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Fear and the Fourth Step

An AA describes how a Step helped him to change his attitudes and feelings

I think most of us arrive in AA with fear of the unknown. Early in August of 1982, I attended my first few meetings. I can remember wondering: what would become of me?

Would I be OK here? Would I be accepted? How could I fit in? Was I worthy of help? They told me on a daily basis, "Failure here could cause painful death." That statement alone would cause some to head for the doors. Then after I'd been in AA for a while, the fear seemed to level off though it never went away. I still felt as though I wasn't really connected.

I couldn't figure out how to get totally comfortable in the Fellowship, so in my ignorance, I just kept trying to gain other people's approval. Some would call this insanity: "Trying to effect change by repeating the same behavior."

The problem with that sort of thinking is that I can't please everyone all the time. Trying to do so only increases my feelings of low esteem. The bottom line is that I can't control what others think, say or do; I can only control what I think, say or do. In the end, it comes down to a choice; will I remain a slave to the opinions of others, or will I find the freedom to be myself?

My sponsor used to always say, "There's no such thing as new anger, only old anger coming out in a new situation " When you consider that the term resentment means to repeat a feeling, it's plain to see how I continually recreated this negative energy throughout my life. It continues until my suffering is so great, I become willing to look at it, and change the behavior. Step Four is the tool that allows me to see where I've been needlessly inflicting pain on myself, and those about me.

Through several years in the Fellowship, this persisted. Despite the fact that I was free from alcohol, I was not free to be myself within the Fellowship or the world in general—true recovery eluded me.

A few years ago, I was participating in a book study, when I had an epiphany. In Step Four, we're instructed to list our resentments. Then it asks us to look at the cause of these resentments, and what they affected in our lives. Next, we're asked to look at our part. It was here, that I found a key to my thinking. Normally, I'd answer by saying things like, "Well, I was selfish, angry, dishonest, etc." While that's a good start, it doesn't take into consideration the true nature of the defect. I have to consider what would have made that same situation helpful for myself and the other person.

The reason I resent anyone is because their actions hurt me, and I feel afraid. I don't understand what makes them behave in a certain way. Time and again, I become upset with people who practice the exact same behavior that I do.

Sometimes they did wrong me, but no matter where fault lies in a given situation, I'm resentful because of my inability to see that they suffer just like I do. We all share the exact same fears, and at times, exhibit the same behavior. This was a freeing realization.

Step Eleven suggests that we pause when agitated and ask for guidance. Many times I've allowed the behavior of others to anger me, but if I'm able to pause for just a moment, and consider the lessons of the Fourth Step, then I might see their actions for what they truly are. I see that they're acting out on one of their many fears.

For me the ultimate fear is that I won't be good enough to experience love in my life. The spiritual experience we seek may be just that: a better relationship with our fellows.

Perhaps that is the ultimate challenge of a sober life. St. Francis said that the act of understanding is better than that of being understood. It is truly miraculous to come from a place of fear and frustration to one of love and tolerance.

Gradually, I've been able to make this a real part of sober living. I'm happy to report that today I am enough, and I feel at home here in the Fellowship. There will always be those times when the old fear of not being good enough comes calling. However, armed with the wisdom gained from my Fourth Step, I'm able to quickly turn that feeling around. The mature, outgoing love described by St. Francis is my daily goal.

Larry H., Puyallup, Wash.

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