************************************Denial covers the pain of the past * A blanket over the world * Lift a corner * Don't be afraid * Your life awaits you*************************************

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fourth and Fifth Step: Why Bother?

I have learned this: it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it.
--Oscar Wilde
I’ve been working on my fourth step for CoDA for over five months.

I really wanted to “work the steps.” I have seen others who have that sense of peace and a kind of integrity that I want. That’s what I’ve been aiming for since I started going to therapy three years ago and CoDA meetings over a year an a half ago.

It took me a long time to find a sponsor that felt right and was willing to work with me. Once I did, we went through the first three steps pretty quickly.

Then, my sponsor began to list all of the things she expected in a fourth and fifth step. My head just spun with the massive amount of work and hours of agonizing over the past that it would require. I thought about it for a week without doing anything, then I went into complete emotional collapse. It felt like this was both what I needed to do and more than I was capable of. Hopelessness, my familiar companion, took my hand again.
In an email to my therapist, I wrote:

It feels like I"ve been jumping hurdles for years. I don't know if they're getting higher or if I'm just too tired to jump.   
Slow down – yes, but stop? I was not doing anything with the fourth step.

Finally, weeks later, I started looking at it again. It occurred to me that if I broke it down, it might be more manageable. I talked to my sponsor about it and she agreed to do my fourth and fifth step in stages. I did a “Family of Origin” fourth and fifth step within a couple weeks of that conversation. It was helpful and my sponsor had some good insights, but really most of what we talked about then was stuff I had already gone over (and over and over) with with my therapist.

I wanted to be done with the fourth and fifth step at that point, but my sponsor started talking about the rest of the “complete and thorough” fourth step she envisioned. She came from “AA” and has sponsored many people in that program. I believed she saw I wasn't getting what I needed from it, yet.

Trusting her guidance, I started a traditional “AA” style fourth step. This version comes in several parts. There are three charts to fill in, with several columns in each. The first chart is “Resentments”, the second one is “Fears” and the third one is “Sexual Conduct”. In addition to those charts, I was supposed to make a list of “Assets” and tell her at least two secrets – two things I'd never told anyone.

That was about four months ago.

I was overwhelmed with the concept from the beginning, but I set out to do as she asked. I started working on the first part, the resentments, but I was not getting anywhere. I felt extremely overwhelmed. There were other things going on in my life – both in the present and new things from the past that were coming up in therapy.

My sponsor kept in contact with me, and continually asked me how I was progressing with the fourth step. I hedged a lot, not wanting to tell her I wasn't getting far. Finally, a few weeks ago, she got tired of waiting for me to tell her I was done. She gave me a choice of dates to do my fifth step.

Of course, I picked the one that put it off the longest.
That date was yesterday.

When I showed up at her house at eleven yesterday morning, I had twenty typed pages of stuff to go over. It looked like a lot, and it was. I'd been extremely thorough, but I had only made it through the “resentments” chart. I was really afraid she would be disappointed that I hadn't done the rest.

That was only part of my anxiety. Another part was just having to actually read my list out loud. A third part was knowing how defensive I felt and how much that was going to work against me. 

I'd become angrier and angrier as I filled out the resentments chart. It’s hard to list everything you have ever been angry about and not get pissed off, but that was just the beginning! 
  • The first column of the chart is labeled “person or institution” – Pretty easy, just write down who I've been angry at.
  • The second column is “the resentment” – Write everything I'm still angry about for each person or institution.
  • The third column is “what part of self is affected?” – Here it is multiple choice. Each resentment affects one or more of the following: Self-Esteem, Pride, Finance, Personal Relationships, Ambition, Security, or Sexual Ambitions. I just had to list which parts I felt were affected.
I got through the first three columns pretty well, even though it brought up a lot of my old anger. But the fourth column was a killer.
  • “What was my part in it?”
I searched for explanations of this concept from multiple sources. I talked to my therapist about it, I talked to my sponsor about it. I talked to other members of CoDA. I read about “my part in it” in two of Melody Beattie’s books, in the “big blue book” of Co-dependence Anonymous, in “the big book” of AA, and in other sources. I did a blog search for "fifth step" and scanned dozens of posts.

No matter how many ways I looked at it, it seemed like "What was my part in it?" meant "How I was to blame?"

Okay, I've spent the last three years in therapy trying to see how all of the events of my childhood were NOT my fault. Now I was supposed to say how it WAS?

I filled in the fourth column, but I was extremely defensive. My comments gradually got more and more defensive. Here are a few of them::
• I’m not seeing how this could be my fault.
• I couldn't do anything about it at the time.
• My only part was believing him, but I was a child.
• I had no part in it, then.
• I would probably do the same thing again, if this happened now and I had the same a choices available as I had then.
• As a child, I had no choice!
• This is HIS problem, not mine!
• I’m getting really angry as I read these and try to find my part.
• It’s getting to the point where I want to write FUCK YOU in these spaces.
Not very productive, right? And as I began to fill in the spaces with F. U.s, it became less productive all the time. Consequently, by the time I arrived at her house, I was a complete basket case.

What I didn't understand, no matter how many sources I checked, was that "My part in it" was not about what I did wrong IN THE PAST. It is about what I am doing RIGHT NOW that is still giving power to these old "resentments".

That is a big enough revelation right there to make all of the aggravation and work I did for this fourth step worth it.

If you are going through your fourth step, try to remember this:
1. This is YOUR fourth step. You are doing it for you.
2. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, right now.
3. Your sponsor is there to help you and guide you, not to force you or bully you. If you feel "bullied," talk to your sponsor about it. If you can't do that, get a new sponsor.
4. You asked for his/her help. Open your mind to receiving it.
5. No matter what abuse you suffered in the past, no matter how bad it's been, its what you are doing RIGHT NOW that will change your future.
Doing the fifth step with my sponsor was a positive and valuable experience. I have more to process than I can manage in less than a day, but I am going to continue to post about this as it becomes clear. The things I've gained are about a lot more than just "CoDA" or "working the steps." These are things many people could relate to, whether or not they are in a twelve-step program .

A lot of what I “saw” yesterday were not new revelations, more like new ways to look at things I already understood. However, there was at least one thing that struck me like that bolt of lightning one gets on occasion in therapy.


  1. HI SHEN-

    Oh my, the 4th and 5th steps are a lot of work - and as I read your post two things came to mind. one was, "willing to go to any length", and the other is, - although your sponsor is your guide through the steps she is not your dictator -
    I applaud your determination.
    keep on keeping on..... at your pace and no one elses. k?

    Love you

  2. it sounds like all of this has been very hard and painful for you. i hope you're feeling better.

    even though i've not conciously and purposefully ever worked the steps like you are here, reading what you wrote here and thinking about the steps this past week, i've realized i've definitely done my own version of them over the years.

    it was really difficult admitting when i had really hurt other people, but i found that taking responsibility and making amends to those people (when appropriate - i love that part) has been a powerful healing force in my life.

    i think this step though is definitely one that need be tread carefully. i think if we're not careful we invite a real, "beating up on ourselves". and i like what gail said, i think going at our own pace is important. trusting ourselves and our own instincts.

    another thing i think we need to be careful of too is when we find ourselves taking responsibility for the wrongs of others. some things belong on our step 4 list. but some things aren't part of our inventory. they belong to someone else.

    i really liked what you said here:

    "My part in it" was not about what I did wrong IN THE PAST. It is about what I am doing RIGHT NOW that is still giving power to these old "resentments".

    i hope you're feeling ok about all that you've done in your 4th step. that it was healing for you. and that things went well with your sponsor.

    i really liked the 5 points you made at the end and i love that wilde quote at the top.

    sending warm wishes your way, shen~

  3. Gail you are so right! I understand now that it IS my fourth step. I also understand that some of what I was seeing as "bullying" was really just me not making my needs and wants understood.

    I'm so glad I have done this, and I intend to return to this step in the future, as needed.

    thanks for reading and your support.

  4. i definitely picked up that you felt bullied. i was concerned how much of that was your sponsor pushing you, or you feeling pushed for other more internal reasons.

    i'm glad to hear you feel like you felt this way because you weren't speaking up about your needs (something within your power) - and not that you have a bully sponsor! :)

  5. I was holding my breath through reading most of this. Did not look like it was going to turn our well.

    I am glad it did.

  6. Katie, thank you for your concern and for checking the other comment and amending it :-) I do believe my sponsor has it in her to be very controlling - that would be why she is in CoDA! However, it is my responsibility to make my needs and boundaries clear, and not that I've done that she is supporting me 100% in moving on to step six.

    Michael - like so many things I do, I tend to get really wound up about it. It is just part of who I've always been to think the worst will happen. I started the post out the way I did because that reflects how I lived through it. I was not sure there was a reason to "bother" at some points during this fourth and fifth step, but now I am SO glad I have put in the effort. It is another tool to use in my recovery and I need all the help I can get :-)

    thank you all for reading and supporting and even for worrying. I am finding some of the most caring and understanding people in blogland that I've "met" anywhere.

  7. Terrific post. Learning that my part of childhood abuse was to nurse those resentments was an epiphany for me, too.

    It took me months of steady work to finish my fourth step. But it was an amazing journey, filled with all sorts of new understanding. In the end, it all worked out the way it was supposed to.

    Best of luck as you continue on your journey. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  8. Thank you Kathy, for sharing your journey.

  9. hi shen, i was looking through my blue book today and i realized i was thinking about the 8th step when i was writing you my previous comment. the one where you made a list of all the people you'd wronged. i guess i got that confused with taking a moral inventory. i just wanted to apologize in case it seemed i didn't know what i was talking about.

    i really admire the dedication you have to your healing and all the work you do. it's inspiring and i learn so much reading about your journey.

    thank you~~ hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  10. Shen, thank you for sharing another part of your life. Learn more from everyones experiences. Put things into a better light for me. Sorry for your pain though dear one. Blessings.


Please feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment.

Co Creation

Co Creation
We create the life we live

Love your inner child...

...for she holds the key...

...to your personal power.
A lesson is woven into each day.
Together they make up the tapestries of our lives.