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Addictions Anonymous, 17: Self Knowledge

 article about Fourth Step

This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.


Step Four: Made a searching and fearless inventory of our character for ourselves.

The word inventory is a bit misleading, but this step comes down to the adage, "Know thyself." In business, an inventory has important value. The store owner can borrow money against the store's inventory. It tells him what needs to be ordered. It evaluates the net worth of a company at any given moment. Applied to people in the original Alcoholics Anonymous, it was a moral inventory, a kind of confession of wrong doing and list of things that needed correction. The word moral is dropped here because an inventory of values and beliefs, while essential, is part of a complete program of self-study.

I prefer an expanded concept of personal inventory that implies a much broader kind of self-study, and, of course, more work. Done correctly, this kind of work may last for the rest of your life.

 article about Fourth Step
The similarity to a business inventory is not accurate enough, although one could argue that the real worth of a person is measured in character and behavior. Better words are evaluation or assessment. Many professions such as nursing, psychiatry and law open each new case with a complete assessment of the new client. In many ways, a Fourth Step inventory is like an autobiography, and writing an autobiography is an exercise in self study. So, doing a Fourth Step may take considerable time and even some research. Done effectively, the inventory is written on many pages using notes and memories. In doing this, you are learning important skills for self-study and self-understanding. You will begin to see yourself as others see you, and that can be rather shocking.

I have heard the opinion that no one can take your inventory for you, and I agree that only you can do the real work and make the important changes. That said, sometimes when someone really doesn't want to hear criticism or suggestions, they fall back on, "You can't take my inventory for me, only I can do that." This defense becomes a way of not hearing bad news. However, others who know you are well worth listening to.

What to search for:

1. By all means, make the traditional list of persons and institutions you may have harmed in your pursuit of an addiction. You are getting ready, we hope, to make a plan of restitution.

2. List all of your addictions or potential addictions (see Chapter Six on triggers).

3. List all of your risk factors, those in the present and those in your past (see Chapter Eight).

4. List all of your different dark moods, the feelings you have been running away from (see Chapter Ten).

5. Inventory your character defects and list the strengths that you will replace them with (see below).

6. Begin to write a life history and plan to continue this until it is finished and at which point you many decide to begin a daily journal of events, feelings and ideas.

7. List all of your important relationships making plans to improve, eliminate or change them as needed to insure your continued abstinence.

Limit the lists above to only the critical and important items. As you develop the lists, do a little thoughtful writing about each item, about what has it meant in your life. Has it caused pleasure or pain? Does something need change?

Just a note here on number one above: some people feel that it is not necessary to make restitution to institutions. I disagree. The purpose of an inventory is to benefit you the writer. If you harmed a company, school, agency or other organization, it is important in your recovery that you admit this and eventually offer some kind of restitution or apology. My experience with gamblers and drug uses is that they are very willing to make amends to individuals but resist making amends to impersonal organizations. The benefit here is practice in honesty and humility. If you stole from or lied to a company, the Little League, the Internal Revenue Service or any group, remember that organizations are made up of individuals who get hurt by dishonesty. Someone always pays the price even if you don't know those people personally.

Being fearless

Step Four asks you to be fearless in making your inventory. Building the good inventory sometimes requires getting opinions and information from others who witnessed or were part of certain events. We fear what others may say, and we are afraid to hear their ideas. Just as we would fear a physician's diagnosis, we fear the truth, but it is essential that we hear it and put aside, as well as possible, the dread of being judged and facing consequences.

Then, too, we sometimes fear our own judgments of ourselves. The more you allow yourself to hear different opinions the easier it gets. Stop fighting and just listen.

The meaning and form of inventory

The personal inventory should be written out, and if you have problems writing for any reason you can get the help of others. You can use a tape recorder, diary, note book or note cards. When all the information you want is assembled, a final draft is prepared. Include all the necessary details that will make events clear.

Doing a useful inventory goes well past just thinking about life and admitting a few mistakes. The more seriously you take the job the more you will gain from it.

Defining character

Character is so important, in my opinion, that I have discussed it in several places in these chapters. A significant part of later chapters will deal with a further analysis of character. For the inventory process, you are looking for those particular defects of character that feed addiction and set you up for relapse. Character defects, often long practiced during a life, are major sources of misery. They are not, as they often seem, really necessary for life. Below is a list of 101 possibilities. With each is a corresponding asset or strength. Since we are often blind to our own defects of character, this is where you can reach out to those who know you well and get their honest opinions. Please remember, if you ask friends or group members for their ideas, your role is just to listen and say thanks. Do not quarrel, justify yourself, be defensive or engage in denial. They may be right or they may miss some things. You will decide yourself what to use, but for now, just listen and say thank you when they finish.

Character Defect — Character Asset

Abrasive — Gentle

Aggressive — Peaceful

Aloof — Involved

Angry — Serene

Anxious — Confident

Apathetic — Concerned

Argumentative — Agreeable

Arrogant — Humble

Attention-seeking—Attention-giving

Bitter — Forgiving

Bossy — Cooperative

Careless — Careful

Cold — Warm

Complaining — Accepting

Compulsive — Flexible

Critical — Approving

Cruel — Kind

Deceitful — Honest

Defensive — Open

Dependent — Self-sufficient

Depressed — Cheerful

Dishonest — Honest

Disorganized — Organized

Distant — Sociable

Distrustful — Trusting

Dominating — Permissive

Dramatic — Unassuming

Egocentric — Selfless

Envious — Giving

Evasive — Straightforward

Fearful — Confident

Flighty — Persistent

Forgetful — Considerate

Grandiose — Realistic

Greedy — Spiritual

Guilty — Guilt-free

Headstrong — Flexible

Hostile — Friendly

Humorless — Witty

Immature — Thoughtful

Impatient — Patient

Impulsive — Planning

Inconsiderate — Considerate

Indecisive — Decisive

Indulgent — Controlled

Inhibited — Relaxed

Insensitive — Sensitive

Intolerant — Loving

Irritable — Tolerant

Isolated — Social

Jealous — Content

Lazy — Industrious

Manipulative — Accepting

Negative — Optimistic

Neglectful — Attentive

Obsessed — Free

Opinionated — Open

Overcautious — Venturous

Passive — Involved

Perfectionistic — Realistic

Pessimistic — Optimistic

Preoccupied — Sensitive

Procrastinating — Reliable

Proud — Humble

Quarrelsome — Cooperative

Rebellious — Lawful

Reckless — Cautious

Resentful — Forgiving

Rude — Polite

Sarcastic — Nice

Secretive — Open

Self-centered — Extroverted

Self-doubting — Confident

Self-hating — Self-liking

Selfish — Generous

Self-pitying — Outgoing

Self-seeking — Helpful

Shy — Assertive

Snobbish — Tolerant

Stingy — Giving

Stubborn — Willing

Submissive — Assertive

Superficial — Trusting

Thin-skinned — Accepting

Thoughtless — Considerate

Timid — Bold

Uncritical — Analytical

Undependable —Dependable

Unemotional — Involved

Unfriendly — Friendly

Unrealistic — Realistic

Unscrupulous — Honest

Unstable — Steady

Vague — Specific

Vain — Modest

Vindictive — Forgiving

Vulgar — Considerate

Withdrawn — Outgoing

Workaholic — Moderate

So, what are your top five or ten, and do people who know you agree with that assessment? Next, for a moment, ignore the left hand list of defects and just read down the list of character assets. Does this sound so awful? Is this really a difficult and impossible task? Do you like people who show these characteristics? Are you willing to be this kind of person? Which is more likely to lead back to addiction, the defects or the assets?

For Ourselves

These words in Step Four are important because they imply the selfish goal of learning more about you. Many times I've had addicts in treatment tell me they thought they could publish their stories either for the benefit of others or for fame, profit and glory. In fact, stories of alcoholics, drug users and gamblers are popular subjects for books and movies. The question to ask yourself is about what is good for you and for your recovery. The inflated ego of some addicts is often one of the character defects that led to trouble in the past. Most stories by addicts are amazingly similar, but the tendency is to see your own story as special and unique. I would suggest this rule: don't plan on trying to publish your story of addiction until you have a good recovery story to add. Put in three to five years of good recovery time and then see if publishing your history is still attractive.



Sharing the inventory

Well, if publication to a wide audience is not a good idea for the person early in recovery, who gets to see your written inventory? First of all, you do. Hopefully, you will learn a lot more about you in the process, and you will re-read it often. Family members are probably not the best people with whom to share your inventory/life story, although there can be important exceptions I remember a man who came to treatment, wrote a great short autobiography and inventory, and then happened to die of a heart attack shortly after he returned home. His wife wrote to me to ask for the document saying that he had told her about writing it and that she wanted her three children to have this little piece of their father to read in the future.

I think sponsorship is a wonderful way of developing a close relationship with a fellow recovering addict, and the sponsor is the first reader after you. That person, in fact, may have had a directing role in your development of the inventory and he/she may have suggestions for revisions or re-writing. I have known people who, as a token of their new life free of addiction, burned the inventory or a copy of it when it was finished.

One thing to be very careful of is allowing free circulation of your inventory among others. This is personal and sensitive material. You would not want employers or co-workers reading your most personal details. Think long and carefully before you publish or circulate your personal information, and never do it to flatter your ego or capitalized on what is, after all, the common human fault of addiction. These days it is important to remember than anything you send over the Internet is basically open to eyes other than the ones intended. Be very careful of all Internet communications about personal data.

If you've taken this chapter seriously, you already have accomplished lots of thinking and writing, so I have few suggestions or assignments here. Of course, it might we helpful to write about your feelings once you have finished and given the inventory to a sponsor or therapist. Did doing that make a difference?

Some things to think and write about:

· How have the character defects you listed played into your addiction?

· How would the corresponding assets help with abstinence?

· How will friends and relatives take your changes in character as you make them over time?

· Are there important people who will resist and resent the changes you need to make?



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