“The First Step was easy. If I’ve gotta do all twelve, then the Second and Third can go pretty quick too, whatever they mean. But Step Four, that’s where the real work starts.” The Fourth Step is a searching and fearless moral inventory, and the Fifth Step is admitting aloud the exact nature of one’s wrongs to another human being and to God.
I asked one recovery seeker about his biggest obstacle starting the Fourth Step, and he laughed, “The Fourth Step dread that formed instantaneously the very first time I laid eyes on the Twelve Steps!” Another recovery seeker, focusing on the quickest possible cure, bought one Twelve Step guide and did the first three steps, but the guide didn’t provide a simple prescription for the Fourth Step. He bought a second book and did the same. Disappointed in how the second book approached the Fourth Step, he got a third book. After repeated disappointment, he realized there was no quick Fourth Step answer. It had to come from within himself, not from a guide.
Both responses are utterly human. This blog’s regulars will recall the fable of Sufi Mullah Nasruddin and his house key. Nasruddin searches frantically for the key to his house outside under a lamp post. His neighbors come to his aid, and after hours of searching, one asks where he was when he lost the key. Nasruddin replies he lost it in his house. The neighbor asks, “Why are you looking outside?” Nasruddin responds, “Because the light is better out here under the lamp.”
Like Nasruddin, we find it infinitely easier to analyze external conditions than to take a candid look inward. Healing, however, requires us to leave the light of the lamp post and to go deep into the darkness of our own houses. What impedes our journey is less fear of what anyone else will think of us than fear of what introspection will bring to light for ourselves. As we embark on introspection, the prospect of facing our less than best moments is uncomfortable. For those who suspect that they won’t like (or can’t live with) the person they find, it is terrifying. If I have negotiated an uneasy peace with my past, introspection might feel like opening Pandora’s box.
Some report the work of introspection, although painful and exhausting, to be cathartic. They want to get the ugly secrets they have been hiding exposed to the light of day. Where the Fourth Step can feel cathartic, the Fifth Step can be intensely emotional. “Acknowledged in AA literature as one of the most difficult steps to take (and one often avoided), the Fifth Step is also one of the most necessary to long term sobriety and genuine peace of mind,” observes one Twelve Step guide. The guide quotes a life-long Roman Catholic, a priest who had experienced the religious sacrament of confession innumerable times, about his experience of confession in the Fifth Step:
In retrospect, I associate it with a turning point in my life: an experience of inner healing, an event that revealed to me a loving God who had always been so near and yet so far.
Join the Conversation. Which of the Twelve Steps do you think is hardest?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.