Step Four requires a “vigorous and painstaking effort to discover what the liabilities in each of us have been and are”(12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Pg 42). So we need a “willing and persistent effort to do this”(12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Pg 43). Step four talks about the ways in which we go off track; financial insecurity and our relationships with people are big problem areas. It says in Step Four that “the most common symptoms of emotional insecurity are worry, anger, self-pity, and depression. These stem from causes which sometimes seem to be within us, and at other times come from without. To take inventory in this respect we ought to consider carefully all personal relationships which bring continuous or recurring trouble”(12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Pg 52). Could you talk about Step Four in relation to when, in your personal relationships, in your day-to-day life, conflict comes up or something arises, how do you address that?
Living in addiction, I used to see things as very black and white. I had set opinions about things and about who was right and who was wrong. Back when I was trying to fix myself and doing a lot of personal growth courses, I spoke with my husband and asked him, what my defects of character were. He said, “You think you are always right.” That was a shock to me. I had no idea that somebody would say that about me. But actually, it was true. When I had a fixed idea about something people wouldn't be able to change my mind about it. For example, I had this feeling in me that nothing was ever enough. That went for my poor parents who always loved me but I came with this feeling of it is not enough. In my mind, I thought that it was because of them, that they weren't providing enough, not because I couldn't feel enough. I had this fixed idea that poor me I hadn't been loved enough or in the right way.
When you do have emotional conflict in your life with family or those close to you, how do you reflect on that? As an addictive eater in recovery, what is the process you go through?
I'm in regular contact with my sponsor and I talk about a lot of situations that I find difficult. Often what I get back is to look at how the other person might feel. Now looking at the other side has become a practice. If I'm up against a difficult interaction, I may think about how it is for the other person. Why might they be reacting to me like this? It is not practical to always think that I am right. When I was eating I used to agonize and do a lot of mental miles. If I had a difficulty with somebody at work, it could ruin my whole weekend. I could be thinking about it over and over, from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. Whereas now I can check with my sponsor if I have done something that needs fixing, and I either do that immediately, or I know that I will do it at the first available opportunity. Then I have to let things go and get on.
Step Four talks about willingness and about how “clear thinking and an honest appraisal” of our own behavior are the first tangible evidence of our willingness (12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Pg 54). In your sharing the other day, you talked about going to a family mid-winter feast. You said everyone bought a stew, but you bought a kumara curry instead. It made me think about this and how not once when we were eating addictively did we seek to be one in a family, to be a friend among friends, to be a worker among workers, or to be a useful member of society. Compared to growing up in that family, is it different for you now?
I’m no longer out to win by beating somebody else. At the mid-winter feast, I did do something different; I wasn’t overly motivated to compete and win, which is rare for me. Making the curry was all I could manage. Some were probably a little bit disappointed that I didn't do what they had hoped, but I was all right with it, and it actually contributed a lot of fun to the evening.
Step four talks about the beginning of no longer being disconnected from others. The running amok in addiction and self-centeredness was what separated us from those around us. Now, do you continue to take inventory of your actions? Do you think, at the end of the day, about how you have been throughout the day? What does taking an inventory mean to you nowadays?
I have a baseline inside, knowing what I am and the dangerous areas that I can easily get in. So I'm on the lookout for those things. I live a pretty fast-paced life with many interactions. I've got three children, a husband, a business and a large, extended family with a lot going on; it is a busy full life. So I rely quite a lot on a feeling inside me when something's not right. It has become more of an instinct to notice when I have gone off the track and I can't live with that, it is not good for me. I have developed a conscience. I used to live thinking I could get away with things, that they didn’t matter. Now, even if nobody knows or not many people know, it is too uncomfortable to cover it up and carry on. There have been things that probably weren't very serious but the hiding hurt me, and I don't want to do that anymore. Sometimes I don't have to take any further action, but not keeping secrets is very important to me. I need to talk to my sponsor, take direction and sometimes go and fix something.
When I first got sober, I used to hear about the “poor unfortunates who were incapable of being entirely honest” and I was worried that I was going to be one of those. I wanted to do everything right and If I tried to hold on to a mistake and not tell my sponsor, it was a good three or four days of torture. Soon I realized I can't live with certain things. And those things are never as bad as they are in my mind when I'm keeping a secret. I don't wish to hide anymore in any area.
Do you find AEA meetings helpful for pricking your conscience when you hear members talk about their experiences? For instance, one of our members has talked about how she always walks across the pathway and doesn't take a shortcut across the grass, do you find that's true for you?
I love hearing about people's experiences of daily life. Not that long ago, I thought about that story of sticking to the path. I was at the kids' school cross-country race, and I climbed through a fence and saw these wires. Actually, there was an electric fence and I thought there was no way they'd have an electric fence at a kid's event. So I climbed through and got a shock. Oh, yes, I thought. Thank you. I need to stick to the path.
Step four also touches on financial insecurity as being part of our emotional makeup. Is that something that you relate to?
I always wanted more. At one point, I used to go to this place for firewood and you could fill up your car boot for so much money. Well, I had the right boot for that deal, you know with the seat that could go down, and I would put more and more firewood in. That is the kind of thing that I did, wanting more and thinking I could get away with it. That is no longer for me. Nowadays, if I have that thought I can see it and I know what it is. I also know what it feels like to go back and make amends and I don't want that. Knowing the right thing to do is somehow much stronger.
I was reading in step four about handing it over to God. Saying “Thy will be done” seems to be very helpful as well as turning to your sponsor.
The other thing I am thinking of is how good it feels to know I am just doing this on a daily basis. Looking back I can see that I don't behave or react like I used to. It feels so good to know that it's getting better, that I'm getting better and that God is fixing me. It helps my faith as I keep doing what I'm doing and trusting it is going to continue to get better.
Absolutely. My final quote is about how “we needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever they were” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Pg 47). It is exactly what you are talking about and how recovery in Addictive Eaters Anonymous is a wonderful way of life.