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Step Four; wonderful Step Four; a Step which helps the spirit soar; a Step that I came to adore.
I knew nothing about it - or any of the other Steps - when I arrived in AA, over twenty years ago.
I had no idea that AA was a spiritual programme of action; a programme that, through Step Four, would involve my taking a personal inventory. This meant looking back at my past, looking at the resentments I had and writing them down in three columns, as set out in the Big Book.
When I arrived in AA, I knew nothing about resentments and the corroding effect they have on our lives. The Big Book, Page 64, says, “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”
Now, with the benefit of my time in AA, the beautiful knowledge in the Big Book and the wonderful guidance of my sponsor, I realise the destructive nature of resentment.
With my sponsor’s guidance, I set out my resentments on paper. Before doing this, my sponsor had introduced me to something called 'defects of character'. Up until my arrival in AA, I had (also) no idea about these, either.
AA is like a great spiritual college. We learn so much; not only about alcoholism, but, through doing The Steps, we are shown spiritual tools which not only help us to stop drinking but help us to connect with a Higher Power; a God of our own conception; a God who, as it says on Page 133, ‘wants us to be happy, joyous and free.’
As I said, I knew nothing about how AA worked, on the day that I arrived. I realised that it was there to help me stop drinking; However, I had no idea that the word God would be used, or that it was a spiritual programme of action.
I met people on my first day who were very, very helpful. They knew about the spiritual programme of action and wanted to pass on this knowledge to me. I was taken for tea afterwards. We chatted and I talked about my problems and my drinking.
I was asked if I believed that I was powerless over alcohol and when I replied, “Most certainly!”, they introduced me to the concept of a Higher Power. They said that they, too, were powerless and that, each morning, they got on their knees to ask the Higher Power of their own understanding to keep them sober that day; all so they could be helpful to others.
Each night, they got on their knees also, to say thank you to this same power for keeping them sober that day.
It did seem very strange. It was not what I thought I’d hear, but they said that, as it had worked for them, I should give it a go. I was in so much pain - who was I to argue? I just did it that night and again the next morning and I have done it, night and morning, ever since; and I have not had - or wanted - a drink in all that time.
I went to lots of meetings and I got involved in service. After about two months, I asked someone to sponsor me. He asked me the magic question, “Was I willing to go to any lengths?” I thought that they were strange words at the time, but I now appreciate that they are repeated in the Big Book a number of times. The wording on Page 79 is just one example. Basically, what it means is, was I willing to do what he had done and pick up the spiritual tools of AA; the spiritual tools of life?
I went round to his flat and, after talking about the first Three Steps, we got down on our knees together to say the Step Three prayer - the prayer that’s shown on Page 63 of the Big Book.
After saying it, he introduced me to Step Four, by showing me how to write it in three columns, as set out in the Big Book.
It was all new to me, but doing it proved to be a revelation. In writing it, I started to realise that the problem was not alcohol, but life. When something happened that I didn’t like, the way I reacted - or rather, why I drank - was because of my resentments and defects of character.
I was told that I have fourteen defects of character; pride, self-pity, self-centredness, dishonesty, sloth, lust, arrogance, impatience, greed, gluttony, envy, jealousy, intolerance and selfishness.
This was all in line with the Big Book. On Page 64 it says, “Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.” Step Four, through looking at our resentments and defects of character, allows us to do this. At the same time, I was shown how to do a Step Ten, too, in order to deal with daily resentments, as they occur.
The importance of doing Steps Four and Five is also described in the Big Book. Page 63 says about step four, “Next, we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had not even attempted.” I certainly hadn’t.
Of course, four leads to Five and Page 72 says about Step Five, “The best reason first: if we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk.”
I never thought I would ever do anything like a Step four. I wrote and told my sponsor everything; nothing was hidden. After coming to AA, doing Steps Four and Five has certainly been the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Thanks AA, thank God for The Steps and thanks for reading this,