Step 12: Give Others Hope

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Fundamentally, the 12 Steps are a roadmap for change as well as a guide for living a rich and full life. Whether one calls it a spiritual awakening or something else is immaterial. Some folks do feel that they have undergone a monumental psychic shift as the result of working through the steps. Others feel that the change is more subtle.

I personally suspect that the degree to which one feels a change is highly dependent upon how circumstances of their active addiction. For an addict who found himself or herself living on the street, steeling to survive, and living in constant fear, the shift is undoubtedly monumental. But for others who managed to keep their outward lives together while they suffered existential dread internally the shift may seem less dramatic, at least from outward appearances.

Personally, it took more than the 12 Steps for me to feel a fundamental shift in my outlook on life. Specifically it has taken the support of friends and family as well as trauma therapy. I began trauma therapy about nine months ago and as I’ve learned what triggers me, how to recognize with these triggers, and how to be with these triggers in the moment, I have felt a calmness that I’ve never known before in my life.

Many people do find this calmness through the 12 Steps. I didn’t. I felt just the opposite for a long time because the 12 Steps tripped my triggers. I am triggered by the word God. I am triggered by the the notion of an omniscient, omnipresent, and benevolent deity. The root of these triggers are in my life experience. I suffered spiritual trauma when I was told that my birth father could never go to heaven because he died of suicide. Additionally, my life experience is at odds with the idea that there is a benevolent deity directing the world — my direct experience is the opposite. The universe is chaos.

And yet, I’ve learned to accept this. I’ve learned that even if the universe is chaotic, it can still be a power greater than myself. I’ve learned that the mystery of the universe shows me that there is something more out there. Something that deeply connects us to all other things in the universe.

Recently, I was reminded of the scientific Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that matter can not be created or destroyed. When I consume food, that matter gets converted into either cells in my body or waste. For my rational brain, this is proof enough of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe.

For the past few months, I’ve been attending a Unitarian Universalist church and have found in this church a welcoming of my skepticism. It’s as if I suddenly found a bunch of people who think like me. Who suspect that there is something out there but who may not always be sure. The church is welcoming of theists, non-theists, atheists and agnostics. There is very little dogma. They don’t tell me how to believe. And that’s what I needed. This is my spiritual tribe, at least for now.

Importantly, I couldn’t have considered attending this church without going through the therapy process. I needed to deprogram old thinking and old patterns of behavior that no longer served me.

In the 12th step, we are asked to carry the message to other alcoholics. I believe the message is simple. There is a way out of the horrors of addiction and we can have a happy, healthy, and full life without the bondage of addiction. In short, it is a message of hope.

That is what I felt when I came into the rooms in 2015, a great sense of hope. Hope that I could turn things around. Hope that I could feel better. Hope that I could get the monkey off my back. Hope that I could be free. Hope that I might live past fifty years old.

Interestingly, when I was in high school I knew the importance of hope. In a very dark time I scrawled out a short poem that likened life to a matchstick. It shines bright and strong. Intense and dramatic after being lit. And then it’s over. The poem asked the question, if there’s nothing more than this life “why even spark the match?” Years later, one of my teachers found this poem tucked inside my old social studies book and got it to my mother.

And so, when I was confronted in therapy with the question, “what does a God provide to people who believe?” I knew the answer even if I wasn’t ready to accept it. The answer is hope and meaning.

And hope was vital. Without hope, my recovery would not have been possible. And so, even if I don’t like the words, I’ve had what one might call a spiritual awakening.

We need to be able to see that there is a way out of the things that we struggle with. We need to see that our struggles are part of the human condition. All humans struggle with “character defects.” All humans have problems with their egos. All humans have thoughts that if given voice might cause others to pause, to be taken aback. There is nothing unique or special about alcoholics and addicts that predisposes us to these things. The difference is how we have attempted to cope. Alcoholics and addicts have attempted to numb the pain of being human. But numbing the pain doesn’t make it go away.

What helps in times of struggle is the belief that the present reality won’t always be the reality. That things can and will get better. It doesn’t matter what the struggle is — it may be addiction but it may be something else — the message of hope is the answer.

I carry the message of hope with me in my daily life. Through my words and actions, I share it with others who are struggling. Sometimes in one on one conversations, sometimes in tweets with the RecoveryPosse on Twitter, and sometimes here on this blog.

Step 11: This Too Is Prayer

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

“Seriously? We haven’t talked about God for a while so we better bring Him back into the picture.” This was how I felt when I looked at Step 11 for a long time. The only saving grace for me was that the payer recommended in the Twelve and Twelve was the Prayer of Saint Francis, which despite being a Catholic prayer, has always been a personal favorite and that peculiar word “meditation” in the step.

I really couldn’t imagine myself praying. Certainly not to an omniscient, interventionist deity who had fixed me and now had a plan for me. I struggled with this step. As a way to make this work, I tried to get comfortable with ignoring all the theistic overtones and focusing on meditation.

I’ll be honest, my success with meditation has been less than stellar. I have tried doing it in my own. I’ve tried to do it with the help of apps. I’ve read about it to the point of recognizing that reading about it isn’t actually doing it.

Where I struggle with meditation is making it a ritual. I’m just not a very ritualistic person. The only ritual that I adhere to is the ritual of making coffee in the morning. That happens every day, right after getting up.

But when I do make time to meditate, something happens to my monkey mind that is hard to explain. It never stops. The thoughts keep coming. But I’ve learned that this is not actually the point of meditation. By recognizing the thoughts, noting the thinking and not judging it, over and over and over again, I come to a more peaceful state of mind.

I do a fair amount of walking, running, and in the past cycling. I’ve always found that cycling by myself is meditative, and the same is true of walking and running. It’s time for me to slow down the thoughts, focus on one thing, get moving, and just be in a state of flow. Time passes effortlessly.

Still, I wondered if I was doin this step wrong since I was so adverse to praying. I worried that I needed to actually be praying — on my knees, hands folded, eyes closed, saying some rote words to a deity that I knew in my bones does not exist. And so I did a lot of reading. One book that really helped me is Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, by Marya Hornbacher.

In the chapter on Step 11, I came across some words that would totally change my perception of prayer on page 114:

“November morning. The sky turning from indigo to violet blue, the curly oak sketched in black on the sky. Steam rising off the lake. I sat in absolute stillness, absolute peace.

This, too, is prayer.”

These words encapsulate what I’d sensed all along in my life every time I’d stood in awe of the natural world. The sense of finiteness in the infinite that I feel when I’m alone on the beach looking at the ocean. The feeling that everything would be okay when I’d hike up to the top of the ridge at Shingletown Gap and look down in the campus of Penn State when things felt overwhelming. The sense of peace that comes when I can no longer hear the sounds of cars as I walk down a trail in the woods.

Those words also showed me that prayer need not be directed to a specific deity. That you could simply send prayers out to the great mysterious universe. My uncle gave us a small Buddhist prayer bowl for Christmas. The bowl came with the instructions to write our prayers on a small piece of paper, to put them in the bowl, and to set it near a window. When the suns rays hit the papers the prayers are carried out to the universe. This gift reinforced the notion that prayers need not be directed to a specific deity.

Today I think of many things as prayer. My silent walks in the woods can be prayerful. My time writing these words can be prayerful. Simply closing my eyes and noticing the breath is prayer. There is something centering about prayer. Something contemplative. Something quieting.

It all comes down to intentionally making time to refocus, to find a small amount of peace in an otherwise chaotic world.

That’s what prayer is for me.

Step 10: Pay Attention, Admit When You’re Wrong, And Fix It If You Can

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

At this point in our journey we’ve presumably learned how to identify patterns of behavior and how they lead us to make mistakes as well as how to make amends for our failures. Step 10 asks us to practice these skills as we move through life.

The Big Book suggests doing this at night, before going to bed. Perhaps that works for you, but this doesn’t work for me. First and foremost, at the end of the day I need to let my mind rest. I have a routine that I already practice around bed time. It includes turning off screens, reading, perhaps listening to a relaxing podcast or meditation.

The idea of making a list of the things that I did wrong during the day and then resolving to fix them the next day sounds onerous. I don’t know about you, but I can’t settle down and go to sleep after that exercise. My monkey mind gets activated and I stress about how to fix things. That leads to a less than stellar night of sleep.

I find it much better to be conscious of my words and actions moment to moment during the day and to make my amends as soon as I recognize that I’ve made a mistake. This takes work. It takes awareness. It takes practice. In short, it takes mindfulness, which is a big part of how I approach the next step.

I’m not always great at this. There are times when I don’t recognize that I’ve hurt another person. There are times when I let my emotions get the better of me and go on the attack, forsaking the feelings of others. There are times when I feel justified in my anger and hold in to it longer than I should. But with practice, I’ve come to recognize when I’ve caused harm more quickly than I did in the past.

I find it interesting that this step doesn’t say anything about making amends. It simply says we should promptly admit that we were wrong. This seems strange. The Big Book explains that’s amends are implied, “Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along.” — Alcoholics Anonymous page 84.

Why not make it explicit rather than implicit?

At any rate, one cannot have a clean conscious unless one tries to right a wrong. If we do this as part of Step 10, if we make it a habit — part of our existential being, our ethos — the we will never build up a long list of failures like we had in Step 4. We will be living more in harmony with ourselves and the others in our lives.

Step 9: It Must Be More than an Apology

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Most of us are taught from an early age that we must apologize when we do something wrong. We hear the words of a parent to a toddler:

“You shouldn’t take toys from your friends, say you are sorry.”

“That hurts! Don’t pull mommy’s hair. Say you’re sorry.”

“Daddy doesn’t like it when you talk back to him, please apologize.”

In our modern society, apology frequently never amounts to change. We see it at the micro and at the macro levels. People in our everyday lives apologize to us and move on to their next affront. Think of the person who rudely brushes past you to get into a better position in the line. Chances are they’ve done it before and will do it again, even if they apologize. At the macro level, we see this behavior from large corporations that make apologies when they are caught skirting the law, but they’ll do it again if it means better P&L numbers and a higher stock price. We see it in our world leaders who make embarrassingly insincere statements or even deny any wrongdoing whatsoever only to continue to support policies that enable their wrongdoing and insincerity, over and over, again and again.

It’s as if we’ve been conditioned to think that saying we are sorry is all that matters. And so, upon first glance at the steps it’s easy to read this step as “apologize for your wrong doings.”

This reading misses the mark.

Fundamentally, the steps are a guide to living that revolves around changing our patterns of behavior. Apologies without change are meaningless. If we don’t course correct, and do better in the future, we are still acting like the toddler, the chairmen, or the world leader.

It is the resolve to make a change, to do better, that moves an out words from an apology to to the action of making amends. We are trying to right our wrongs rather than seeking forgiveness so that we feel better like a petulant child.

I’m not good at this. There are patterns of behavior that are deeply rooted in my life experience. They are my “go to” behaviors. I have learned that some of them are part of my trauma response. They are defense mechanisms that are almost instinctual, originating deep in my “lizard brain” — the amygdala. Changing these reactions is a big part of my personal work. I work with practicing the pause daily, with varying degrees of success.

The final words of this step are potentially dangerous. “Except when to do so would injure them or others” sounds like an escape clause. Many of us are good at finding the escape clause, in fact people with addictions are often masters the loophole. We must be conscious of this when we evaluate whether or not making an amends would cause harm. In most cases, making amends will not cause harm. In most cases making amends will help a relationship.

It is important to ensure that we do not confuse things — that we don’t hide behind this clause as a protective mechanism for ourselves. Indeed, there are some cases where it genuinely would cause harm to make an amends, and care should be taken to do no further harm, but we must be careful to ensure that we aren’t simply avoiding the amends process.

The best way to figure out whether or not an amends would cause harm is to discuss the situation openly and honestly with someone who we trust and who will be honest with us when we are clearly looking for an excuse to avoid doing the difficult work at hand.

This step can be miraculous. Indeed it is within the discussion of the ninth step that we are introduced to the AA Promises:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

— Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition, Pages 83-84.

Despite what it says in the Big Book, these are extravagant promises, but it has been my experience that they do materialize just as the book says. In a few weeks I plan to begin a series on the Promises.

Step 8: Focus on What Matters

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Let’s be honest, making a list of people who we have harmed can be a daunting task for anyone. No one wants to think about the mistakes they’ve made in life and how these mistakes have impacted others. Many of us have made poor choices in our active addictions.

For some of us, these choices led to severe consequences that we could not ignore. Others among us appear to have emerged unscathed because we never suffered severe consequences as a result of our drinking. But if we are honest, those poor choices weigh upon our minds, and often hold us back from making progress in our growth journey.

For me, personally, I still harbor a deep sense of guilt and shame for my failures during my active addiction. When I first got sober, I knew that my drinking was affecting my family, but I did not understand the extent of the damage. It’s only with some time, therapy, and perspective that I’ve been able to fully understand how badly I failed as a father when I was drinking.

I was there, but I was not fully present with my son or my wife. This is evidenced when I look back on those early years of my son’s life. I’m not in any of the professional pictures that my wife had made of our little boy. I have only vague recollections of important moments in his early life. I have vague recollections of family trips to the beach. And I have a few painful memories when I chose not to go in tips, because I wouldn’t be able to drink the way I wanted to.

Many people stress the importance of making a thorough list, starting in childhood and up through the present. I’ll be honest. I don’t see a point in this.

While, there are certainly things that I did in my early life that I regret, and I would make amends if I could, the reality of modern life is that I have no connection to many of the people from my childhood. But more importantly, these failures on my part were not caused by or causes of my alcohol addiction. The fact that I punched Jason on the playground when I was in 5th grade had no bearing on my future alcohol use.

So I focused my list on the people I hurt in my active addiction. This is what matters in terms of my recovery. This list is small because my drinking was a private affair. It basically comes down to my family. Thankfully, my drinking never got me in trouble at work or with the law. I never stole anything and I got into any nasty bar fights.

And I am quite willing to make my amends. In fact I do so every day by living my life in a manner that ensures that I am present both physically and emotionally for my family. I don’t do things perfectly, but I have made progress.

Step 7: Get to Work

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

If you’ve been along for this ride with me, you probably know it was a foregone conclusion that I rejected the notion of a deity removing my shortcomings when I got to this step.

Much has been written about the word Humbly in this step and, in fact, this is often what people focus on in step 7. I won’t discount humility. I will admit that it’s a requirement for step 7, but to leave the discussion solely to humility misses the mark.

If step 6 asks us if we are ready to address our shortcomings, then step 7 is about getting to the work. What exactly does this mean?

There are many paths up the proverbial mountain. For me step 7 is about getting to work on the things that I know I need to change about myself so that I can live in better harmony with others in my life. It’s about working to live life on life’s terms. Both of these require humility and acceptance.

We have to be humble enough to admit that there are things that we don’t do well. We must be humble enough to accept that others may see things differently. We must accept that life isn’t always fair — that we don’t control the outcome. We don’t always win. And that sometimes we need to give a bit in order to win. Surrender to win.

Clearly steps 8 and 9 provide some guidance with the call to list out people we have harmed and work to make amends. Step 10 talks about a daily inventory, step 11, prayer and meditation, and step 12 talks of carrying the message. These are all important parts of the work to improve ourselves but when I looked at myself I found there was more to the story.

For me, a big part of the work to change myself has involved “external help.” It has involved medical professionals as well as therapists. There is no magic pill out there that makes me less of an asshole, but I am less of an asshole when I’m not caught in the depths of depression. Medication and therapy help me with that.

In my therapy I’ve learned a lot about myself, about how I react rather than respond. About how I carry trauma with me that informs my response. I’ve learned that my primary trauma response is to stand and fight rather than to flee. I’ve also learned that if I take a moment to pause, the triggering event usually fades and I can respond more skillfully. I don’t do this by nature. I don’t always do it well. But I practice this.

I’ve learned that meditation is a part of the work. When I meditate I am able to train my brain to respond differently to triggers. I am able to become mindful of the very real physiological sensations that come along with my emotions and feelings. And with practice I can notice these sensations and identify the feelings when I’m being triggered. And noticing them gives me the opportunity to respond differently.

So step 7 may be about humility, but that’s just the surface in my opinion. The rest of the steps are all examples of the work that we commit to doing in step 7 and that work is all about improving ourselves so that we can live fuller and richer lives.

Step 6: Willing to Work?

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

When I first read the steps, step six seemed to be the step that would cause me to go over the edge. On the surface this step appears to be pulled directly from a nineteenth century revivalist sermon. The language is extraordinarily troublesome for a guy like me.

It speaks directly an interventionist God who will remove our defects of character. How insulting?

Was I supposed to list my character defects in step four? It certainly didn’t sound like it.

Was my sponsor supposed to highlight my defects of character to me in step 5? That wouldn’t have ended well.

This step felt like a chigger under my skin.

Even so, I must admit that the idea of a deity that magically fixes me sounded appealing, but being a realist, I didn’t see that happening. If it really were that simple I could have asked a deity to make me sober. I could have asked a deity to make me thin. I can ask for all of those things, and none are just going to happen.

Every drunk is guilty of a foxhole prayer or two in which he or she asks God to make them sober. I’ve never seen that work. What works is when we make a decision to work at getting sober. Change takes work. There is no way around it.

And so, even with a few years under my belt, I saw this step and the next one as filler. Bill Wilson needed to have 12 steps to match the twelve apostles, or maybe it was the twelve months of the year — I wasn’t sure but I knew in my bones that these steps were meaningless.

Or so I thought.

Fortunately, this isn’t the first step, it’s the sixth step and eventually, after a lot of soul searching, therapy, and work to sort out the difference between spirituality and religion, I was willing to examine below the surface, beyond the words.

When I got past the poor grammar and the interventionist deity I came to understand that this step is about being willing to address our shortcomings.

The question step six asks us is, “Are you willing to make changes in your life that may be difficult so that you can have a better life?”

If we want to live happier and healthier lives, full with people who are our friends and who love us, then we must be willing to work on ourselves by changing our past patterns of behavior.

And let’s be clear, the work is often difficult and painful. And that’s precisely why we need to be willing to do the work. If we aren’t willing, then we’ll likely abandon the work. And when we abandon the work we are likely to go back to our old behaviors and patterns. And that means relapse.

The only words in this step that I didn’t bristle at were “entirely ready.” Even at a few months sober. Knew I could be entirely ready to work on myself. In fact, I’d been doing that from the first step.

I’ve written a lot about my struggles with the God Talk in the rooms. It took me a long time to make some semblance of peace with the very real trauma that gets triggered by that talk. I had to do the work around that trauma to be able to sit with the triggering language of this step. Once I’d done that I was willing to look past the words. I’d become entirely ready. I was willing to work on myself.

Step 5: Unburdening Ourselves and Finding a Path To Forgiveness

We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Early in recovery (and as a recovering Catholic), this step reminded me of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as Confession. In my younger years this meant going into a stall where there was a thin veil between me and a creepy old man who wanted me to admit all my failures in life. It was particularly important to discuss impure thoughts and impure actions. That’s right, sex fantasies and masterbasion. This was supposedly the only way to actually commune with God, through another human being, in a creepy space, talking about creepy things. Is it any wonder that I became agnostic?

So, I ignored the part about God in this step. It’s as simple as that.

In most situations people working through step 5 share their fourth step inventory with their sponsor. This has become the convention in the 12 step community, but it’s important to recognize that this is not a requirement. The requirement is that the fourth step inventory is shared with another human being and the book makes it clear that this may be a friend, a doctor, a therapist or even a member of the clergy.

Regardless of who you choose to share your fourth step inventory it should be with someone whom you trust and someone who will not divulge your story to others. In short it must be someone who you feel safe sharing your inventory with openly and honestly.

No one should feel obligated to share their story with a sponsor. If you do, it’s probably time to reconsider your sponsor choice. This is my opinion and is not fact but I feel strongly about this because the approach to the fourth step recommended in the book can have undesired consequences in some situations, particularly when working with a sponsor who has no formal training.

The book emphasizes that we must find our part in the resentments we carry with us. I know people who were asked what “their part” was in their childhood sexual abuse by insensitive sponsors, and subsequently relapsed because of their guilt and shame.

As I mentioned in the last post I spent an afternoon talking with my sponsor about my fourth step inventory. It was a good experience and I was able to recognize that he and I are both human, and as such subject to faults.

Many of the people I’ve met over the years talk of a great feeling of relief that accompanies the fifth step. With no disrespect meant to my sponsor, I cannot say that I felt this great unburdening.

This was not because the session with my sponsor was unsatisfactory or unproductive. Prior to coming into recovery I’d been to see several therapists in my life. I already knew the value of sharing my dark thoughts and secrets. I’d already experienced the great relief that came from talking honestly about my past. And so, this conversation was no big deal for me.

I felt the same relief that comes from unburdening myself as I’d felt in the past. I can imagine however that it would have been more momentous if I’d never experienced the healing that accompanies the brutal honesty required in telling our stories to a trusted human being. Indeed, that’s exactly how I’d felt after the first few sessions with a professional therapist.

Sadly, in the United States, we have a problem with access to health care, mental health care in particular. Of all the providers I’ve ever seen in my adult life only one or two had accepted insurance. There is a very real economic burden associated with quality mental health care in our country. This may be why the fifth step figures so prominently in the lives of so many in recovery. Many of us have never been afforded this opportunity before in our lifetimes. I am grateful that I have been privileged to have the access to quality health care that I have.

The fifth step is about getting honest and sharing our the truth of our lives with another trusted human being. There is something powerful to giving voice our darkest secrets and our transgressions. There is something powerful in just being heard.

It is also about forgiveness, and maybe this is why the recovering Catholic in me saw the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the step. However it’s not that we are forgiven by the listener, rather as we become more aware of our selves, the patterns that have driven our behaviors, the fact that we are not the worst person in the history of the universe, and hopefully that we have some assets as well as our defects; we can find it within us to forgive ourselves. That’s when healing begins.

Step 4: Honestly Recognizing Our Own Humanity

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This step scares most people. The language feels foreboding, heavy, daunting. It sounds really hard. And for many people it is really hard.

This step is all about getting honest with ourselves. Some of us have suffered grave consequences and some of us have not. But we all know in our hearts that our addiction has caused harm. And so we must get honest about what we’ve done in our lives. Honest about how we’ve hurt ourselves and others. Honest about how our addiction affected others in our lives.

If you read the big book, there is a description of how to approach this step. For many the book is the only source they need. Others find the book’s recommendations problematic for a variety of reasons. I didn’t know it at the time but there are many ways to do the fourth step. One can find several guides online.

Step 4 was scary for me because I felt that I had to get it right. I thought that this was a one shot deal and that I had to make sure I got into all the things that I’d ever done wrong in my life. If I stole a 5¢ candy from the corner store when I was 10, it better be in the inventory along side my admission that I had punched a boy in my class in eighth grade. I felt that I had to do it exactly as it was described in the book and I was terrified.

Additionally, I could see no reason why I needed to include a sex inventory in my fourth step. What I did in the privacy of my own bedroom with other consenting adults was (and is) my business. Bill Wilson, who wrote the chapters that describe the steps, had a problem with infidelity. It made sense that he would include a sex inventory in his fourth step. I have always been monogamous and so it made no sense to include this.

And so, I wrote the list and sat on it. And I’d pull it out and look at it, decide that there was nothing more to add but that sometime something would come to me, and put it away. I did this for eight months. My sponsor was going through some heavy life changes at the time and so he didn’t pester me about it. And so I kept it to myself.

I was firmly convinced that I would never get it done perfectly, and thus could never progress. Luckily, about a month before my first anniversary I opened up to a friend that I was struggling and that I’d been carrying around this step for months. I told him that I was nervous because I really wanted to ask another man to be my sponsor but I was afraid of hurting my current sponsor’s feelings. My friend told me that I shouldn’t worry about that, that it would be okay, and that I should ask the other man and move as quickly as possible to step 5 with him so I could get the weight off my shoulders.

And that’s what I did. When it came time to talk through step 4 we spent an afternoon at his house talking through it. And not only did we talk about all the bad things but we identified some assets as well. My sponsor shared some things that he’d done in his past and I saw that we are both human beings — neither innately good nor innately evil.

It was really valuable to me to look not only at my defects but also at my assets. I think this is something that is often overlooked in 12 Step rooms. We have a tendency toward self flagellation. We are quick to identify how we fail, but often slow to identify our successes. Part of this may be related to the sense that we need to keep our ego in check. But there’s a difference between grandiosity and acknowledging that we aren’t entirely rotten to the core.

Really, we are all human beings. People with addiction issues may make more mistakes that are driven by their addictions but the final analysis we are human. Humans make mistakes. We have moral and ethical lapses. It’s part of the human condition.

In my mind this is what step four is all about — Getting honest and recognize our own humanity.