FEAR and the 4th Step!!! The Fears Inventory.

man wearing face mask

One question I have gotten regularly for years is to clarify the fears inventory for the 4th Step.

While there are many guidelines and varying ideas on how to do several parts of this step I will not go so far as to call anything right or wrong here, but I also have to be clear that I cannot give away something I have do not have. I know how it was done with me a couple of times and how it has been described in the literature and in the circles of historians and AA enthusiasts (if one can be such a thing) in my circles.

Before we get into any details it is important to remember what you are doing when doing the 4th Step.

“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

I guess I would describe this part of the process as ruthlessly looking for your internal enemy of your life, your recovery and your faith…  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. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?

Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67

Dealing with “fear” is an important and key part of every person’s recovery.

Let’s start with the more extreme: Take the more obvious example a person who is an extreme narcissist…  behind any level of inferiority complex that makes a person repeatedly tell him/herself to constantly prove him/herself superior to everyone else is a fear that one is inferior.  In such a person’s case that fear is the root behind a long list of behaviors and decisions that destroys relationship, destroys happiness, destroys careers and makes enemies of everyone around that person (even if they smile in his or her face).

That narcissistic person will have resentments aimed at each person that stopped dealing with him/her (i.e. left them), for every person at every job that was lost or made uncomfortable and for every person the smiled in his/her face andtopless man sitting on brown and black block turned against him/her.

But, didn’t that person’s own fears create and exacerbate all of these situations.  Didn’t these situations lead this person to the restlessness, irritability and discontent that seemed to justify using?  Wasn’t all of this caused by this person shifting to “self-reliance” (pg 68) to find the elusive superiority and to ignore the feelings and needs of the people around him/her?

Almost everything negative in our lives can be tied to some fear or other that is deep within us and probably has been with us so long we probably see it as an old friend that protects us and not as the “evil and corroding thread” (pg 67) that is running through every part of our life trying to poison every aspect of it.

If you look diligently and with ruthless honesty you can find a fear or group of fears in just about every resentment. It may simply be an obvious fear that allowed you to get into that situation, the obvious fear that convinced you to stay in that situation or a complex web of fears that tangled together destroy your thinking, actions, interactions and the lives of everyone around you.

woman in white lace cap sleeved top and green skirt hiding behind brown wall

The truth is that awareness of these “FEARS” is a big step in overcoming them. These fears are so effective in negatively affecting our lives because we are erroneously convinced that they are some key ingredient to our success when in fact they are the enemy found in every destructive aspect of our life.

On your fourth step, you go through and look at each incident and first bracket the word “fear” next to every incident where you can see the fear(s) involved and you kept going.  Once you have done this to the entire list, you go through and the next column on the list is your fears list.  That is where you identify clearly and specifically what each fear is for each instance with ruthless honesty.  You need to have an outside look at yourself under a microscope that can se even the tiniest speck of fear in your life.

This fear is one of your “Greatest Enemies” (pg 145). And the irony is that some people struggle with this part of the steps because they have been trained to be afraid of having or admitting any fears and are in effect afraid of the word “fear.”

We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them. We asked ourselves why we had them. Wasn’t it because self-reliance failed us? Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn’t fully solve the fear problem, or any other.

Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 68

To set a basic guideline: With very few exceptions, for every item on your list some fear(s) is at the root of that resentment which ended in some act of selfishness on your part. To get rid of the selfish action and not the get rid of theroot fear behind it means the selfish action is destined to return or some new selfishness will surface ending in more resentments and destruction. When you cut off the top of a weed but leave the roots, that weed and other weeds will grow over time (no matter how good your garden may look today).never be afraid on typewriter

To sum up: We MUST ruthlessly look for every fear in each item on your list and confront it head on. Then add the fears that are not specifically tied to items already on your list, add those as well and confront those head on also. Additionally, we must be aware of the poison that some of us have for this process that is the “fear” of having or admitting our own fears. Guess what? You have to list that and ruthlessly confront that head on as well.

These new, honest looks at yourself and the roots of your behaviors, issues and self-centeredness will be key your working of the rest of the steps.

While there may be varying ways to work a 4th Step and it’s various parts, the key in this case is not as much the method as it is found in how vigorously, honestly and ruthlessly you search out, admit and confront your own hidden (or not so hidden) fears.

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.

Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 6364

The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will? (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question! This is a huge question in you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict. This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict. This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Creepy Clown Doctors
Creepy Clown Doctors (Photo credit: Chris Kealy)

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question!  This is a huge question if you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict.  This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict.  This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

Before you talk to or about this person;  can you get past the feeling that this person is just weak, just an idiot, stupid etc.

When dealing with an alcoholic, there may be a natural annoyance that a man could be so weak, stupid and irresponsible. Even when you understand the malady better, you may feel this feeling rising.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 139)

This is a natural feeling to have and to some degree or other may be rooted in some level of truth.  The question you have to ask yourself is are you going to be another part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Lately I have noticed more and more of these negative conversations taking place with, around or about people in desperate need.  As I stated a second ago, these feelings and discussions may hold some elements of truth or even be entirely true, but the mere fact of these discussions may reveal deeper problems.

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. 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. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This passage is speaking specifically about alcoholics/addicts and the root of the problem, but is it possible that this is the root of some of the problems that some of the people around the alcoholic/addict.  Not to make anyone uncomfortable, but if you are participating in activities like that is it possible that you may be a contributor to the problem by vomiting your own sickness all over the sick person in need.

Let me explain.  One big question about these conversations is why?  Why are you saying what you are saying or even thinking what you are thinking?  Is there some way that this conversation helps the person or is that in reality incredibly unlikely.

It’s amazing how many times we who are supposed to be the friends, loved ones or helpers of a person in need see them wounded and decide that the best help we can give is a series of poison darts shot from our mouths.

Why would a group of people that know a person in need have a conversation focusing on what is wrong with the person and spend little if any time discussing what things any of them could do to help the person.  Wouldn’t that be just about getting each one of their feelings communicated to someone, about making sure that the others understand why you feel that way and to ensure that they are converted to feeling the same way as you do (in other words compounding the hurts and harms that this person has caused to each of the individuals in the conversation with the harms and hurts of the others).  Remember what is at the root of the person’s problem:

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)

If this is the wellspring of stupidity in the life of this person, are you sure that it is the best choice of possible contributions you can make to their life?

In some cases it is an individual conversation with the person, that is the culprit.  Someone who has real problems with this person (real or imagined) that he/she wants to express right now.  Right now: even if the person is not listening or will be terribly damaged by the conversation etc.

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that these conversations need to be had.  I am also fully aware that there are times when full-blown reality checks are needed.  It is the when, why and how that I am questioning.

Talking smack about or to a person and using “It’s for their own good” to justify it.  Or should I say to justify the fact that it is for your own good no matter how it may damage the person or the person’s relationship with others including you.

Here is a reality check for each one of us:  To some degree alcoholism/addiction is contagious.  I don’t mean that in the sense that if you get around an alcoholic/addict you automatically become one also.  I meant that in the sense that if a person who is sick with this disorder is around you the tendency is to pick up some of the symptoms (such as selfishness and self-centeredness).

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

There are appropriate times, places and ways to have necessary conversations about real concerns and wounds.  There are also times when we want to engage in such conversations mainly because we are “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity”.

A good reality check for all of us is to look at ourselves and how sick we are ourselves before we get busy about relieving the pressure inside of each one of us to erupt into an explosion of what’s wrong with another person.

Those who work in medicine have an obligation to “do no harm”.  It would seem that it is a good rule in general and a great way to measure when it is right and wrong to express these things.  After all, what right do you have to rant about the problems that person has if you are a part of the problem yourself (that includes even just influencing the other people this person encounters by talking about that person “behind their back”).

It is not a matter of if the alcoholic/addict person is indeed a sick person.  It is a question of if you are so sick that you are going to make the sick person sicker instead of better.

Think of the reality involved in reality checking like you think of nuclear energy:  It can be used (carefully) as a cheap and powerful source of energy and a huge benefit or it can be unleashed in a way that creates chaos and global annihilation.  The reality check is not good or bad in and of itself it is a matter of how it is used.

That brings us back, full circle, to our original question:

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

Can you deal with this person and with those you discuss this person with in a way that is focused on not doing harm to him/her or how others view him/her.  If you find that not to be possible, you may be at a point where you are a part of the problem also.  You may have gotten there because of that person and what he/she has done to you, but the reasons do not change the facts.  If you do not like the problems and want to be free of the problems, one of the first things you need to do is see if you are a part of keeping the problem going and if so STOP!

If you are supposed to be helping the problem and you are dong things that make the problem worse are you not like a person who sees a person dying of thirst and gives that person poison to drink.

I was going to stop there, then a thought occurred to me:  “There are going to be some of us who suffer from alcoholism/addiction that are going to weaponize this article and use it to attempt to fend off any attempts that a person would make to reality check him/her.

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

If you are in recovery, you must not forget “The Rule”:  you have to be considerate of how others feel and at the same time be hard on yourself.  If a person is inconsiderately vomiting their hurts and other problems they have with you at the wrong time in the wrong way, you may have to deal with it as if your life depended on what they have to say (it might).

The key in that case is to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”  You need to find ways to sift through the crazy and find the elements of what that person is saying that is true and is a fact that you have to face if you are to get better.

What you cannot do, in attempting to deal with your own problem, is to lose focus on what you are working on by hiding behind or whining about the problem another person has (like not communicating with you properly).

What I am getting at is that everyone involved has to think of himself/herself as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.  Every person involved also has to think of every other human being as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.

I am not saying that anyone is to be a verbal or emotional punching bag for another individual.  What I am saying is that times, places, approaches and reactions need to be considered carefully with the question:  “Am I being selfish and self-centered in some way or am I seeing a problem and trying to be a helpful part of the solution?”

There are the sick and there are the sick that make them sicker.  Both need to work on getting better and all of us need to work on avoiding living as either.

Stay sober my friends!

Wade H.

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We

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058 (Photo credit: ribarnica)

find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?

Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)

For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world.  Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.

The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)

These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned. 

Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems:  If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.

You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.

I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person.  If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!

If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise.  The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past.  This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77– 78)

If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us.  We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery.  We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality. 

A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened.  Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again.  This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.

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

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! .  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

That is the task that must be undertaken at some point.  There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely.  The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly.  The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results.  That means relapse and worse!

All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.

Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):

We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)

According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix.  This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY.  There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever.  Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not. 

If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:

  1. This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
  2. This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue. 

If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people:  STOP IT NOW!!!

You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out.  If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:

  1. That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
  2. This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up.  (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).

Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.

The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form.  Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness.  The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly:  “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”

As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this.  That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!!  We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other.  We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also.  Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.

I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues.  I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us.  I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.

In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem).  And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…”  That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.

You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you.  Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure.  You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her.  You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.

If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.  Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends.  If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.

There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.