In recovery as we begin to do the 12 steps, there is one step that seems particularly daunting - that we often put off OR try to avoid altogether. That is the 4th Step - “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This is where we sit down and write our history - from the beginning. It can be daunting at first, but it is truly necessary and cathartic to make a list of resentments and situations and people over time. As we use the columns shown in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we isolate people and describe each resentment separately, then we note how it affected us. In a healthy way, we stand back from the situation and look at our behavior/part in the situation. How were we contributing to the dynamic? Often, we find, especially after we’ve done several of these columns, that we had our own agenda, our own often delusional expectations of that person, and that the other person could just as easily have been reacting to OUR behavior?!
That sort of discovery may sound harsh and difficult to look at, but the good news is, the way we behaved in the past is within our control to change moving forward. What seems to happen is, once we see our part in our life story - we begin to see the patterns of our reactions to life, to people and situations as defense-mechanisms to deep seated fear and low self-esteem. And as I said, the fact that our behaviors, once we see the patterns and their origins, we see not only that we can change ourselves, but in the process, we see the other person as doing the best they could as well. It humanizes them and almost dissipates feelings of anger and the desire for revenge or “a day in court” diminishes. This is the moment where the resentments seem to just burst like a balloon and float away.
Now how do we turn to ourselves and forgive our behaviors which caused others harm or hurt? This is where we turn to Step 8 and 9. Step 8 “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9 “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” When we take this final step in making contact wherever possible and sitting down with someone we may have hurt or harmed, there should be no expectations of how they will react. We deliver our message to them, and then we allow them to talk. That may be the surprising part. Sometimes there will be a ‘piling on’ by that person of other things we did that hurt them, and we need to listen and let them vent. Many times, it will be necessary to ask them if there is anything we can do to remedy the situation? Sometimes they will have a favor to ask, but often the person is satisfied with the exchange, and you can leave the meeting with a weight lifted from your shoulders, and perhaps a rekindled relationship. This is the point where we feel lighter and through this process of seeing others in a new more realistic and compassionate way, we in turn, can look in the mirror at ourselves and see ourselves in the same compassionate and forgiving way. What a transformative experience these steps can give someone who is on the path of a clean and sober life!