Step Four: Minding My Own Business
Mindfulness is the heart of my recovery. I’ve said it in AA meetings, I’ve said it in NA meetings, I’ve said it to my sponsor and I’ve said it to my friends. I’ve also written about it here, in many different contexts: from mindfulness and exercise to mindful walking, mindful cooking or describing a mindful approach to playing musical scales on a guitar, mindfulness is, to put it simply, always on my mind. In this article, I’ll discuss my experience with a particular aspect of mindfulness as it relates to the 12-step Approach to recovery, and specifically how mindfulness has helped me with Step Four—which, for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll define as “Taking a Fearless and Searching Personal and Moral Inventory.”
Mindfulness and Recovery
I’ll also offer a quick definition of mindfulness: mindfulness is a moment to moment awareness of one’s personal experience of the world. When seen in this simple way, it’s easy to understand how mindfulness can help an individual on his or her journey to recovery: recovery involves a constant process of self-evaluation, which leads to self-awareness, which leads to an understanding of one’s behavior, which in turn, finally and hopefully, leads to positive and proactive changes in behavior—i.e. recovery. On my personal journey, a mindful approach—an approach which stresses a moment to moment awareness of my life— has helped me to track my emotional states and view my daily behaviors in very productive ways. Instead of having isolated moments of objective understanding, I’m able to see and feel my life as it happens, which allows me to continuously check myself and stay on the right track. In other words, being mindful keeps me from sleepwalking through life and keeps me in tune with my recovery program.
A Mindful Approach to Step Four
There’s an abundance of resources available in print and on the internet about Step Four, and most people familiar with 12-step programs (and even many who aren’t) are conversant with what it means to “take inventory.” Once a person in recovery reaches Step Four, they’ve had plenty of experience facing hard facts, looking in the mirror and being brutally honest, and speaking about intensely personal things in front of other people. After all, to get to Step Four one necessarily has to go through Steps One through Three—a process which I won’t belabor here other than to understate it thus: it’s neither simple nor easy.
For me, Step Four was more about how to deal with what I found in my personal inventory than actually taking the inventory itself. What I found when I took my inventory were hefty doses of anger, bitterness, and resentment. In addition, I recognized that I spent a great deal of time playing the victim. Thankfully, one resource I found relating to Step Four involved a prayer, which I turned into the following personal mindfulness mantra:
Allow me to be free of anger, bitterness, resentment, the need to retaliate and the idea that I’m a victim.
Those familiar with the program will probably recognize this group of words and understand that I’ve adapted them to suit my own personal belief system. I stayed on this part of Step Four for almost six months, and I return to this mantra time and again to help me on the days I’m struggling. When I find myself becoming angry or resentful—about anything at all—I immediately go into “mindful mode,” meaning that I regulate my breathing, relax my body, let go of whatever past situation or future worry that’s causing my anger or resentment, and then repeat this mantra over and over until the emotion passes. I also use it when I find myself falling into the trap of blaming another person for something that’s going on in my life—a.k.a playing the victim—and it works every time.
It does not solve all of my problems, of course, and I don’t walk the earth with the illusion that I’m some sort of enlightened being, but the process of connecting to my breath, relaxing my body and filling my thoughts with this mantra grants me the perspective I need to process my negative emotions in a productive way and move on to whatever is next in my life with a fresh and positive attitude—and for me, that’s what both mindfulness and recovery are all about.
By Angus Whyte