Step 4 is a process for examining our lives prior to sobriety. As we saw earlier, it is the basis for identifying persons or things we blamed for our substance use. We think these “things” eventually led to our substance misuse, eventually causing the loss of the manageability of our own lives.
But Step 4 is more than a listing of people, places and things we resented or we think harmed us in some way. At its most basic level, we are asked to identify “our part” in those resentments in 12-step recovery.
At a deeper level, it is more than “our part” we need to establish in this step. Be just as interested in your reactions as in the person or situation that triggered those responses listed in Step 4.* Those reactions are more than saying “I drank or used because that person mistreated me, used me, or cheated me”.
We list the events in a Step 4 inventory that we “feel” led to our substance use. But what in those events made us “feel” the need to bury those feelings in drink or drug? Can we list the events (eg, I was fired from my job) separate from the feelings we had about them? There is more than a simple relationship between the “thing” (I was fired) and our feeling of injustice or being picked upon when fired. Where we drank or picked up when something we resented happened, there are actually two identifiable things in this: in this example, I was fired (the event) by a vindictive boss who had it out for me (what I felt about it).
The importance of teasing out the event from our feelings about it is crucial in understanding ourselves and our substance abuse. The event is a fact that can happen to anyone (I was fired), but the reaction (emotional) differs from person to person. If we felt we could only deal with these emotions by burying them in a binge of substance use, we differ from the other 90% of the world. That other large part of humanity may feel unjustly treated, but they can separate the event from the feeling (and subsequent reaction) to it. Whereas we feel self-pity and want to “drown our sorrows” in a good binge, others will accept the fact of the misfortune and handle it in a less destructive way.
Once we are in long-term recovery, we experience for ourselves the way the majority of the world handles life’s troubles. We see that we can mourn the loss of a loved-one, receive a blow like a financial failure, or see a temporary setback without substance abuse. This was unimaginable when we were using but is now manageable in sobriety.
Separating events from feelings will be addressed later in a discussion of meditation. In Step 5 we share those events and our feelings with another person.
* from the Gabor Maté book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts” and the ideas of Eckhart Tolle