Perspective: A first, very imperfect 4th step …

by JD M.

pencils-240x180When I first saw the Twelve Steps, they scared me. The talk about powerlessness, immorality and insanity was bad enough, but that the prescription was God felt repulsive to me. Listing my sins and sharing that with someone? Going around and telling people how I’d wronged them? Forget it!

I’d arrived in treatment in the USA following an intervention by friends and family. I had been in the grip of a nasty crack cocaine addiction and had agreed to go mainly because I badly needed a rest. My family had sent me far from home, believing that would discourage me from leaving early.

My counsellor issued me a Big Book and told to me read from the preface up to page 57. Smart guy that I was, I checked the table of contents to see what I’d been asked to cover. Maybe I could fake it. The first few chapters seemed to be all over the map – a doctor’s opinion, some guy’s story about World War II, then something about religion and agnosticism. Oh boy.

Then I saw the chapter “How It Works.” Okay, this is the good stuff! But when I saw that it was the same Twelve Steps that were up on the wall I thought, “I’m screwed.” My mind clamped shut and I determined to put in my 28 days and then get the heck out of there.

Toward the end of the third week, I met with my counsellor. I was already looking forward to going home. So, it was a real surprise when he gave me his recommendation for a further 10 months of in-patient treatment! It seemed to me simply like an attempted money grab and a sort of jail sentence. I immediately began to negotiate for my early release.

Reluctantly, my counsellor agreed to let me leave after my 28 days, provided I fulfilled certain tasks before I left and agreed to live in a sober house and take aftercare when I got home. I knew I could blow off the latter once I got back to Toronto, but was stuck with the requirement to do a 4th and 5th Step before I left.

So, I dutifully trundled off the next morning and met with one of the “spiritual advisors,” who happened to be a tiny woman, a Lutheran pastor. She seemed to be nice. She gave me some worksheets and asked me to write down my 10 biggest resentments and my 10 biggest fears, then follow the instructions on the worksheets.

Before I left, she asked me what my biggest resentment was. No question, it was my ex-wife who I felt had betrayed my trust and had lied to try to get as much money as possible from me. The pastor then told me that I had to pray twice each day for my ex – that she would get all the health, happiness and prosperity I wanted for myself. Are you nuts? She said she would follow up on this request when we met next week.

So, in the interest of going home, I complied with her requests.

The written work seemed really hard, but I did it as quickly and concisely as possible. The twice-daily prayer task was really difficult, because it made me feel angry each time I did it. But I did it.

A week later, I met with the pastor. She told me to talk about my three biggest resentments and three biggest fears, since we only had an hour. As I did that, she had her palms together and eyes closed. I couldn’t tell if she was praying or just couldn’t look me in the eye because the stuff I was sharing was so bad and depraved.

When I was done, she looked at me, smiled and thanked me. She said that she understood how painful this was and hoped that I would stick with my recovery. She asked me if I had done the prayer and how I felt about my ex-wife. It surprised me to find that, at least in the moment, I didn’t feel nearly as angry about the divorce – in fact, I felt some relief. That feeling stuck with me and became a key part of what eventually attracted me to recovery.

As my recovery has progressed, I’m grateful that I was “forced” into doing that first, very imperfect 4th Step. It made it way easier to do the next one, after I’d been home for a couple of months. That second one was epic, pages and pages of dumping everything I could think of – it was all about getting my shame out.

Since then, I’ve done many more – not only in various Twelve Step formats but also as a daily tool. If I’m stuck on something, a fear or a resentment, I can usually jot down the issues in point form, in less than ten minutes (I’m old school – pencil and paper is much more personal than keyboarding). I then talk with someone about it objectively and make course corrections as needed.

The key thing is to get it out of my head so I can get some perspective. It took a long time to really become searching and fearless, but it has now become a useful tool in my daily life.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email