Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Meaning of the Fourth Step

My pal Dawn and I were chatting this afternoon about "owning" your part of things. I guess this keeps coming up lately because I'm plodding my way through Step Four, which requires that I do a complete and thorough moral inventory. It's something you do without judging yourself; feeling rotten about your behaviors isn't the goal of the Step. Rather, it's to clear the decks, figure out what behaviors you've committed that violate your own moral code (usually alcohol will be a part of it), and learn from those mistakes or bad thinking that led you to do what you did in the first place. Truth is, if you don't do this, alcoholic or not, you don't grow, you don't learn, and you're doomed to keep repeating the behavior.

We've all done it ... keep repeating the same behavior or putting ourselves in the same situation and expecting a different result. That, of course, is insanity. But it's what alcoholics do. We keep thinking, "It'll be different this time." "The situation is not exactly like that last one because [fill in the blank]." "Okay, I'll try this again but just do [insert the tweak] instead." And so on.

We'd much rather believe that bad things happen to us because of things we had no control over. Then we can't really blame ourselves. "I couldn't have known so-and-so would do this" or "that" or that "[insert whatever reason here]." Yes? Have you done that? I know I used to do that, quite regularly.

So, I managed to reach the ripe old age of 47 without really growing up much.

I did manage to pick up some wisdom along the way, but I also could've avoided much anguish and would've hurt a lot fewer people had I only been willing to do an honest inventory of my own behaviors and learned from them. Nope, I was too busy trying to defend myself. Funny, had you asked me eight months ago if I was a mature human being with a good grasp of human nature, I would've said yes. I thought I was pretty self-aware. Nope. I was merely good at making excuses.

I'm going to repeat here, verbatim, what I exchanged with Dawn:

Yup. Step 4 is to do a complete and thorough moral inventory...and part of that means looking at what parts YOU "owe" of a situation but also understanding what parts OTHERS "owe" of it. What's been interesting for me to see is that for some people, they really can't accept responsibility for anything. There's always some excuse. So they use that to explain their part away. But that misses the point.
For instance, "You had an affair?" " told me he was going to leave his wife! He told me he loved me!"
"But you had an affair."
"Well, no. It wasn't an affair. We were in love, but he lied to me!"
"So you had an affair."
You get the point.

Step Four is about accepting the FACTS. Eliminating the excuses, the reasons, the rationalizations behind WHY you did what you did. It's not a judgment on yourself. It's just admitting you did this thing you are fighting so hard to not own. We are so afraid of that; we don't want to see our own silliness, our own selfishness, our own lack of consideration for whom we might be stepping on to get what we want. I know I used to be terrified of that, of feeling like I'd done something wrong. It was enough to drive me to drink.

So I did.

But now I can't drink, and I've discovered that, despite all my ugliness, I'm human and I'm still loveable. People are amazingly forgiving once they understand that you not only are sorry for what you did, but more importantly, that you've learned from it and that you are unlikely to repeat that mistake.

Really, that's all most people want (unless what you did was kill their best friend, and even then--family members have been known to forgive a child's murderer; Eva Mozes Kor even forgave the Nazis for what they did to her in Auschwitz.

Forgiving others and being forgiven are gifts. They are God's grace, however you define God. In fact, Dawn says her mother used to say that all mistakes are actually gifts, if you only learn from them. I like that. A lot. In any case, own what you do. And don't make excuses. You will feel a tremendous weight lifted from your shoulders. "Oh! I get it!"

Step Four is not about feeling bad. It's all about feeling better.


Shannon said...

Dawn's Mom is right: mistakes are nothing more than "teachable moments". It's up to us to gain the knowledge.

Joyce said...

Hi Shannon! Yeah, I loved that bit o' wisdom. It really lessens the pressure on us to be perfect and to not freak out when we do something godawful. Who doesn't make mistakes? It doesn't have to be the end of the world if you view them as learning opportunities. Life throws lots of those at all!

Joyce said...

Hey Shannon, did you see what Dawn wrote on Facebook this morning? She added a good point. Playing the part of the victim is a way to avoid owning your part, too. I just love her....