Saturday, 28 November 2015

Step Four

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Maya Angelou, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'

The pain when we bear an untold story within us, as Maya Angelou so famously remarked, is the greatest agony.
My stories are rarely untold. Whether written in blogs, journals, poems and scrap books, I've always found ways to tell my story. For most of my life, I've openly shared those stories. I can't deny I didn't do it for myself. There is great catharsis in writing for myself, and when the days feel smothering, words level that burden. Words make the unseemly and endlessly painful days somewhat easier to carry. They provide the metaphorical rubber ring stopping me drowning in the sea. I remain in the chaos of the rampant waves out at sea, but the ring gives me something to keep my head above water. Words have done this for me from a young age. As soon as I learned to read and write at three, I always had my words.
For many years, I didn't use them. Instead I told my story through tainting my skin or shrinking my body. Words lost me. Or maybe, I lost words because I was sabotaging them for something for more destructive, neglecting the huge power even just voicing one word could have. I couldn't find a vocabulary for how I felt.
Since getting sober, sane and safe, I have used words more than I ever have before. In reeling out my thoughts and feelings in a daily writing practice, I find myself with little else to share. By the time all the chaos in my head has hit my notebook, followed by scrutiny of what bears any resemblance to sense, to then be crafted, at least to the best of my ability, into a poem, I find myself tying up loose ends and putting all that chaos in a neat (neater!) and more ordered stream of thought.
If words fail me, or if I fail words because words could never fail me with all their beauty and expensiveness, I scrap book images each telling their own stories. I name the images, I tell stories through the images, I delve straight into my imagination and words pour from me. 

The untold story I bear in myself today isn't one as grave or deep. I still don't fully know why 'sharing' in a meeting is somewhat of a rarity for me. I prefer to listen, absorb, ponder. I am not uncomfortable in the silence, in fact I feel most comfortable in the silence. Each share values a moment or two of silence. To think over what another has said. To honour the words. To give space to the words each person shares. Of course, this is something personal to me, and isn't something I would say is what 'should/could/would' be how others engage in each meeting and with each share.
I do know, in the early days, it was essential for me, to share in meetings. My trust issues were one of my biggest challenges. Maybe being in a room with strangers, made it easy to put myself 'out there.' It saved judgement, at least for me. I felt more comfortable in a room of strangers. I could start my story wherever the hell I wanted. No one knew anything about me or my history. There was great freedom in being anonymous, but also in being the person I was there and then. Not the woman with a thousand stories. Not the woman who still had shame, fear and embarrassment about her past. I didn't even need to use my real name. There was an awful lot in starting something new. I found it easier to open up, and discuss those stories I felt comfortable with. 

Nowadays, I take time with the things I struggle with. I don't always open my mouth and share. I don't even necessarily pick up the phone or message someone. But when I hit enough despair of living alone with something, I do ultimately reach out. It isn't easy for me. It truly isn't. And I think one of the things that triggered me re-opening this blog, is the difficulty I find in being open. Sometimes I have a story inside me. Sometimes my poetry doesn't provide enough for me in telling that story. We all make our own ways with how we choose to share.

Step Four calls on us to make; "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." 

This is the first action step we will now take. It is where living the program, or living the AA way, is put into practice. In the last three steps, I made a decision, and now I must take the actions necessary to fulfill those decisions. 

To look at our fears, our resentments, sexual conduct and harm to others, isn't something at first glance anyone would want to do. It is however, an essential part of the program and Step Four has to be completed as honestly as possible. And it means digging deep. It means peeling back years of pain and hardship. 

Beginning step four, was the first time in a long time, I had to not only be fully honest with myself, but with another. By Step Five, I would be sharing some of my deepest and darkest secrets. One I had yet to even uncover, let alone accept the ones I knew of. Personally, I chose maybe a different way of doing Step Four. I know from hearing others stories, having completed Step Three, their sponsor asks them to take away the forms - there is a significant amount of literature available in assisting step four, and it is down to each individual which was they choose to complete this. For me, I remained at my sponsors house, with blank pieces of paper, a pencil and with a deep breath, I began, with significant help. I remember little of what was said or written, and recount far more, the feelings that accompanied the process of the step. Sat on the floor, being served ginger tea, with a huge amount of emotion within me. I was scared, sure, but I also felt so incredibly safe, I didn't scare easily in completing this. 

Sitting with another is where I gain insight and objectivity. I didn't sit and do my step four and tear myself apart, with a sponsor who did the same. For each 'defect,' there was a positive. I don't even really like the word defect. I find a little, I am not sure. If I use it on myself, I am more likely to feel like crap and throw the whole lot in. I need to look at aspects of myself, with a positive and negative. Where has each defect served me, but also hurt me or another. This is where engaging with another is to prove helpful and healing. If I can grasp the aspects of myself which only serve to pain myself and others, with honestly, openness and willingness, I am at least at the start of being able to work on myself and grow. And how much I have grown in these past 18 months thanks to this program and these steps. 

Discovering my character defects (we find in an honest step four) has highlighted the paradox existing in me, and I am assured I am not alone in that. I am incredibly stubborn, impulsive, determined, bossy, demanding. I have high expectations or myself and others, I love fearlessly, I trust easily, and self preservation isn't something that comes easily to me. I also care, empathise, love, give, and push with great passion for the people, things and experiences I so adore. On the flip side, I trust no one, my perfectionism has caused nervous breakdowns, I can be so afraid of the power of love, I run from it at the first opportunity. Caring and empathy have hurt me incredibly. An inability to let go, to fight another's battle, and to feel their suffering to such depths I deteriorate myself. Lack of self preservation means I fight to the death for others, especially in relationships. I become determined I can fix this person and the next and then berate and punish myself for not being able to. I forget myself, and focus on the other. But my demands, perfectionism, impulsiveness, have also served me tremendously. I never do a half measured job. I either do it or don't. I rarely start something without finishing it. I can remain strong in the face of adversity, even if I break down behind the scenes. I don't give up on myself and others when it comes to recovery. I have faith, belief and trust. Even if often, this makes me appear to be a walking contradiction; which I also am in great measure.


Coming to AA, I didn't think I feared much. Quite the opposite, I thought I was fearless. I thought all the things I had done, many wouldn't. I thought about the events in my life where I stood fully confident. I had understood, well thought I had, the distinction between the fears I experienced in illness. For example, fear or self, fear of food, fear of weight gain, fear of socialising, fear of not completing x, y and z, before doing something. All traits and behaviours attached to the various mental health struggles I had. With regards to the everyday fears many had; heights, spiders, swimming in deep water, driving to new places, meeting new people, giving a presentation to a lecture theatre, being a gymnast... I could go on I am sure. Nothing phased me, it truly didn't. Whenever I felt fear or got scared, I would quickly correct myself with how ridiculous I was being. In hindsight, I had little if any tolerance or patience with myself. It felt so childish to fear such things. I would say; you have done the biggest bungee jump in the world! This was a favourite of mine. And to be honest, it still is. Doing such a challenge remains one of my proudest moments. And I say that because it engaged so much of me. I had to face fear of the unknown (having never done it before), I had to trust those who were arranging the jump, I had to have faith I would be okay. (I am not advocating that you must also go to these lengths to prove your fearlessness!) I stood on the edge of the bridge thinking, nah, I don't need this in my life. The other part, and ultimately biggest part, rationalised it and jumped. My attitude of fuck it! has served me my whole life. For the most part, pressing the fuck it button has harmed me in unimaginable ways, but it also has helped. My ability to jump, literally and figuratively, without any guarantee of where I will fall and my capacity to do something for the first time without letting fear hold me back. For example, coming to my first meeting, and in fact the many meetings after. Even attending a new meeting this far down the line sits uncomfortably with me. It is anxiety provoking to say the least, but I do it. And how glad I am as soon as I sit down in the room and talk with others. I quite literally, feel the fear and do it anyway! I show myself little tolerance for such a fear, and walk into the building of the meeting. I say fuck it. I say Rache, you have done harder things. This time however, it is for my benefit. I know the outcome is healing.

"Fear... this short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. (p. 67 BB)"

Prayer for when we are afraid:

"We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be."
(p. 68 BB)

"God, relieve me of this fear and direct my attention to what you would have me be. Amen."
(see above)

Prayers taken from - Page of Prayer

Since completing Step Four, and by a daily meditation practice and inventory (which I will talk about in step ten and eleven), I have come to understand that although I believed I was fearless at the start of this journey, I actually was terrified. I came to AA scared. A little girl in comparison to the woman I am today, less than two years later. I had to grow up. A lot. An awful lot. Although there were many outer aspects I didn't have fear towards, I was scared inside, and I was predominately scared of myself, or perhaps more, the person I could be if I gave myself a chance. Since getting sober I am incredibly different than I once was. I no longer wear various masks. I no longer change myself according the the situation I am in, or the people I am around. From an outside perspective, I probably look like I fit in more than I ever did. I wonder if the standing out was designed to separate myself further from others because in a way I felt safer at a distance. How I dress has changed, how I carry myself has changed, even the confidence I have is changed. And it is an interesting parallel. To come to the rooms as someone rather outspoken, impulsive, outwardly confident, with a history of being the person who more often than not talk more than others around me, I became someone far more docile. I am not sure if that is the correct word... it is incredibly difficult to articulate. I am not as reactive, not as verbal. I am not the bull in the China shop I was so described as growing up. I have learnt to stop. To listen. I have learnt how to simply be. That doesn't make me submissive, a door mat, or any other term of phrase used to describe a person who doesn't always raise a voice, or demand an answer. It has made me someone who responds instead of react. Someone who listens rather than interrupts. By identifying the fears I had of who I truly was, I had to risk the unknown of letting go of the old façades and becoming who I am today. I feel confident to say I have experienced what the Big Book calls an "entire psychic change."
How I think has come to change. This impacts how I feel; my feelings a result of the dialogue in my head. And ultimately this changes how I react; to myself and others. By changing all of those aspects of myself and who I am, the person I present to the world has changed. I therefore live far differently than I did 18 months ago. I live with uncertainty and challenges of course, but I am at peace. I have serenity. I am content as opposed to being at war with myself. I live, rather than exist.


When I needed to discuss who I had harmed, I cowered. I knew damn well I had hurt everyone around me.I saw clearly the conflict and chaos I had left behind me from years of sickness and addiction. I had to put it down on paper and that was painful. I made sure to keep those pieces of paper. A reminder of the behaviours and ways of dealing and talking to others I used in the past. It is important I see the ways I was, and the ways I choose to be now. 

When I am aware of my own defects and seeking God's help to change:

"We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. . . we ask God what we should do about each specific matter."
(p. 69 BB)

"God mold my ideals in this particular area of my life and help me to live up to them. What should I do in each specific matter? Guide me God and give me strength to do right. Amen"
(see above)


When I started to list my resentments, it is something I had never looked at before, or even thought about. I had heard the word resentment many times in the rooms of AA, and had come to understand its meaning. The word resentment stems from the Latin, sentire, which means to feel. So if we are re-feeling, we are feeling over and over, and we are therefore resentful. So to be resentful, simply means we are thinking and feeling the same thing repeatedly. Who or what or why you are resentful is where step four comes into play. For the first time I was able to sit down and write what my resentments were. I listed the people, places and things. Some were more obvious than others, and some on closer inspection didn't seem to carry as much power as I thought they did. It was essential I did this as honestly and openly as possible, no matter how hard it would be. 

The Big Book states; "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."

Part of the process of getting resentments down on paper, is to note the causes of my resentments and the aspects of myself affected. I would then do something called "The Work" by Byron Katie

Byron Katie's job is;" to teach people how to end their own suffering. As she guides people through the powerful process of inquiry she calls The Work, they find that their stressful beliefs—about life, other people, or themselves—radically shift and their lives are changed forever. Based on Byron Katie's direct experience of how suffering is created and ended, The Work is an astonishingly simple process, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, and requires nothing more than a pen, paper, and an open mind." 

The Work is something I would advice anyone to do. It is not about helping only addiction, but teachings on how to live life on happier terms, being more at peace than you were before the work. And it works. So much so, my sponsor knew  how to facilitate me doing the work on those who I had listed as being resentful towards. The idea being this; 

The Work is meditation. It’s about opening to your heart, not about trying to change your thoughts. Ask the questions, then go inside and wait for the deeper answers to surface.

1) Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
2) Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?

All this and more can be found on Byron Katie's webpage, as shown above.

The Work is life changing. I have had some of the most painful relationships turned on their heads. It has been invaluable to me as I continue my journey through recovery.
By being able to identify my role in where I had built resentments, I have been able to free myself of said resentment. I have been able to take an objective look, in the presence of another, where I need to grow, change and amend, my behaviour. Those listed as resentments and those harmed, would then becomes those I made an amends to. Now I have this out on paper, I can now move forward to the next step; to talk openly and honestly with another, not just myself.

Prayers for when I am disturbed by the conduct (symptoms) of others:

"This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done."
(p. 67 BB)

"God help me to show this person the same tolerance, pity and patience that I would Cheerfully grant a sick friend. This is a sick person, how can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done."
(see above and p. 141 of 12&12)


Breaking up what is me, what is my addict head, and which is when I am in the depths of mental illness, isn't easy and even now, I find it in a lot of ways impossible to unravel. I have had to learn the difference. I have had to be honest with myself. I have had to ask those close to me who have seen me in sickness and in health. I have had to give time, time. Not jump to conclusions. Not assume. Not race ahead.
I didn't delve into some of my past. About ten years before getting sober, I spent many years working with a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. During this time, I would open up about the trauma I had endured in my life. namely sexual assault, as well as physical and emotional abuse at times in my life. For me, much of my dis-ease, had stemmed from these roots. The development of an eating disorder had come from these experiences, and the co-occurrence of PTSD and mood disorders, only worsened my behaviours. For this reason, as part of my step work, I chose to leave these experiences behind. I felt, and still do, those experiences no longer haunted me or impacted my day to day life. I feel so grateful I had taken the time to do this work. It gave me a great deal of strength, and whilst it wasn't enough to change the fact I still battled bipolar, it did give me great strength to face changing my behaviours and how I lived my life. Namely, without constantly destroying me and those around me. However, despite this work, I had yet to deal with my addictions. 

I knew from a young age I had a problem with alcohol. I think I knew I had a problem with myself, but it was easily masked by drink or medication. I never knew the pain I was in, because I always had a way to make it go away. As soon as I sensed or felt it, I did whatever it took to be rid of it. I did this for so many years. An eating disorder, self harm, and other behaviours masked the route of the problem. The route of the problem being me, and my inability to live with myself and with life on life's terms. To then find myself 18 months ago, with nothing and no way out, I had to learn for the first time, how to just deal. How to sit with whatever the hell I was feeling. I had no way out, and only one way forward, if I was to continue living. My way forward was a solution to my addictions which I was promised would transpire if I worked the program. I would also be given an extensive tool box to help me manage my mental health difficulties. I also must remember to not becomes complacent like I have many times before. This is a program that needs practising every single day for the rest of my life.
So far, I have not relapsed with my disorder. Every day I am grateful for my health and wellbeing. I do not know if this will always be the way, but for now, as I take my medication as prescribed and do my best to live a sober life, I know I can deal with anything that comes my way, even if that includes a repeated episode, as is taught to me the joys and successes of living; one day at a time.

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