In Recovery (And Life), I’m not Afraid of What I Don’t Understand; I’m Afraid of What I’m Unwilling To.
My friends, we interrupt the usual stuff about cycling to bring you an important message. This isn’t about politics – this is about real life. In fact, life and death.
The most important realization I’m reliving with enjoyment lately hearkens back to the first time I really gave the Fourth Step an effort. My first attempt was kinda lame and was designed to just get me by. The real effort came after I fought doing the step again, even though I knew I needed it, to a point where I almost went out and drank again because things stopped getting better. I had some pretty ugly things on my Fourth, including a possible prison sentence, and that scared the $#!+ out of me – especially after I’d finally gotten out of trouble and paid my last debt to society. I didn’t want to go through that again.
Instead of pressing forward, cavitation.
I would talk at length at meetings about how I was working on the Third Step, that it hadn’t fully sunk in yet and someone had told me, if you’re not ready for the next step, you didn’t do the previous thoroughly. People who had really worked the steps knew I was full of it, but they let me go on in the delusion until I started sounding more frantic. See, the Third step is simply making a decision. Once made, you move on to Four. The trick is, I simply had to keep remaking that decision because I was forgetful. I had, like so many of us, a tendency to go back to my old way of thinking. The obfuscation of what was really going on lasted for a while, but eventually I stagnated.
I came to find that superficially working the steps simply wasn’t good enough. I had to do it right.
My sponsor helped me to reach that understanding – I was right around ten months sober at the time; the point at which we normally realize that the first year really was a gift. Simply working the steps at drinking only gets us so far. This is where I realized I have to work them on all my affairs, as it says in the Big Book. So there I was, fear of prison, or fear of drinking again. Like so many times in my drinking career, I was out of options.
After many late night conversations with my sponsor, I started working on my new Fourth step inventory – the real one.
I set aside a full weekend to get it done. It was in the fall, so rollerblading was effectively done for the year (falling leaves hid the fallen sticks that would fall me), so I had nothing important on the agenda. I went to work Friday evening after dinner. The first thing I did when I sat down with pencil in hand, was to ask God to put energy to my pencil, to make the words flow on the paper, to guide my writing and thoughts (this was a very important first).
I left no stone unturned about my past. If I didn’t know how to fill something into the columns, I made it up. Every resentment, every bit of guilt, everything that ever bothered me went on the paper. I’d write for a couple of hours and take a break. A couple more hours, then eat. I’d roll till dusk, then go to a meeting. Then, sometime Sunday evening, I got to the good side of the ledger. I wrapped up Sunday, around eight in the evening. I looked at what I had written over the weekend and was overcome by emotion. I was more than a little misty.
Once I collected myself, I called my sponsor to let him know I was done. And this was the part I was really afraid of, sharing my past with someone else. THIS is why I was so afraid to do Four. And my sponsor told me he was leaving for a last second vacation in the morning – that I’d have to hold onto it till he got back.
Folks, that was a long f’in’ week!
The day after he got back, it was a cool, cloudy, breezy Saturday morning. It almost felt like it was going to rain. We sat on a picnic table outside a church where we met on Tuesday nights, and I went through every page of what I’d written. Toward the end, the clouds literally parted and the sun shone, warming us up. I was so excited to be done, I could hardly contain myself. I’d done it. I faced my fear and plowed through it. And that was the least of it… I felt free.
And that’s one of the more important lessons I learned in all of my years sober. I was afraid to do that Fourth because I was afraid of the Fifth – and I was afraid because I had no idea the freedom I’d feel as I quietly did the Sixth and Seventh on the way home. That was a defining day in my recovery, my friends. It changed my life profoundly. That was the beginning of my growing up in recovery. I went on to do the Eighth and Ninth. I was entirely ready to get done. I went at my amends with a fervor… until I was done. Entirely. And then I realized I’d had no idea what freedom was at the end of my Fifth step. I’d only had a glimpse of freedom – a sniff of it. It was the day I could start working Ten and Eleven regularly that really changed the game. I stopped building resentments and quit making stupid decisions (mainly because I didn’t want to have to go through that crap again!). And my life changed.
If I can pass one thing on, it’d be this; don’t be like me. Don’t pause if you’re afraid. My fear wasn’t rational because I couldn’t see what was waiting for me on the other side. Had I known I would feel that good, I would have plowed through that Fourth without even thinking about it…
On the other hand, if you find you’re like me, know that it’s normal, and I got through it without resorting to trying to find my escape at the bottom of a bottle. I was only afraid because I couldn’t fathom how good freedom would be.
Believe me, being free from my past is good. Now I understand.