This post is part of a series of modern love letters to the 12 Steps. To start at the very beginning, read To Whom We Owe Our Recovery: Modern Love Letters to the Twelve Steps.
In Step One we acknowledge our powerlessness over addiction. In Step Two we find hope of a cure in a loving, personal relationship with a Higher Power. In Step Three, we surrender, casting off our burdens fully into the arms of life’s healing powers.
But the Steps don’t leave us there, only a quarter way up the stairway to heaven! Onward, dear friends, to Step Four, in which we recover the right to be set free by the truth.
Dear Step Four,
You read, “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
The Scary Step
Step Four, I was so afraid of you at first. I was scared of what you would uncover, what truths you might point out, what inadequacies in my nature you would expose for all to see.
I was afraid of the heaviness of guilt. Implacable shame, the black blanket of soul-crushing self-condemnation, awareness of my disappointing nature.
I was afraid, dear Step Four, that you would be my worst enemy, that you would align with those who told me I am nothing, who said I was bad, who said I had no worth.
I thought you would bear evidence to validate those who interpreted me in the worst light, who pinned me in the corner with judgments and interpretations of who I am, why I do what I do, what I meant.
The Dark Wave of Shame
Imagining making a fearless, searching inventory of the ways I had fallen short of my own values of kindness, compassion, and goodness, what came roaring back to my ears was the sound of a massive black wave of shame.
A sea of memories of all the ways I have ever been misunderstood, unseen, interpreted as though expressing the worst sides of human nature.
Worst of all how, finding no way to refute these interpretations, I sided with Them against my Self. This is what I was afraid you would bring: my own, damning self-judgment, that original Self-betrayal.
The Surprise Blessing
But I was surprised. What you brought me instead was a gift.
You restored my right to be set free by the truth. The truth of what lives on in me, and why it does. What corroding, enchained, corrupted forces, what shadow-bound, what small-spirited and narrow-minded desperations live in the shadows of my soul, where I did not want to see or know them.
Step Four, thank you for all you brought me. You are the courage to face my humanness, you are the truth that none of us is better or worse than another. You are true humility, true recognition of our shared wounds, our interdependence.
Ego, the Resistance Fighter
Step Four, my ego wants me to be different than the others, so, so bad. It wants me to be better, it wants me to be more moral, smarter, more gifted or in some other way not fully part of the messy, heartbreaking psychological fray.
Why does my ego wants this? Because the ego was once my consolation, my way of not having to wonder if I deserve to belong. Ego grew over the pains of wondering if I maybe am only my failures, my lack of courage, my smallness, my not-yet-ness, my incompleteness.
Ego was the part that said, no, I will not be those bad things. I will be something different. I will resist, I will fight. I will make myself something good, something worthy, something beautiful, something strong.
Prying Off the Ego Shell
Ever since then, I never wanted to look back at shadows cast. Who I hurt, how I hurt them. I couldn’t bear to see the darkness, cast by the need to hold onto some kind of self-concept that feels acceptable, good, admirable. Step Four, I was afraid you would take my ego from me, its protections and its comforting illusions.
And you did! Oh, lordy.
What I did not know is that when ego is cracked off, crow-barred away, and the vulnerability within me is exposed to the light, that I would find not that I judged myself, not that I was especially hateful or bad, not that I was worse than all the rest … only the same as everyone else.
The Unifying Wound
The same. Not better, not worse. Marred by the same darkness, injured with the same instruments, carrying the same burdens as all of humanity. Gifted with the same bright lights.
Like all who came before me. Struggling with the same wounds, the same self-rejection, the same longing to return to divinity. The same potential for reunion with all that is.
Step Four, what you gave me was my inclusion and belonging. That in my goodness-mixed-with flaws, I am one with all. That I do not have to get away from that which connects me with everyone else. That I am always and forever together.
So I slowly love myself, for all of us, and love all of us, for me. Thank you Step Four, for your mysterious blessings. I reclaim my right to be set free by your truth.
For more about the power of Step Four, check out The Heart Chakra and the Fourth Step.