When most addicts and alcoholics find their way to a treatment center, they have become desperate for help. They are fully aware that their drug or alcohol use is out of control and have come face to face with the reality that their life is in shambles. In addition to health, employment and legal problems, difficulties at work and issues with family members, many people who have finally admitted they have a substance abuse problem feel an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt.
When most people get to treatment, they have finally come to terms with their own denial and can no longer deny that a problem exists. What most people aren’t expecting, however, are the many, many painful realizations that come in the days and weeks that follow. For example, when the typical addict or alcoholic gets clean and sober, he or she usually feels an all-consuming sense of emptiness. This is usually accompanied by a feeling that has been described as “the absence of self.”
After months or years of substance abuse, with drugs and alcohol running the show, a person slowly loses their ability to choose. Almost every action and reaction is centered on the compulsion to drink more booze or do more dope. Old pastimes, favorite hobbies, and family-oriented activities fall to the wayside. Personal preferences, patriotic duties, and civic responsibilities have no place in a world centered on addiction. Furthermore, values, morals and priorities become almost non-existent by the time a person enters treatment. Usually, after a few months of recovery, an addict or alcoholic will suddenly come to this agonizing conclusion: I have no idea who I am anymore.
Thankfully, there is a step in the 12-step recovery process that addresses this very problem. The Fourth Step asks us to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” When a person reaches Step Four, he or she is evolving beyond what is often referred to as “the baby steps” (One, Two and Three) and is now moving into a place where a lot of the real work and action begins. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics are fearful of this step, largely because of the hype that surrounds it. People in meetings often share about the monumental task that comes with working this step, for it truly does require a spirit of fearlessness, (as indicated in the language of the step itself) and it involves a course of action that includes taking a long, hard look at oneself.
The Fourth Step is not something to be intimidated by but welcomed.
This is where you will finally begin to get to know yourself and find a sense of identity. While there is a lot of “looking back” involved in this step, there is also a lot of “looking forward.” Not only do you get the opportunity to go back and see what went wrong in your past, you also get to figure out who you are, what you believe in and what you represent as a human being.
People often fear this step because they are afraid it will reveal the true depth of their depravity and show that they are a monster in disguise. What usually happens, though, is the recovering person realizes they aren’t nearly as “bad” as they thought they were. They begin to see their own self-worth and intrinsic value. Upon completion, (and the commitment to continue working the 12 steps) most recovering alcoholics and addicts happily report that they feel a greater sense of who they are and have a better direction in mind about where they want to go in life.
If you’re feeling lost at this stage in your recovery and have a looming sense of emptiness, know that you are not alone in this. Every addict or alcoholic reaches this place at some point during their recovery journey. Work Step Four (but not before working the first three, of course!) and soon enough, you will become comfortable in your own skin. You will find out who you are without drugs and alcohol and you will learn to love yourself.