What You Need To Learn For True Freedom

Jail Cell
Jail Cell (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

What You Need To Learn For True Freedom 

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

This a segment from the part of the Alcoholics Anonymous book that describes the things that should have happened if you did your Fourth Step correctly.  In other words if these things have not happened, you are absolutely not done with your Step Four and should not be trying to move on to Step Five.  The change you were looking for has not happened.  Or, should I say, the change the authors felt you needed t get sober have not happened.

Look at this passage describing one of the focuses of Step Five:

They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 73)

The implication of this passage is that one of the reasons that there is a Step Five is to help each person get rid of MORE egoism, get rid of MORE fear, and get more humble.  This means that a big part of Step Four is to get humility, fearlessness and more honesty according to passage.  Step Five merely takes you deeper.

Consider this passage from a page before we start actually reading about doing the Fourth Step:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Selfishness and Self-centeredness!  The archenemy of every alcoholic and addict is self focus.  This is supposed to be addressed in Step Four directly.  If you do not deal with the selfishness and self-centeredness then you stay the same.  If you stay the same then you are the same and can expect the same results at some point.  In other words:  If your recovery does not change you deeply, then you have gone through recovery and come out the same.  If you are the same you can expect to do the same at some point no matter how long you manage to put it off.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.  For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.  Nearly all A.A.’s have found too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy.  (12 Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

The focus of Step Four and Step Five (and in reality of all of the Steps) is the attainment of humility.  I know I have crossed this bridge a few times, but because it is such a key focus of all we do this topic has to be more of a bridge we cross over daily in our commute to our one day at a time recovery instead a bridge we pass over and never look back at again. 

The obvious question that comes up when having this humility conversation is:  “What about the people who are not humble who have sobriety time?”  I say to that question:  “Bring three of those people to your mind.”  (I personally know a bunch)  How do you like to be around those people for a long time?  Honestly speaking, those people make me want to gag myself with a jackhammer.

Some are so miserable and angry about everything they encounter that I kinda have to resist the natural urge to avoid conversation with them.  The kind of person who gets up to share and describes how jacked up life is and the world and on and on yet throwing in the but I’ve been sober “X” amount of years (and people clap and cheer etc.).  Not to say that their recovery time is a bad thing.  I’m also not talking about the fact that all of us have those days and periods of time.  I’m describing the person who meeting after meeting, day after day, conversation after conversation and year after year has the same attitude and those same conversations.

I remember thinking to myself, when hearing guys like that over and over again; “If that is all there is to recovery, then I would rather keep using.  If sober is that miserable and being miserable is my motivation for wanting to be sober I’m stuck choosing between sober and miserable and drunk/high and miserable.

This passage says that sober and miserable is not the goal at all and that gaining humility is the answer. 

Another form of this being not “truly happy” because of not getting enough humility is seen in these people who cannot fell comfortable or good unless they are taking control of everything.  They always know more or have to get a word in or have to declare constantly how great they are etc.  Is not all of that truly the diametric opposition to humility.  The most opposite you could possibly get to it. 

If a person were this “truly happy” why would said person be so unhappy (or the disguise they use for this “uncomfortable”) when not in control?  Translation:  What kind of “truly happy” person needs to derive any kind of positive feeling from the manipulation of others.

I spoke on this previously so I will not go over this passage in detail but if you want to truly get a look at this kind of person look at pgs. 60, 61 and 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  The passages that use the example of the actor who wants to run the show and thinks if everyone would just act the way he/she wants them to all would be fine.

This person is not “truly happy.”  This person is sick (still sick) and manipulative.

I am not saying:  “Ooooh, you evil person!”  I’m saying there is a key obstacle that still has not been overcome that desperately needs to be (for your own good and the good of those around you).

Now back to what all of this has to do with the Fourth Step.  What does killing your selfishness, self-centeredness and gaining more humility look like in Step Four?

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

The book asks you (as a resentment list) to write down everyone you have ever been angry at in your life.

In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

Without going too far down this rabbit trail, you list angers because people generally do not know all of their resentments off of the top of their heads.  Most people have five or so they can think of and that’s it.  But, if you list every time you have been angry (even if the other person never knew) then you are likely to realize that many of those (if not most) are some level of resentment, some of which you try to hide from yourself.

So if done like this, you end up with a massive, itemized list of every person who has ever ticked you off throughout your whole life.  Have you begun to “learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even your enemies” or have you just unearthed a whole lot of uneasy feelings, many of which you had neatly packed away to not think about.  When do you start looking at them as “sick people” you have hurt by your conduct and become willing to straighten out the past?

This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.  Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 66– 67)

First we look at them as people who are spiritually sick.  Sick in ways that are much deeper than just being the messed up person who chose to tick me off.  Two pages before, the authors use this same “spiritually sick” concept to describe the problem that has made us alcoholic/addicts and that made us hurt other people. 

The question here is, “Could it be that these people are suffering from a similar inner sickness that you suffer from.”   Is it possible that their real problem is that they need help that they may not even know they need like you and the rest of us recovery folks? 

Then you are asking for tolerance, pity, and patience.  The kind you show a sick person who accidently does something that you do not like because it is some symptom of their sickness.  Like a friend who has a week to live who vomits on your clothes.  What kind of person gets mad at that person and beats the terminally ill person up or cusses them out?

Next you are looking to be helpful to that person.  Instead of being a part of the problem, you are looking to be a part of the solution.  In other words; you are a sick person and this is a sick person.  You are trying to get better and have some ideas now about what it takes to get better.  You have encountered a person who is trapped in a similar sickness and you know how to point that person in the direction of getting better.  You can choose to overcome the urge to retaliate and look for ways to truly be helpful (even if it’s just dropping a tidbit of information that person may not even consider for many years) or you can just jump on the crazy train with that person and fan the flames of craziness in that person’s world while restarting whatever fires have been put out in you.

The fire starters and the people who fan the flames of others are continuing down the path of selfishness and self-centeredness and away from the key focus of Twelve Step recovery:  “The attainment of greater humility”.

Key to all of this is to seek freedom from the anger that normally rises.  They did not say resentment, the authors stressed “anger”.   Anger is really the feeling that there is this right to be angry which is really the spiteful desire to punish another person between your own ears in your head.  You may spew some of your own crazy on that person or others (or you may not) but in reality in trying to beat them up inside your head, you are in truth only beating a hole in the rock that is on top of your neck. 

That person did something to you:  “How dare they hurt someone as important as you?”  Forget the “sick” person part and the “how can I be helpful” to this person part.  This person had the nerve to hurt ME!

Another fine definition of “selfishness and self-centeredness” which is the root of our troubles.

After listing every person who has ever angered you in your life, you need to go over this with each and every person on the list.  You need to take this view of every person on the list and find an answer to the question:  “How can I be helpful to him” or her?

Then comes the deep part:  There is a test to see which ones you have been successful at making these changes on and the ones you haven’t so you can go back and work on those ones some more.

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)  

Now, you take this list of every person who has ever ticked you off ever and ignore that very fact completely.  All you have right now is a list of what is wrong with everyone else in the world and you may or may not have included yourself a few times on this list.  What did you do before or during whatever thing is listed to the listed person(s) that was in some way just not right?  If nothing what did you do to this person that was not right after this thing occurred (instead of looking for “How can I be helpful to” this other sick person)?

Is it not true that if you were not helpful to this person you were probably hurtful? 

The situation or the person may have required a calm discussion.  It may have needed a firm but caring confrontation.  It may have required the police be called and an abusive person arrested for their own potential growth and you to leave so that that person has opportunity to see that being abusive is not okay (even though he or she may never see it you focused on trying to be helpful instead of retaliation etc.) .  It may mean telling parents, principles and proper authorities about being abused as a child to get that person proper help and to save other children from such abuse. (An abused child will not have done anything to the person as a child but often as adults abuse themselves with resentments.  Those who were abused as children often also never even begin to think about how to be helpful to that person.  This is a deep part of the resentment and the self-protection manifesting.  That may mean demanding that person get help or you will expose them etc.  An abused child is never to be blamed but as an adult we have to take on responsibility to be free and to be helpful).

This is a deep and often painful look at what is wrong with you and not everyone else.  The “How can I be helpful to him” or her part is not just some cool psychobabble that the Twelve Step people invented.  It is the end zone for this part of Step Four.  It is the “attainment of greater humility” overcoming “Selfishness and self-centeredness” part.  If you don’t get this change, you are the same except now you have an itemized list of everything and everyone that ever worked your nerves. 

Or you might even be worse; you may be one of these people who has like three or four people listed and ramble on and on about not having resentments only to either relapse or to white-knuckle struggle your way through some abstinence while selfishness and self-centeredness keeps you never able to enjoy the world for what it is.

If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 70)

This is a lot of work and a tremendous amount of stress.  Well one would expect there to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of stress in the process of getting a tremendous amount of freedom.

A person chained up in a cage can get free from the chains and become free to roam within the cage and some can even get to roam around the whole prison which are levels of freedom but are not truly free.  We want true freedom and it is possible.

Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.

Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 63– 64)

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 65– 66)

Stay sober my friends;

Wade H.

There is a Solution. Well, What is it Then?

There is a Solution.  Well, What is it Then?

Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Pol...
Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

For those of us who have struggled with the devouring monster that is alcoholism/addiction, these words offer some level of relief.  For those around us who care about us or love us this is a glimmer of hope.  There is a solution to a seemingly impossible problem.  There is some kind of hope where there seems to be absolutely none whatsoever.

Before going on I think it is very important to include those of us who do not see things as that desperate.  Those who think; “Yeah, I have a problem, but it’s not that bad.”  The kind of person who sits in their forth or fifth recovery program secretly thinking to himself or herself; “I am not as bad as all of these people, I don’t even really need all of this.”  For you there is a solution too.  If in fact you really are not that far advanced in your using, let’s get you to stop before you are.  If you are that advanced and just lying to yourself (which you probably wouldn’t know) then there is a solution that will also deal with lying to yourself.

Here are a few details of what you must be willing to do to get this solution.

  1. Self-searching
  2. Leveling of your own pride
  3. Confession of your shortcomings

The first is self-searching.  Knowing what is really wrong with you is a key part of the proc

ess (although in and of itself it will not keep you sober).

We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 64)

The reason behind this is very simple:

Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 64)

So, part of our recovery is to search for the things within ourselves that are problems and to do whatever it takes to be rid of those things.  We are to take an honest look at ourselves and be willing to take even the most extreme actions to be rid of the things that are not good.

A big part of doing this is seen in the Fourth Step.  

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

It is not just a look at yourself that we are talking about, it is a “searching and fearless moral inventory” that we are taking of ourselves.  The searching is not just a casual look that never drifts past your comfort level. Look at some of the definitions you find in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for search:

: to look into or over carefully or thoroughly in an effort to find or discover something: as a: to examine in seeking something

: to look or inquire carefully

: to make painstaking investigation or examination

(Merriam-Webster.com)

You notice words like carefully, thoroughly, examine carefully, look into or over carefully, painstaking, etc.  These are key. 

The word fearless is also of great importance.  Think of the fears as those things that are hidden behind such thoughts as:  “This is stupid”, “Why do we have to look at all of this, my problem is using, not all of this”, “What does this have to do with my recovery”, and other such thoughts.  Fear often disguises itself as seemingly logical reasons why you should not take an honest look at yourself.  

Stop looking for reason not to take a good look at yourself and take a fearless, careful, thorough, painstaking, examination and investigation of yourself.  That is the call to self-searching.

Second comes the level of your pride.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

If selfishness and self-centeredness is such a problem than overcoming any pride (be it hidden or obvious) that is in your life is a key task for you.  Those who are aggressively selfish probably know this about themselves and their recoveries.  Those who are more passively selfish (like codependents and those that otherwise seem giving and selfless but underneath have other selfish motivations/expectations) this may be a bit harder to see about yourself.  Again a “searching and fearless” inventory is a good place to clear up all of the mystery.

Last but not least is the third in that list:  Confession of your shortcomings.  In a basic sense this is broken down into two parts and really two levels in a Twelve Step Program.  There is a more personal facing of these things and a more public facing of these things.

The more personal facing of these things takes place from Step 5 up to Step 7, but let’s focus on the Step 5 portion:

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

After inventorying these things we sit with God, ourselves and another person not only to admit these things, but to search out deeper clarity on these things.  But, why do I call this the “more personal facing of these things”?  Steps 8 and 9 bring the more public facing of these things.  Let’s look at Step 9 briefly:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

We go to every person we have hurt because of these shortcoming (not the least of which being selfishness and self-centeredness) and we confess our problem to each one.  Here is the catch:  It is probable that if you do not want to do some or all of these amends that you are so busy protecting yourself from discomfort that you have no concern for helping the other person/people feel better, get closure, begin to process etc.  That really means you are being selfish and self-centered which, as we read above is a huge part of our problem as alcoholics/addicts.  Not wanting to do this means you are stuck in your recovery and not recovering at this point.

Step 10 is really doing all of the things we have just talked about all of the time.  

This probably all sounds like a really tall order.  This may all seem like too much to do or the more subtle way of saying the same thing “All of this is not worth it.”  That is what Steps 1 through 3 are all about (and also why they come first).

The problem is not how hard these tasks are, the real problem is how desperate you are to be better.  

Drastic problems often require drastic solutions!

In describing Steps 8 and 9 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book the authors write:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

At the beginning of recovery, you must decide that you are ready to “go to any lengths” for recovery.  In other words at the beginning, you must believe that your problem is so desperate that you must be willing to do whatever it takes to get better, no matter what that means.  That is true recognition of powerlessness and this is the beginning.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

This is the essence of Step 1 an I think the mindset is best described in one phrase in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

So; recovery is going to require Self-searching, leveling of your pride and confession of your shortcomings which are very deep and terribly hard to do properly.  The reason people do it is because they are so desperate to be recovered that it can only be compared to the desperation that a drowning person has for air.  This is recovery for the hopeless variety of alcoholic/addict, but this is not a negative thing as many of us automatically think.  The glass is not only half empty!!! 

This is hope where there is no hope.  This is the life preserver thrown at the drowning person.  THERE IS A SOLUTION where there seemed to be none and although it may not be comfortable, it is worth it…   GO FOR IT!!!

 

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.