“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” —Step 4 of the Twelve Steps
“If inside you have the bitterness of jealousy, or a selfish ambition, never make any false claims for yourself or cover up any truth with lies.” —James 3:14
I knew it was time to take an inventory last week when I had a temper tantrum. Exhausted from hours of video sessions, zoom meetings, telephone calls, emails, texts, PM’s and the stress of transitioning to a new way of life, I basically had a meltdown. And my meltdown monologue went like this:
“I want my daughter with me. I want to hug people. I want to go out to eat and be served by someone. I want to go shopping. I want to go out dancing. I want to go to a concert. I want…I want…I want…” And then I yelled. “I hate this.” And then I cried. “WTF is wrong with me.” And then I cried some more.
The 4th Step
Peace. Do not be afraid. Jesus’ words came to me through my tears. You might find them helpful, too, as we consider this skill known to those in recovery programs. Anyone who observe a serious Lent will know this skill as well. Taking a moral inventory is the 4th step in any 12-step program. While I have never been in a recovery program myself, I did participate in a parallel program years ago called The Twelve Steps for Christians. Based on a book by the same name, I gathered weekly with a group to apply the principles of the 12-step programs to our lives.
In most recovery programs, the moral inventory involves acknowledging how your addiction—whatever it is—has hurt other people. Therefore, it asks, “What are the consequences of your addictive behavior?” Many addicts (I think most of us) fear this step and get stuck here. Why? Because it is not easy to admit the ways one has messed up and hurt those most loved. Often a sponsor helps someone navigate this step because it is a little precarious: scary, vulnerable, intense. Now we are no longer going to blame anyone. We are now our own problem, and, importantly, it is time for some shadow-boxing.
We are now our own problem, and, importantly, it is time for some shadow-boxing.
What Is An Addiction?
After this tantrum, I started looking at my own “addictions” again. Many years ago I read Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families, by John and Linda Friel, who say that an addiction is anything that keeps one from intimacy with the SELF. Anything that keeps me from looking inside, from diving deeper, from being anything less than brutally honest with myself is an addiction. As you can see, my temper tantrum laid wide open some of my addictions. Basically, I want what I want. That is an addictive process. If I had been alcoholic at the time of my tantrum, I would have been heading straight for my favorite bar.
Anything that keeps me from looking inside, from diving deeper, from being anything less than brutally honest with myself is an addiction.
But my favorite restaurants are closed, stores are shuttered, my ballroom is closed, the long-awaited jazz concert was postponed. I could not assuage my addictive, self-absorbed thoughts. And so I had a tantrum and cried. And in that tantrum, I looked at myself more deeply and realized how very privileged I am. I realized how very indulged I am. I realized how very selfish I am. And then I cried some more because, hey, it wasn’t an ego-boost, ok?
Nature or Nurture?
Our country was founded on rugged individualism. It is in our collective DNA to want what we want. Also, being workaholic, perfectionistic, compulsive, and body and food-obsessed is in our collective DNA. It is in much of our personal DNA as well. Sure, I am a decent human being who gives a lot back to the community, sacrifices for my marriage and family, works hard for the well-being of others, volunteers in meaningful ways, blah, blah, blah. It is also true that I want what I want. That, deep down, I can be very selfish and spoiled. Way deep down, I don’t want to change and adapt anymore than anyone else.
There is another phrase in the 12-Step world: 90 days, 90 meetings. Why? Because in order to begin addressing my addiction, it will take that kind of discipline. I am about 45 days in now. Half way. Taming the tantrums is not easy.
Do Not Be Afraid
As Jesus whispered to me after my tantrum, I don’t need to be afraid of myself and neither do you. These are normal, human emotions. And it is exactly in this kind of space that we are in, this liminal space of no longer and not yet, a space full of opportunity for true transformation and transcendence, that we can above all face our Selves and tell ourselves the truth of things. We can certainly have the courage to be personally honest. Perhaps most importantly, we have the opportunity to be honest as communities and as a nation.
So what about you? Have you had your tantrum yet? How are you taking inventory? What is shadow-boxing laying open in you?
Friends, we are not in this to become more perfect because that is not the purpose of taking inventory. We are in this to open to a Greater Love. Can we become more honest and humble? What would it look like if we learned to get-along better, to work for the common good. In some ways we don’t even know why we are in this yet. The future will lay that out.
We are not in this to become more perfect because that is not the purpose of taking inventory. We are in this to open to a Greater Love.
As you can imagine, taking inventory can feel messy. Nonetheless, it is critical to a continuing maturity. Will you join me in making efforts to do some of your own shadow-boxing? To taking your own inventory?
CoVid continues to be messy. Together, let’s get more comfortable in this liminal space. However we do it, let’s come out the other side of this in a new place.
Amy Sander Montanez, D. Min., LPC, LMFT
I have a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. A few years ago my book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. I am passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, writing, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com
You can email me at [email protected]