would you like to free yourself of your past?

here we have another instalment of our discussion of the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous and other similar groups. unlike the other three steps we discussed, steps 4 and 5 are two steps that can very easily be taken out of the 12-step framework and applied in everyone’s life.

the purpose of these steps is to “clear the wreckage of our past”, as they say. they suggest to “make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves” and then to “admit the nature of our wrongdoings.”

everyone has this kind of wreckage and sometimes that’s okay. but the sort of wreckage that wreaks havoc is the stuff that still stands in our way, making progress impossible or at least difficult or awkward.

often one piece of wreckage creates a new one, just as lies beget more lies. relationships with relatives are a good example of that. i knew one guy who, in drunken stupor, once wrote a very undiplomatic letter to an uncle. this brought a chill in their relationship, which prompted them to avoid each other, which prompted other people in the family to avoid each other, etc.

it snowballs. steps 4 and 5 stop that snowball.

“fearless” means that we look things straight in the eye. we don’t pretend that there’s no rotten broccoli under our emotional rug.

“searching” means that we don’t just deal with the obvious. we know that there’s stuff under that rug and we lift it up to see if there’s more than that stinking little broccoli tree. aha! a whole army of mental dust bunnies! (constant problems with time management?  procrastination?  negative thinking that just won’t go away?  a habit of making uninformed decisions?) no wonder that carpet is so slippery!

“moral.” moral is an old word – let’s not forget this stuff was written in the 30s. two synonyms for “moral” are “ethical” and “principled” – maybe they are a bit more useful nowadays. so in step 4 we pay particular attention to the ethics of our behaviour.

we compare our behaviour with our values, our standards – exactly what’s done in an inventory. because we have the value that we don’t want to offer inferior goods to our customers, i.e. the people in our lives, we look at our “shelves” and deal with all the dented cans and outdated goods on them.  and since we ourselves are important people in our lives, we also look at all the dented cans, ripped bags and dusty containers that we dislike.

hence, part of what we do in step 4 is to look at all the things we aren’t willing to tolerate anymore – a bad job, a relationship that’s long gone sour, or a habit that doesn’t serve us anymore.
the last thing about the inventory is obvious but often overlooked. an inventory is not just about the “bad stuff.” it’s just as much about what’s beautiful and smart, loving and funny about you.

sometimes people find it difficult to find those assets within themselves. if that’s you, one way of getting a bit of a handle on it is to do a formal asset inventory. if you’ve never done an inventory before, get in touch with me and i’ll show you how.

next time we’ll talk some more about step 5, about bringing this inventory to someone else to witness.

isabella mori
moritherapy
counselling in vancouver

6 thoughts on “would you like to free yourself of your past?

  1. Larry Ackerman

    I think the idea of freeing yourself from your past is well intended and can be helpful – up to a point. I went through a process of ‘unbundling’ my past, over several years, because i wanted to ‘clear the decks’ in order to find out who i really was, absent the labels and clutter that accumulate over time. It was a wonderful and scary experience. It was finally liberating – but not because I simply ‘freed myself from my past’ but because I wound up finding – and embracing – my authentic self, which had been overshadowed by so many things.

    My point is: don’t just let go of stuff; find stuff – find yourself, your innate identity, and hold on to what you find. It is the most beautiful and powerful force in one’s life. Once I located, and was able to articulate, my identity, I understood how i could contribute in this world. This discovery set me off on a journey that has shaped my career and my life, very successfully.

    Today, i have the privilege of working with people and organizations around the world, helping them uncover and apply their identities in ways that benefit them and others. I have been inspired – indeed driven – to write about my experiences and insights in two books: The Identity Code and Identity Is Destiny.

    I’d invite anyone interested in “freeing themselves from the past” to look at these books – especially the first one – as a foundation for taking that most important journey of liberation.

  2. lin

    what do you do when your experience is in conflict with your values? i was hurt by a stranger over thirty years ago and i still cannot find room for that.

  3. isabella mori

    hi lin, and thanks for stopping by.

    can you tell me a little more about what you mean “your experience is in conflict with your values”?

    if it’s too personal, please don’t hesitate to use the contact form and get in touch with me that way.

  4. lin

    Sure.

    On the values side, an abiding belief that the world is a just, fair place and that kindness begets kindness, gentleness begets gentleness and basically good people lead basically good lives.

    On the experience side, a single, violent event at the hands of a stranger that lasted just three hours when I was 12 years old has somehow become the defining moment of my life.

    I have been reading your weblog for some time and do not comment much, but ‘clearing wreckage’ resonates with me and though I work pretty hard at healing, it is so slow going and if there are opportunities to hasten the process, I’m all ears and eager to jump in.

    Thanks,
    lin

  5. isabella mori

    thanks for continuing the conversation, lin. i went to your blog yesterday and remembered having met you before in the blogosphere …

    the values that are looked at in step 4 are compared to OUR goods, or as they say, “our side of the street”. these values are standards we set for ourselves, not for others, simply because we have no power over how others act, we only have power over how we act and think (although that seems a bit limited sometimes, too, doesn’t it?).

    actually, the sorting out of what acts “belong” to me and which ones “belong” to the other can be a very healing experience, and it is often part of step 4. in doing that, sometimes it turns out that we have taken way too much responsibility for events in the past over which we had little control (and of course, sometimes it’s the other way round; but it’s always full of surprises).

    in rereading this post, i realize that i talked about what this inventory is about but i’m pretty vague on ways to do it. material for another blog post, i guess 🙂

  6. ClinicallyClueless

    Interesting question and not one that I haven’t asked before…despite everything that I’ve been through, it has made me who I am today. However, I do wish that I was not in such denial and asked for help at work when I really needed it. I wish that I would have pursued my Psy.D. earlier, but I wasn’t mentally ready to do that.

    For me, my self-hatred gets in the way of everything, so I get stuck. But, that has to do with how I grew up, but it is now my responsibility. It sucks!!
    .-= ClinicallyClueless´s last blog ..PAST JOURNAL ENTRY: 12/30/05 to 1/2/06 ~ Part V (final) =-.

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