked before about that perfectionism, which I didn’t realize for a while that I had because I didn’t do things perfectly, but there’s a part of my brain that is very picky about that kind of stuff, and likes to point out, and be critical. 

21:31 Angela: And so, if I turn that down then I wasn’t being perfect, I wasn’t doing the program right, and therefore I would of course go out and drink and die so [chuckle] which is how it always works if you don’t do something right or something within AA, then you go out and drink and die, and yeah, very dramatic. So yeah, so that’s how I worked. One of the principles in institution type of things through that part. But yeah, those are the basic things for resentments, as you’re writing down there who, what and why. And then, depending on where you’re at, I sometimes do the puke on paper for people that I’m starting to work with, depending on if they have any experience with AA at all; if they don’t then it’s really helpful to do that because sometimes they may not have experience in counseling or anything either. And this is really, can be… 

22:36 John: What is that exactly the puke on paper? 

22:41 Angela: Just writing down the entire story of everything that you think about that. So if it’s… You’re angry at your mom or something from your childhood you write down every instance that you can think of that. It’s holding up space in your brain and then… Yeah, and so it’s more of a narrative, more of a story-type thing, rather than just the facts. So when I’ve done other inventories or how I do them now usually when I’m doing them for myself is a kind of like a who, what, why type of a thing. Very much just the facts. I limit myself to the length of the story that I can tell because sometimes I can get caught up in that even more now, I know that about myself, but in the beginning, getting all of the stuff out is important so that you can see it work more fully and more clearly. 

23:34 John: Because ultimately what we’re doing here, I guess, is where the work is going on in our brain, and the pen and the paper is just like a tool for us to kind of think things out and then we’re creating an outline, basically, that we’re going to use when we go in to Step Five. And it becomes a conversation. So you might just have a list of these things. But when you go into your Step Five with this, it might very well turn into a conversation and these are your notes, basically. 

24:05 Angela: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And yeah, I think we’re creating a system to work through the psychic mess in our brains and sort it out so that we can understand. 

24:20 John: So, when you were writing through your resentments did you ever have times where you just couldn’t do it, there was something that was blocking you? 

24:31 Angela: Oh, yeah, definitely. And so if I were to show on a screen, my first notebook that I have here, some of the things that I did with that was sometimes I would turn the page sideways, and so I would go totally against the lines and write there, sometimes I would start to write with my left hand just a little bit. Yeah, yeah, it is, it’s very difficult, but… But like we said before in the writing, it’s slowing things down. And so when you try to write with your non-dominant hand, that really slows things down and so sometimes doing that helps you think more clearly or you can come to one specific idea and then you can switch over and start writing on that. So, writing on with my other hand. Sometimes I would do a different page and go diagonally or upside down from something, so something that would kind of jar my sight, as to what was happening and take away some of that, I guess, blindness that was coming from just looking at all these lines and writing that I had before. 

25:50 John: So with me, I think I took a couple of runs at it, and I think that the first few attempts, I wasn’t really looking at things objectively and I was feeling a lot of shame, and it was depressing me and so I think I probably did the right thing, and it was just natural just to walk away and not do it, I guess, and finally, when I was able to get through it all and I did it pretty much in one sitting, I really looked at it in an objective way. I wasn’t judging myself or even people I resented, I just put, like you said, I put down the facts. And it was easier that way, and I was basically learning about myself because as you go through it, you begin to recognize patterns, I think, of behaviors. 

26:44 Angela: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And sometimes that’s what it takes, stepping away from it and then coming back to it. And so that’s why sometimes it takes people a few months to do it and sometimes it takes them a year or more. One of the things why the Four, Five, Six and Seven bleed together for me is that they usually when I’m starting with someone on the Fourth Step is, I give them the assignment to write on it, and to do just a couple of people, possibly easy ones, like a boss or something that’s not super emotionally loaded, the neighbor, whatever, and then we come back and kind of do a Fifth Step, just on those few. So that the person has the feedback on if they’re going in the right direction. And so if it seems like they might be stuck in the overthinking or they might be dwelling in the negative of their experience or getting caught in the story and so getting depressed, then we can kind of transition them to… No, this is kind of what we’re looking for here and when we’re looking at our part of it, we’re looking at not the horrible thing or to criticize ourselves, necessarily, we’re looking at the patterns we have of where we were either ignoring something or rationalizing or justifying. 

28:18 Angela: And yeah, not just our behavior, but the whole thing. because sometimes it’s situations and it’s somebody else’s behavior that we’re justifying or pretending or whatever, and that’s our part of it. Is that yeah… 

28:33 John: That’s right. It’s not a matter of something, of being right or wrong, necessarily, in my opinion, like when I finally got through this I was like, okay, who’s the person involved? What was the event? What happened? And my part of it was basically, how did this make me feel, how did it impact me. What did it affect? And For me, a lot of it was a sense of security. I was insecure, I was afraid, things like that. So yeah, and because… And yeah, I have done things that were wrong, and I’ve hurt people, as a result of this, but I could even look at those things in a way that was not so judgmental, but understanding what was going on. 

29:24 Angela: Yeah, yeah, and now I look at it now is it… For the… My part is what is the story that I have created from that? So, again, it comes to another story. So after this experience, what is the meaning that I created from whatever I wrote down? So I have stuff from my childhood, my step-dad was very psychologically abusive and demeaning and stuff, and so he would do things like teach me how to play chess when I was in grade school, but then punished me, if I won and so. 

30:03 John: Oh, my God. 

30:03 Angela: Yeah, and so what I created from that, so my part, of course, is that I was a child so I didn’t have a part in the actual situation, but what I would look at for that section was, what is the story I created from that situation and it was that, that I can’t show how smart I am, that I would be punished or unloved if people knew that I was intelligent, and so that’s what I was getting from that specific Fourth Step thing going through. 

30:36 John: That is so helpful for people too, because you know what, I hear a distorted, I guess, a distorted concept of this my part thing and especially when people are looking at the events that happened in their childhood. I hear this, that people say their sponsor is basically forcing them to look at something that they did that could have somehow brought this on, that they had an equal part somehow in what was going on. And in my opinion, that’s not the spirit of this, that’s not at all, especially when you’re looking at things that happened as a child and if you instead look at how did this impact me, what’s the story I began to tell myself about this throughout my life. 

31:24 Angela: Yeah, what is the meaning that I created from this, and so and that carries on into our drinking and into our adult life and we usually don’t recognize that that’s where it’s coming from. And so that’s why I find Fourth Step or actually Four through Seven particularly so valuable to me is that it gives me a way to systematically do self-introspection without being being so negative or hard on myself, so the critic gets to play a little bit of a part of pointing out different things, which it likes to do, and so I let it be helpful once in a while. 

32:08 Angela: But for the most part, it can’t take over the entire process and so I get to look at it and have some compassion for myself or whatever the situation is. Again, with stuff from childhood and family, you know, I don’t live in a space where I hate my family because of the childhood that I had. I understand that my parents did the best that they could, and even with my step-dad, who really did a lot of horrible things to me, I know that he had a rough time of it. It doesn’t excuse his behavior at all. But getting some perspective on all of the stuff makes it easier. I don’t have to hold on to the anger or frustration, or the old stories about… 

33:02 John: Right. And this pain truly is generational. And I realized that, too, when I was looking at my mother and how she treated me. And she was like, also… Oh, I don’t know, she would put me down a lot and I got a lot of negative messages from her. Well, she was mentally ill, too. And then I looked back at how she grew up and my grandfather and the problems that he had and the experiences that she had growing up as a little girl. And it gave me some understanding of why she behaved the way that she did, but I couldn’t really trace it back further than my grandfather. But could you imagine going back over the generations, the dysfunctionality that you could find going back to colonial times? 

33:50 Angela: Right. No doubt. No doubt. Well, and I think that sometimes it could be that somebody is… A family is going along okay, and then there’s something that happens, an event that changes. 

34:03 John: Something happens. Some event, some event. You’re absolutely right. But I thought too that, “Okay, it stops here with me too,” and it can. 

34:14 Angela: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and that’s what part of this work is doing is like, “Okay, this is why… ” This is why it took me a while to speak up in certain situations and share that I have ideas or that I’m somewhat intelligent because of a fear of rejection or that I would somehow be punished. So if I pretend in my job some places that I’m not as smart or I don’t see the systems happening or whatever it is, then I’ll be okay. But I was suffering inside. And then how do I relieve the suffering? Well, through some sort of addiction generally. And so by being able to look at these things, that’s the point, is that okay, that’s there. And every once in a while somebody’s going to trigger my fear of that I showed them I was smart and they don’t like me now. So how am I going to handle that now? And as I go through with Six and Seven, I have some options with that. 

35:22 John: So along these lines, we had that reader write in, and she asked the question. She said that she was sexually abused as a child. She said, “So what’s my part?” And how does she get through that? 

35:38 Angela: Yeah. She didn’t have a part. She was a child. There was no part in that. So I think when going through the Fourth Step and writing about those things either, one, if you have a therapist, I would try to concentrate most of those with your therapist because… Yeah, because other members of AA are generally not therapists. And so, yeah. So yeah. That’s… I highly recommend that. And if there’s anybody listening out there that can’t afford a therapist or doesn’t… Is unsure of how to locate those resources, then be sure to email us, and either John or I can point you in a direction and help you find some resources for that because it’s true for an awful lot of us, male and female. 

36:33 Angela: We have these things. And again, I think I’ve shared before that men, after I share my story, will often come up and I might be the first person that they’ve ever actually shared that with, even if they’ve been in sobriety for a while. They may not have felt comfortable sharing it with their sponsor for whatever reason. So I do spend some time looking for resources, particularly for low-income people to be able to get counseling for this because it really is something that needs to be looked at with a professional. But given that, as you’re going through it, I think it’s okay for those that sponsor to hear that, because part of the Fifth Step is just recognizing these people and witnessing their pain, their suffering, their… Whatever is going on. And that’s healing. A part of healing as well is just having somebody witness that, have you say, “Yeah, this happened to me.” And having an understanding person saying, “Yeah, that sucks that that happened to you, and you don’t have a fault in that. You were a child.” And so yeah. So that’s how I generally handle… 

37:50 John: Yeah. That’s smart. And there are resources. When I was… because most of us, or a lot of us anyway, I was anyway. I guess I should stick with me. I was broke, I didn’t have money, I didn’t have resources. But there was a place here that would charge on a sliding scale, and I met with a therapist who was a master level therapist. And I was able to talk to him about things, and that was my first experience with any sort of therapy. And it was really, really helpful, because he was able to help me walk through some things on my own and think about things differently. So it was very, very helpful. And there are resources like that available.

38:33 Angela: Yeah. Yeah. Depending on where you’re at. If you’re near a university, a lot of them have training programs. So it might be that you’re with somebody who’s a student but they still have the most up-to-date information about all of the different things that we talk about. And so they’re hopefully, because it’s education, going to have more ways to help talk to you about it that’s up-to-date, more scientific. That’s why a lot of people do well with… 

39:06 John: Do you think, Angela, that if somebody comes across, like the person who wrote in to us, if they come across something like that they should just kind of put that on the shelf, take it to a therapist? 

39:17 Angela: Yeah, definitely. That’s what I always advise. And when we’re going through this, we do the same for anything with sexual relations, because a lot of us also have rape or sexual assault or things like that in our stories. And so, having that in a whole different category. We won’t deal with that. And then when it comes down to that part of the inventory, then we’ll approach it differently as well. 

39:51 John: That’s interesting too, because the climate and… And just society has changed so much with the Me Too movement. I was not aware that so many women have had this experience, but almost every woman has had the experience of some sort of abuse, or unwelcomed advance or just… Yeah, more than anyone I ever thought… 

40:23 Angela: Yeah, so those inventories, tend to be longer, oftentimes, even if the person’s been in a monogamous marriage for their adult life. 

40:37 John: And isn’t it interesting too, Angela, when you look back at okay, like in the Big Book, they look at the sex part. And it was really written from Bill Wilson’s point of view, where he’s looking at affairs and things like that… 

40:49 Angela: Or trying not to get into. 

40:53 John: Trying not to have an affair or whatever, and not so much from the perspective of someone who had been harassed at work, or forced into some activity, or whatever. 

41:07 Angela: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s definitely changed. But then again, our whole views of addiction and science and stuff has changed and so there are some things that… Yeah, just need to be updated, which is why I do the Fourth Step in the way that I do. And again, one of the things that I was wanting to say about going to a counselor, particularly when you’re doing this step and those things come up is, it’s also just good because I think for quite a few of us, we get into AA and start to get sober. And we really want to belong and we want to do it right, and so we can get sucked into all of the different dogma and things that are in AA, and so, seeing a counselor, most of the therapists that I know, some of them really don’t like AA. Most of them see where it has value and stuff, but they can give you some perspective on the work that you’re doing in AA as well. 

42:15 Angela: And so that gives you some space to not take everything so literally, or it just gives you breathing room that oh, okay, so I don’t have to buy in to all of the stuff that’s going on in there, and I think that’s important. I’ve heard a couple of things, just in the last couple of weeks with women in some of the traditional meetings that has made me sad on how they view their higher power, or the process of going through inventory, and it seems much more critical, and I wish that they had that outside resource to give them perspective that the stuff we’re learning here are just tools. They’re the ways that other people have done things, but it doesn’t mean that you have to take all of them and internalize everything we say and do in AA. So yeah. 

43:11 John: So, I wonder if we might want to make this a two-parter and maybe go into on the next episode how we actually work through this. There’s some more interesting topics too, like the fear part of the inventory. Do you do a separate fear inventory? 

43:29 Angela: Yeah, yeah, so when I first did it with my first sponsor, she does some Al-Anon stuff too, and so it was like everything together, so I didn’t do separate inventories, I just did all of it at once, which was a bit overwhelming. It worked for what I needed at that time. My current sponsor, I’ve been working with her for, I guess 10 years now. And she divided it up into the resentments, the fear and then the sex inventory or relationship inventory and did three separate ones, and that was super helpful. At that time, I really needed to have them divide it up and I found it very useful. So, yeah. 

44:17 John: In Jeffrey Munn’s book, which the most recent one I’ve read, he’s helped me with the fear, looking at the fear part. I always had a problem with that, I just listed my fears and asked myself why I had them and whatever. But the way that he looks at it is he’s looking at distorted core beliefs that you carry around and then the fear that results from that. And then he takes it another step like developing an alternative reality-based belief. 

44:50 Angela: Right. Yeah, that’s basically how I do it as well. Well, yes… 

44:54 John: That’s more valuable than just saying, “I’m afraid of all these things.” 

45:00 Angela: Right, yeah, so like, yeah, for me it’s look at something like, you know, the…

45:05 John: Fear of spiders, that doesn’t even matter, does it? 

45:08 Angela: No, actually, bears was on my fear inventory, which… Bears, yeah, which was funny, because I just had somebody who… I sponsor somebody and then they sponsor somebody and then the person that person then sponsors. We went for lunch and she has a fear of bears too. And so it was kind of funny, because I haven’t met anybody else who really had such a big fear of bears that it would go on an inventory. 

45:35 John: Well, where you live there actually are bears, aren’t there? 

45:38 Angela: Yeah, yeah, there are bears here. They generally don’t come to the city but… 

45:45 John: Look, there could be a bear somewhere. Yeah. 

45:49 Angela: Yeah, they’re not that far away. And there’s a lot of camping and hiking and stuff that goes on around here, so it’s not unreasonable to be afraid of bears, but yeah, so I have on my inventory “being eaten alive by bears” and so… Yeah, and so then I wrote down where I remember that coming from, what it was about and that how I can understand that in a different way. And I think that one of the things that I put on it now, is that… Well, one, I don’t have to go where the bears are. So, and when I do go camping, I sleep in an enclosed… The car, if I have to, and I do not do tents anymore. But that also, I could think of it, is that if I were in a situation where I ran into a bear that I would be part of the natural order of the universe, that the food chain and stuff. It would suck, probably, but I could be comforted that I’m part of the natural process of how things work. And but yeah, bears were on there, but the majority of the stuff on my fear inventory, and I have it right here, so I had stuff like that I’m unlovable. 

47:09 John: Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I think that’s really valuable. 

47:11 Angela: Not good enough or that I’ll never be in a stable relationship but… Yeah, like, how a haha, proved that one wrong. Being abandoned, fear of commitment. Some of these are interchangeable or they go together, but I did write them all out separately. That I’ll never find meaningful work… Things like that were on my fear inventory. 

47:36 John: Absolutely, those are the types of things that I really should have been focusing on. I just didn’t think about it, because the Big Book just says, “List your fears, ask yourself why you have them,” and then they even tell you why you have them. Because relying on self doesn’t work, you have to have God, that’s why it doesn’t work. 

47:55 Angela: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Okay. No wonder mine lasted so long. 

48:00 John: So yeah, I think we should definitely do a second partner on this, what do you think? 

48:05 Angela: Sounds good, yeah, definitely, and then we can go into Fifth on that as well, because I think that’s a… 

48:11 John: That’s a good idea. That’s a good idea. We can maybe go through like, maybe sort of the mechanics of the Fourth and how that works into the Fifth. These steps are related. You’re so right, you really can’t disconnect them from Four through Seven. 

48:23 Angela: Yeah, yeah, and when I was thinking about it, I’m like, well, four is so much and then I’m like, “Well, Fifth goes into Four,” and then I’m like, “Well, all the stuff that you get from Four and Five go into Six and Seven,” and… 

48:37 John: It’s really one process honestly, isn’t it, it’s just one process of learning, introspection, learning, sharing with another person, relating to another person, and then making changes in your life.

48:48 Angela: Exactly, and we need other people to be able to help us do that. because I know that when I did my Fifth that there were some things that I had on my part that weren’t correct, that I needed another person to say, “Hey, wait, you didn’t have a part in that,” or “Wait, you did have a part in that,” because I think one of them was like I said that my part was being friends with the bastard or something, and it’s like, “Woah, maybe it’s a little bit more than that.” So yeah. It turned out to be boundaries again, of course. 

49:18 Angela: But yeah, having another person to witness what you’ve written down in your life and things is important and then to help you be able to look at some ways that you can change that in Six and Seven. 

49:34 John: It is helpful. I think the benefit that I got from that of sharing it with another person and that person mostly listened, which is what I needed, and occasionally would share a little bit about himself. But I think what I really got from that was this understanding that I’m not unique, none of this is original with me. 

49:56 Angela: Yeah, but not unique, not in the negative way. So I hear that in the rooms like a, “Yeah, I’m not unique,” or “You’re not a snowflake,” or whatever, but it’s more that I’m not alone, I guess. 

50:11 John: Not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s nothing to be… There’s no fear in sharing this with someone else, because they have likely experienced similar issues in their life as well. And I guess, I guess what it did for me is it kind of connected me with, it got me out of just… It connected me with the rest of the world as a human being. It helped me see myself just as a human being, as just a normal person who had experiences in life like every other person has had. But… Yeah, but you’re right, it’s not in a negative way, it’s not like… Yeah. There’s a lot of negative. I should do the inventory that you suggested where you actually write down the resentments of the little things that people tell you, because there’s a lot of negative stuff that enters into our brains, even from the program that we hear. 

51:07 Angela: Oh, yeah, especially in the program. Like I said, one of the things that got to me was that I was at a women’s meeting and a traditional one and a newer woman came in who had just relapsed and she said that, that, you know, she had been trying to get sober, but she had three kids and worked and was leaving a difficult relationship and that she couldn’t make meetings and that she kept praying that God would give her a way to make meetings, and then her kids got taken away, and so that’s God giving her a way to make it to meetings, and I just felt so sad for her that this program gives you the opportunity to create a higher power or think of a higher power in a way that works for you, but this woman is created a higher power that is pretty mean.

52:03 Angela: How could you believe in something that would do something like that, but that’s not unusual. I hear things like that a lot. And so, yeah, so I would love for her to be able to write on that, why is it that your higher power would do something like that to you, that you know… There’s probably a lot in there that could be uncovered, that would make your life a lot easier. Yeah, I hear things like that a lot and it makes me sad.

52:32 John: Well, this was a good conversation. Okay, so we’ll pick up on this next time, we can kind of fill in on Step Four and then go into Step Five, maybe next time? 

52:41 Angela: Yeah, and if people have questions, there’s so much in this that there’s probably some areas that we didn’t cover that… 

52:48 John: That’s a good idea. If you do have questions, please send us an email. John@aabeyondbelief.org and we will go through those. 

[music] 

53:10 John: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. Hey, if you’d like to help out our site and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all, go over to iTunes and leave us a review, hopefully a favorable one. You can also help out financially with either a recurring or a one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/aabeyondbelief. And you can always visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.


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Joe C
Joe C

If you don’t need the Steps, you have saved yourself a lot of work. If you need some version of the Steps, having podcasts like this is such a help.

Remarkable amount of work and insight here. Thsmks.

Robert
Robert

Thank you John and Angela. I did my first 4th step at about 8 months sober. This was after wanting to do one at about a month sober because I thought it would save my marriage. My sponsor suggested I consider my intention carefully. I later procrastinated doing this step. Searching for the format best for someone as unique as me. We focused on relationships past and present ultimately. I did have one graph that I created trying index ‘harm’, but that’s another story. I listed 0 resentments. I felt so ashamed of myself, that I didn’t allow myself to… Read more »