Spring cleaning, the AA way.


auctionCalendars be damned. It’s been Spring in Central Texas for several weeks now.

I’ve already got a good crop of basil sprouting in my garden, and a tomato plant that’s about to swap its blossoms for fruit. What’s more, I already held my annual yard sale to purge our home of my daughters’ accumulated plastic junk and all those size four jeans I’ve finally acknowledged I’m never going to wear again in this lifetime.

I find it a happy coincidence that this season of removal and renewal finds me embarking upon the Fourth Step in the Alcoholics Anonymous program:

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Now, back before I had started working the AA program, with my merely cursory knowledge of 12-Step programs, I used to think this step was about dredging up all bad stuff I’d done in the past while drinking.

I’m learning that Step Four is about much more than that.

Yes, making a list of the wrongs I’ve committed — while drinking or not — is part of it. But I’m also supposed to list my resentments. My fears. My guilty thoughts. My hates. My shameful feelings. My hang-ups about sex and love and life. I have to inventory the things inside me, the emotional baggage that I’ve accumulated over my 43 years and that I carry with me every day. (Needless to say, it’s gonna be a loooooonnnnnnnnng list.)

I was surprised to learn all this, especially the part about resentments. I believe I have enough of those to fill suitcase after suitcase:

I resent my parents for what they did to me. And for what they didn’t do.

I resent my superiors at work for not recognizing and rewarding my efforts.

I resent my friends for not reading my mind. For enabling my alcoholism. For not being tougher on me.  For not being there for me as often as I would have liked.

I resent my ex for not communicating. For being afraid. For not fighting harder for our marriage.

I resent those people who took advantage of my alcoholism and emotional troubles, and used it for their own purposes without regard for me.

And last but not least, my emotional closet holds a sturdy little duffel bag jam-packed with resentments toward B., my boyfriend.

Of course, that’s just the view from 10,000 feet. As I zoom in and review my life, stage by stage, event by event, I know I’ll discover and uncover plenty that’s been hiding and lying dormant, stuffed and squeezed into the zippered pockets and nooks and crannies of my past.

People in the program say this is a tough step, and that AA’s procrastinate on Step Four more than any other. I’m eagerly embracing it, though. I know that the steps that follow this one will prepare me to have all these negative things taken away — like that Salvation Army truck hauling off the leftovers from my yard sale. Then, I’ll start getting ready to make amends, and to start anew.

I have heard over and over how resentments are so dangerous to the alcoholic, and I am beginning to understand why. It’s just not healthy to keep this stuff around. It doesn’t help to dwell on these slights and hurts, whether real or imagined or somewhere in-between. If anything, AA is teaching me to let go, and I’m ready to do just that, to chuck it all out.

To help me along, I keep rereading the passage in AA’s Big Book (p.66) that elaborates on resentments:

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while.

A bit long to embroider on a pillow, but I have to admit that for me it is pretty damn inspirational.

No more squandering worthwhile hours for me. I’m off to make my lists, to clean house, to toss out some old baggage.

Anybody got a dumptruck I can borrow?

4 Responses to “Spring cleaning, the AA way.”

  1. Your healthy attitude toward this Step is to be commended. I look forward to hearing how it all works out. Something tells me you are going to be just fine.

  2. 2 Chaz


    I find that step 10 is the perpetual step 4.

    “Continued” being the operative word. I think we need to start with a deliberate effort like a thorough step 4. I do not feel we can spot all of our resentments, fears, and wrongs in one pass. I certainly can’t.

    However, a clear, deliberate step 4 gives us a great start in the effort of self-assessment. My most recent post about getting in a rut really speaks to what I am experiencing here.

    Especially when we fill one rut by digging another right beside it and then getting stuck in that rut (of thought).

    For me, the “continual” aspect of step 10 and constant influence by others in my recovery life minimize the rut to rut tendancy.



    Ps… how was reunion?

  3. 3 Kathy

    It took several 4th steps for me to realize…I resent myself. 🙂

  4. в итоге: бесподобно..

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