Step Four : Into Action
By John W.
It was not long after I started to find the serenity of sobriety that I heard a living legend in my home group, affectionately known as “our old-timer,” share something I was to hear again and again over the years. They talked one day about their work with a reticent sponsee who was challenged by Step Four. The concern being expressed was that if one did not do a “searching and fearless moral inventory” they would drink again. Although no hard data was ever offered in support, the lore was clear: If you don’t do a thorough Fourth Step, you drink again and that takes you out, for good.
Still being “wet behind the ears” in the sober world, the fear that not doing an effective Fourth Step would lead to this fatal result scared the living daylights out of me. I wanted nothing to do with the threat of this lore and wanted everything to do with the success of being searching, thorough, and fearless.
In confronting this inventory taking, I was told that I could be fearless because I had already “made a decision.” Since I had been armed in Step Three with the knowledge that the task of taking an inventory would not be done alone, it had immediately appeared less daunting. I was able to contrast this with the fear and loathing I heard from some in my fellowship when they described how they had struggled with this inventory taking, putting it off for any myriad of reasons. When these descriptions were rendered, the speaker seemed always to conclude that they had simply given different names to the same bogeyman: fear. “Knowing” I would have the help of my Higher Power had displaced the fear about this unknown inventory process which it had first posed.
This left me to grapple with my labels for this bogeyman, my ideas that I might pull a “work around” to the Fourth Step or handle it with my usual “mañana, all ahead, half steam” approach. But I knew in my heart that these were not and could not be acceptable alternatives. This made me even more motivated to take the plunge and take the step. I also didn’t have to look far to find the prescription for dealing with my inventory. It was handily laid out right in front of me, in our literature, complete with columns, descriptions of how to use them, and antidotes of what I should be looking for to accomplish my goal.
At first, especially given my personal character defect of procrastination, what was not clear to me was the speed with which this task, once confronted, needed to be commenced.
Having a sponsor to guide me again proved the value in getting one in the first place. When I asked, my sponsor gently reminded me that our literature is replete with examples of a problem being set forth and the solution to the problem delineated almost immediately thereafter. My sponsor told me, as to the transition from Step Three to Step Four, that while my “decision made” was crucial and vital, it would likely have little permanent effect if I didn’t take action upon it immediately. He quickly reminded me, yet again, that my drinking was only a symptom of the conditions that were blocking me and that this inventory would be my first real action to address my shortcomings. As I read again about my task in the Big Book, I also noticed that his use of the phrase “vigorous action” was neither by accident nor original.
No longer could my procrastination or its partner in crime, Jose Cuervo, be a buffer between me and the task at hand. No longer could I use the excuse that I would “get to it” . . . some time, as the justification for avoiding the hard look that I needed to take of myself. For years my approach to “solving problems” was accomplished while sitting at a bar, often presenting my side of the story to a listening ear behind the bar. I would then come to conclusions about just how my problems would be solved tomorrow, especially after just one more drink today. Of course my problems not only would not get solved the next day, they often were never even addressed. My “solutions” were just part of the sediment left in my dirty bar glasses or my empty bottles conveniently stashed in my neighbor’s recycling bin.
I knew the inventory was indispensable, I needed no proof of that beyond the circumstances of my own unmanageable life. However, having my Higher Power now with me and able to help me in the process was icing on the cake. I now knew I was no longer alone, I was no longer feeling helpless. I actually had a plan of vigorous action to go forward and to stay sober doing it. Only now, years later and in hindsight, can I see that this was the first of those Ninth Step Promises opening up for me. It was doing so in a way I had never imagined and had never hoped could be in my future.
I had made my decision and I had vigorously turned to the Fourth Step with a plan, a sponsor and a Partner. One of my mates likes to say we can either get busy living or be left to be busy dying. I wanted to get busy living and Step Four was my rocket into that fourth dimension about which I had heard others marvel. I discovered later that while I had indeed turned on to that broad Highway called Recovery, I had not then even realized it yet. But as promised, the benefits of that Journey have kept me sober ever since and for that I am eternally grateful.