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goods to our customers, i.e. the people in our lives, we look at our “shelves” and deal with all the dented cans and outdated goods on them.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
counselling in vancouver

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