Individuals that are suffering, may find that the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has practical applications for a multitude of issues. Some may even call it an
antidote for the human condition, or even instruction on how to live a satisfyingly spiritually full lifestyle. Those of us coming into the program, newly sober, are often under the impression that the program strictly relates to the alcoholic or the addict. We may feel that it will enable us to live freely and abstain, giving us the gift of physical sobriety if we work at it. While this may indeed be true, after some time in the program, we come to realize that abstinence with ease is simply a byproduct of the spiritual awakening or psychic change… if we work the steps. As is often the case, the drugs and alcohol are merely a symptom of a greater underlying issue, a spiritual malady as the big book calls it. This spiritual malady manifests itself in all kinds of ugly behaviors and feelings: restlessness, discontent, irritability, depression, uselessness, self absorption, resentment, fear, and self-loathing. As a result of these constant oppressive feelings many of us self-medicate with drink, drugs, sex, unhealthy relationships, food, gambling, or myriad other tools of quick relief and escape. This is where the universal benefit of the steps come in. While alcoholism is an extreme example of the lengths with which an individual will go to blot out these feelings, who among us hasn’t experienced, addicted or not, these types of emotions? Anxiety is as widespread as the very air we breathe these days. Most people have struggles. Most could benefit from a program of action that relieves the weary burden of pain, allowing us to navigate life with a fresh perspective… a spiritual set of tools that enable freedom from the bondage of self. There is a reason addiction is often called
the family disease. Those close are clearly affected by the ailment as much as the individual attempting to blot out their own existence with the substance. Rueful handwringing worries about the individual, desperate plea’s falling on deaf ears, financial and social losses are all the consequences of the drug using individual reverberating throughout the family tree.

While all the steps outlined in the Big Book are integral to success, and meant to be worked chronologically, specifically AA’s fourth step inventory is a powerful tool that we all could benefit from exploring. We start by making admissions to ourselves and our higher power that we’re powerless over our addictions and are willing to let Him guide us in our new life. Only then, can we commence to take a hard look at ourselves, and take inventory of all that holds us back from the light of the spirit. Often, we are saddled heavily with tiresome resentment that breaks down our healing process and allows us to comfortably reside in a victim mentality. For years we may have felt wronged by others. Whether it’s the ex husband/wife, addicted spouse, parents, or a friend, these deeply harbored grudges prowl the depths and recesses of our conflicted psyche, eager to re-enforce the ironclad core-beliefs we have about ourselves and others. How could one be truly free, practice loving kindness with  their brothers and sisters whilst encumbered by such chains? It’s a fruitless task, a fool’s errand, attempting to move forward in the healing process carrying this type of baggage. Regardless of how righteous we may feel, how justified in our resentments of others, we must let go of these injustices and rise above.

The fourth step inventory is the very tool we utilize to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task. We set down our resentments on paper, list the areas of our lives that they may have affected, and most importantly, take a hard look at what part we played in the matter to begin with. Where were we at fault? Be sober minded about the task. Thoroughly reviewing the content with a trusted spiritual advisor can reveal untold truths about ourselves, helping to release the righteous anger we hold inside and inevitably act out on others. Maybe our part is just that; holding onto something that does not serve us, actively hurting others through the way we behave and  participate in relationships. As this may often be the case, we should examine, honestly, how does it serve us? This refusal to let go of this deeply held grudge certainly isn’t affecting the individual, or the principle that set it on course in the first place. It’s affecting us. It’s actively bringing us down. It’s subconsciously affecting the decisions we make whether we like it or not. Writing them out on paper, considering where we may have been at fault, sharing it with another person and God, and entrusting God with the ability to relieve us of these burdens has the potential to change everything. Fear based decision making and reactions keep us sick. They keep us from being of true service to our brothers and sisters who are struggling. They keep us in the mode of making bad decisions, projecting unhelpful attitudes, suffering unnecessary stress, anxiety, and pain.

AA’s 12-step program isn’t always easy to set out upon, but it’s simple. The benefits of working through the steps, searching for anything in your life that may be holding you back, is far-reaching and all encompassing. I’ve personally seen it transform the lives of those stricken down by the insidious darkness of addiction-including myself. We’ve been truly restored to sanity by our Higher Power, as a direct result of putting an exhaustive effort into walking through the steps. If it can work for so many thousands of others, for such a malevolent force of evil as addiction, who’s to say it couldn’t work for so many other personal, emotional issues? My challenge for you this month is to pick up a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and read through the first 164 pages in which the program is outlined. Read chapter 5 where thorough instructions for completing a fourth step are included. All it will take is your time. My hope and prayer is that it will empower you to work through your own issues, your own resentments, and embark upon a powerful journey of spirituality, the likes of which you may never have known otherwise. “God can move mountains, but we have to bring the shovel.”

Sean, In Recovery

You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website,
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