This week I volunteered to help out a church acquaintance with some cleaning and reorganizing of her house. She’s a single mom with numerous health problems and two active young boys, and she babysits an infant who’s now mobile enough to require baby-proofing of the house—and she was finding the project overwhelming. I won’t lie: I found the project overwhelming when I got there.
I tackled the kitchen the first day, removing bags of trash and recycling, stowing in her pantry the still-bagged groceries that took up the entire kitchen floor, running loads through the dishwasher and tackling the stacks of unwashed pans and pots.
It crossed my mind that this kind of clean-up is only truly useful if it’s accompanied by some changes-in-habit to prevent the same from happening all over again… And that thought brought me right back to my own messes—more internal in nature, but just as daunting. A tidy kitchen-cupboard is not necessarily the mark of a put-together person!
I had a session with my counselors that same afternoon, told them about my day, and made the observation that even if I take out my own “mental trash” through counseling, I have to change the way I handle the trash, going forward, if I’m truly going to benefit from the clean-up.
It’s a timely analogy, because I’ve been writing an A.A. “Fourth Step,” which is essentially an inventory of all the garbage I’ve created in my life. A lot of folks “go out” on the Fourth Step. We call it the “A.A. Waltz:” Steps ONE-two-three & OUT-the-door! It’s a tough thing to look at your own faults honestly and objectively…
The Step begins fairly easily, by listing people against whom you have resentments, and enumerating what you resent and how it has affected you. Oh yeah, we can all happily write about how other people have messed us up, right? The tough part comes with the oft-dreaded “fourth column,” where it’s time to look at your own part in each of those messes. What have I done to contribute to each situation, what wrongs have I committed, how have I harmed other people? It’s heavy. No, it’s excruciating. This is the stuff I don’t want to think about myself, let alone admit to someone else.
But that’s exactly what comes next. Step Five: We admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The whole list. Even (especially!) the stuff we least want to cop to.
So… I’ve written this new Fourth Step. (I’ve done the steps before, but a lot of LIFE has happened since my last time through.) But… I had conveniently NOT called my sponsor to tell her I’d written it and was ready for Five. (Ahem. I think I’ve written before about procrastination?) Well, God has a sense of humor—so when I went to a Meeting on the evening of my second day of volunteer-house-shoveling, the topic was Step Five. Okay, okay, God. I’m listening. I called my sponsor on the way home (it’s not a good sign when your sponsor is shocked that you call) and we’re Fifth-Stepping today.
Here’s the beautiful irony, though. As much as I DON’T want to admit some of the things I’m about to tell her, she’s likely to be less shocked by that litany than she was by the fact that I called her the other night. The monsters have weighed more heavily on my soul in the keeping-in than they will in the telling. And once a person has shoveled out the trash, it’s a clean start with the opportunity to change habits.
That’s the ultimate goal of these steps, to be able to LIVE in ten-eleven-twelve (which we often call the “maintenance steps”), cleaning up our mistakes as we go rather than letting the garbage pile up till it’s overwhelming. Setting the stage for that capability? That’s the magic of confessional clean-up.
Post-Script… Well, I did it! Fifth-Stepped ALL my mental, emotional, and spiritual trash with my sponsor. She sat with me for three hours, responding to my admissions with insights, understanding, and unjudging love.
I feel loads lighter. I feel years younger. And now that I’m less knotted up inside my own skin, I can look to my behavior patterns and character defects that are the foundation of Step Six. With Step Seven comes the change-in-self that can keep the “cleaned kitchen” clean.
When I first came to A.A. and heard people say they were glad to be alcoholics, I assumed they just meant they were glad they’d gotten sober. Now I know better. These steps aren’t even about drinking—they’re about LIVING. And it’s because I’m an alcoholic that I have them in my toolbox!
My name is Kana, and I’m grateful I’m an alcoholic.