We admitted we were powerless over sexual abuse-that our lives had become unmanageable.
Admitting that we are powerless over sexual abuse is very difficult, and yet it is vital to our recovery. This is the beginning of the work we have to do in order to grow into the individuals which we are all capable of becoming.
When we were children, we thought that we had control, that somehow we were causing the abuse to happen, that we were bad kids. We felt that if we just were obedient enough, quiet enough, bright enough, whatever enough, that the abuse would stop and we would be safe. We had the feeling that nothing we did was ever good enough, or that if we had been better, the abuse would not have happened at all. We have to realize that none of this is true.
There was absolutely nothing we could have done to stop the abuse. We must believe with our whole heart, mind and spirit that there was nothing we could have done. We were helpless victims, no matter what our age at the time we were abused; the adult perpetrators had full control, and bear full responsibility. They were the ones who took our power and control, and in return gave us shame, guilt, and a secret to keep at all costs, even at the cost of making us feel like victims for the rest our lives.
Sometimes we can't admit to powerlessness because we don't believe there is anything to admit at all. We use all sorts of defense mechanisms: denying, blocking out, or minimizing what happened. When we do this, and we sya things like, "It wasn't so bad. That person had it worse." or, "I feel like something happened, but it couldn't have." We are trying to deny the reality of the anguish and the long-lasting effects of sexual abuse. We are trying to stay in control. When we use such childlike, magical thinking, we tell ourselves that as long as we stay in control, deny, or minimize, then we can believe if really didn't happen. We can pretend a little longer, that our lives were okay and normal.
Eva said: I knew I grew up in a dysfunctional family, but never even thought about or considered sexual abuse. But when the flashbacks started coming one right after the other, I found that everytime I wanted not to believe it, I was denying my very existence. When I started considering that the memories might be true, the pounding headaches would stop for awhile.
Occasionally, some of us block our memories so effectively that they don't surface for years and years. Eventually though, memories do begin to return and we may actually have difficult time believing or trusting in our own memories. Sometimes our families keep the denial system going.
Sally told us: I remember my dad telling me I must be lying, that my grandfather would never do anything like that to me. My father still refuses to believe anything ever happened to me.
The people we should have been able to trust and turn to in times of need were often the very people who stole our trust and/ or used our body for their own sick needs. Some of us never tried to tell anyone, because there was no safe to tell. Some of us felt so guilty about the abuse that we were ashamed to tell anyone. Some of us were told by the perpetrator that the people we told would be harmed, or that we would be even more badly abused. Some of us hid the abuse so far down in the recesses of our minds that we had no conscious memories of the facts. All of the denying, blocking and minimizing has to end in order for us to get beyond the victim stage.
Although it is hard for many people to believe, some of us were also used by member of a cult or satanic worship group. In these cases, the abused were made to perform sexual acts with other cult members and/ or animals. We were sometimes forced to drink blood or eat feces, or were covered with feces. Some ritual abuse survivors may also have been programmed to return to the cult at some later date. For those of us abused in this way, it is especially important to admit our absolute powerlessness over these events. We must hold the cult members completely responsible for their actions and beliefs.
Now is the time to be honest and to face the difficult truth, to finally admit that we were abused. This can be extremely painful, but is necessary for us to walk through this pain, for on the other side a new freedom and a new happiness is waiting.
Many of us were little children at the time we were sexually abused. We never learned that we have control over our own destiny. We may still feel like we are only 6,8, or 10 years old when we associate with our perpetrator, authority figures, or people who remind us of the perpetrator. As children, we felt helpless and hopeless. The initiators or perpetrators in our abuse were the ones who had control over our lives. As sexual abuse victims, we had no choice in how, when, where or even if we were to be abused. There were no choices at all for the victims.
Betty was raped by three policemen at a peace demonstration when she was 18: I was fighting against the war in Vietnam and found out there was no peace and safety in my own country. I believed policemen were supposed to protect me. Now I am fighting a war inside my body and mind each and every day. I don’t know what peace is anymore.
As abused children, we had no one to trust. When the adults in your life are abusing you, or aren’t protecting you from the perpetrator, who is there to trust? It feels like nowhere is safe. We need to realize that children have no power over adults; they never did and they don’t now.
The next time you see as 12-year-old child, or a 4-year-old, or an 8-year-old, look at them very closely. Look at their size and their strength. Compare it to yours as an adult. Try to remember how it felt to be that little and to have an adult abuse you. Only in fairy tales like Jack in the Beanstalk does someone little defeat the giant.
There was no way on earth we could have stopped the abuse from happening. All this time, we have been bearing the burden of toxic shame and guilt that doesn’t belong to us. We were the victims. It is time now to admit and to accept that we had no power over those perpetrators.
Most of us stopped growing emotionally when the abuse started. Our bodies kept on getting larger, but our fragile inner selves were stunted. We may have developed sliding, split, adaptable or multiple personalities to contain and hold our hurting inner child. We may have felt like our stomachs had huge empty holes in them. We may have dissociated from pain, completely numbed our bodies, or created fantasy worlds.
Marianne recalls how she created her own bedtime stories: Every night I would lie in bed imagining myself doing wonderful things like rescuing my family from a burning building- how everyone praised me and loved me. Or when things were bad, I’d pretend I had died and I planned my entire funeral. I pictured my parents and family crying and feeling awful. I was glad that they were finally feeling as bad as I did. Sometimes I would repeat the same story day after day, enjoying the warmth or the peace it gave me.
We may have felt like we were so broken and abused that no amount of glue, bandages or “ all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could put us together again. These inner children are still inside us somewhere, hoping that someday the world will be safe for them again. By admitting our powerlessness over the abuse, we can begin to set them free.
Even as adults, we are powerless over the abuse that happened to us. We still feel as helpless and hopeless as we did back then. We still feel as helpless and hopeless as we did back then. We are powerless over the process that our subconscious mind is using to tell our conscious mind the facts regarding our sexual abuse. Sometimes we may dreams so much at night that we wake up exhausted and find that our significant other has fresh black eye, the bed is torn apart, and we don’t know how any of it happened. Or we might be at work, and in the middle of a meeting suddenly have a sensation of being smothered and crushed. Whether by physical or sensory memories, or by complete flashbacks where we fell that we are back in the abuse situation, we are powerless to control the time or the place when these disturbing memories occur.
We are also powerless over the emotional abuse that we suffered. Our bodies were abused, but so were our minds, emotions, wills and spirits. So many of o9ur automatic responses are the results of sexual abuse. When we hear harsh voices, we cringe. At night, when we see a large shadow surrounded by light in the doorway to our bedroom, we become paralyzed with fear. When we hear whispering or heavy footsteps, our hearts start to pound and our palms get sweaty. We expect criticism and negative reactions from other people. We expect verbal and emotional and maybe even physical abuse from others. We have very low self-esteem. We believe we are worthless.
In order to recover, we must realize we are powerless to change the person or persons in our lives who committed these horrid acts. They will never change simply because we want them to change. They have to find their own salvation and their own recovery.
Perhaps we were able to take control of our lives for a while, but at some point we started losing control. We’d get little frayed around the edges, then one seam would burst, then another, until we were completely falling apart. In many cases, our financial situation was in disorder; our personal relationships were almost nonexistent; or we had to be hospitalized.
Our walls of denial were slowly disintegrating, brick by brick. Maybe we thought that when the actual abuse stopped, that this was the end of it. The physical aspect was over, therefore there was nothing to worry about anymore. Or maybe we thought that because it all happened so long ago we weren’t being affected by it anymore. These are forms of denial and these beliefs have to change. We have to admit that our lives have been affected all through the years, and will continue to be affected until we do something about it. We need to stop our yesterdays from crashing into our today’s and stealing our tomorrows.
Some of the ways that sexual abuse has affect4d our lives are more dramatic than others. Sometimes we look for parent figures to try to get it right this time and not be abused. Many of us enter into relationships with people who will abuse us, in effect re-creating our past over and over again. Some of us react by becoming sex-addicts, jumping from partner to partner in a vain effort to get the affection we crave, or masturbating several time daily, trying to cope with our lives.
Because being sexual was the only way we felt we could get the affection and love we needed from the adults in our lives, we have continued this pattern into our own adulthood. Others among us have become unable to enjoy sex at all, afraid and terrified by sexual relations with anyone, even our significant others. Some of us have become numb, able to perform sexually yet feeling nothing. We go through the motions of make love, all the while planning what to wear tomorrow, or thinking about the meeting we attended earlier. One day, finally, that’s no longer enough for us. Our friends tell us about their wonderful sexual experiences, and how terrified they felt, and we begin to long for fuller, richer lives ourselves.
Many of us took on separate parts or personalities as a means of survival.
Fran shared: My therapist helped me to realize the voices I had been hearing in my head all this time weren’t normal thought processes, but multiple personalities. I had literally split into separate parts, separate people, in order to survive the ritual abuse I had suffered.
We have created fantasies to make up for the loss our self-esteem and self-worth. We have created lies to cover up our hurts. We have created imaginary families and friends to help us survive.
Some of us nearly starved ourselves so we would look like asexual beings, trying to keep ourselves safe that way. Others among us have built walls of fat to protect ourselves from anyone admiring or wanting our bodies. We probably didn’t consciously decide, “now I’ll eat so much that I get really fat so no one will touch me,” but eating can be very soothing. We may have used food or been given food to console ourselves after the abuse occurred, and stuffing down feelings with food soon became a habit.
Karen, abused by her mother for years, told us how she has used food: I eased my pain in the bad times with food, I celebrated the good times with food. I eat now when I’m angry, tired, happy, or bored. Everything that happens in my life gives me a reason to eat.
Eventually we find ourselves eating all the time. Eating becomes an obsession, filling our every waking moment with thoughts of what we have already eaten, what we will be eating soon, how we’ll cook it, how much of it we can have without anyone noticing . This gives us something else to think about instead of remembering of feeling the abuse we suffered.
Finally, after years of trying different diets and joining weight loss programs, losing weight only to regain it all back and sometimes more, re realize that this can’t go on. It’s time to face reality and accept that we can’t stuff our pain and feeling down our throats any longer . We get sick and tired of being sick and tired. We hit bottom, our low point form where we can begin our climb back to sanity.
Creating chaos in our everyday lives is sometimes the way we coped, because being crazy in a crazy world is what we’re used to. If we can just keep busy enough, we don’t have time to look inside or remember. Some people fill their every waking moment with must do things. We can become work-a-helices, staying at our place of employment until 8:00 at night, then bringing home more work in our briefcases.
Even those of us who don’t have a job outside our homes can be workaholics. We drive the kids to every activity available, become president of the P.T.A, run the local charity drive, become scout leaders, volunteer for the suicide hotline, never say no to any request for baked goods or craft items, then decide to join a local theatre group because we “have a little extra time.” We go to bed at 1:00 am, exhausted, then get up and do it all over again. We talk about how busy we are and how tired we always are, yet keep on doing the same things again and again.
All such people have unmanageable lives. The only way to change behavior is to totally surrender, to admit to our inability to take care or ourselves in a healthy manner.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do I continually believe that the only thing the opposite sex wants is to abuse me?
Do certain days or days on the calendar send me into a tailspin and I can’t or don’t remember why or how?
Do I feel aches and pains in many parts of my body for which medical science cannot find a cause?
Have I ever had anyone come up behind me wanting only to give me some affection, and I turned around jumping and shouting in their face?
This list can go on and on. Each of us can probably add many incidents and times when our lives when our lives were out of control.
Our lives are unmanageable. We tend to eat, sleep, and live our lives in the victim role All of these coping methods work for a while. But eventually we find that what once worked is no longer working. We chose not to be victims any longer. We believe that there must be a better life for us, and we need help to find it.
Step One is the first step in our process of change. It states the problem that has been standing in the way our living a full, happy life. It is the base on which we will rebuild our lives. It says, “This is where I’m starting. This is what I used to be like.”
There is no action required of us in this first step. We need only to admit. We need to acknowledge that we are and were powerless over sexual abuse. We need to believe that it wasn’t our fault. It is time to look for new ways of coping and living. If even one aspect of our lives is unmanageable because of sexual abuse and we admit that, then we have done Step One. When we admit our powerlessness- that we have no control over sexual abuse- then we can move on to the next step in the process of recovery.
Step One Questions:
Do you believe that you caused your abuse, or that if you had just done something differently the abuse wouldn’t have taken place?
Did people tell you, as they abused you, that it was you own fault?
When you see someone who reminds you of the perpetrator, do you get scared?
Do you relive situations over and over again, trying to figure out a way to make it different?
When you try to remember your childhood, do you draw a blank?
Have you tried to deny to yourself that any abuse every happened to you?
Do you have flashbacks or body memories?
Do you feel numb, unable to experience any emotion?
Do you abuse Alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to numb your feelings?
Can you admit you were powerless over the situation as it was happening?
Can you admit that you are powerless over the situation as it was happening?
Can you admit that you are powerless over the negative affects of being abused?
Do you apologize to everyone for everything, no matter what the circumstances?
Do you let others tell you what, how and when to do things?
In your relationships with other people, do you have to be in control of every situation?
Do you control your children with rigid rules and restrictions?
Do you let your children do their own thang` because you were stifled as a child?
Do you take your anger out on family members by abusing your children or you r spouse, physically, emotionally, or sexually?
Do you abuse yourself physically, emotionally, or sexually?
Do you always seem to end up in relationships with people who will take advantage of you or abuse you somehow?
Do you feel a constant sense of shame?
Do you spend money that you don’t have or have no means of obtaining?
Do you gamble obsessively?
Do you hoard you money, never spending anything, even for necessities?
Do you get along with other people - spouse, children, boss, fellow-employees?
Do you maintain rigid control over your life, never doing anything spontaneously?
Do you believe that you are bad, or that you should be punished, because your body enjoyed the sexual attentions it received?
Are you afraid of members of the opposite sex?
Do you feel that if you don't have a lover you aren't worth anything?
Do you cling to your lover, overwhelming him/her with attention and demands?
Do you withhold sex from your lover because that feels like the only thing you have control over?
Do you eat compulsively when you feel sad, happy, bored, tired-and then purge?
Do you starve yourself in a mistaken belief that you are too fat?
Do you allow yourself to take time off from work if you are sick?
Do you feel like you are the only one who can get a job done right, whether at home, work, or in the community?
Do you hold people at arm's length, never allowing anyone too close to the real you?
We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Step Two calls on us, as sexual abuse and incest survivors to take a different direction in our lives. In Step One, we admitted to human powerlessness that seems to leave us with no place to find the help we so badly need. This second with no place to find the help we so badly need. This second Step tells us there is a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity. It tells us that, if we believe, this power will give us back soundness of judgment and the ability to live our lives sanely, not like we have been: barely holding on, pretending to be normal and not doing too well at it.
What we need to work this Step is a willingness to believe, to take as true the affirmation stand in Step Two. If willingness is all we can mange right now, that’ okay. If we can begin to trust, even a little, then we are “coming to believe.” For some people, coming to believe is a slow process, evolving over a period of time. For others, believing in this power is a dramatic and sudden event. Each of us needs t o take whatever time is necessary for a belief pattern to develop. However it happen for you, know that you recognition of and belief in a Higher Power will be the key to recovery, serenity and peace.
These Twelve Steps are not something we do one time and are finished with. They are continual process through which we will grow, change and recover. This second Step is the structural and spiritual foundation upon which all the others are based. Without trusting that a Higher Power will be able to help, sustain and guide us, it might be difficult to make the Twelve Steps an integral part of our lives.
Mary, who had been raped at the age of 19, said: When I first tried working these Steps, I’d do the two-step waltz. First I’d admit I was powerless, then I’d go out spreading the message and trying to help others. Step One to Step Twelve, then back again. Finally, after realizing that I was just as miserable as I’d ever been, I looked at Step Two. When I finally accepted that there was a power greater than myself, I was able to work through the rest of the Steps.
Our inability to trust or to believe may make it difficult to conceive that any thing or any being can help us. It may be hard because for so many years we have had to rely only on our strength of will. As children, we may have prayed many prayers to the adults’ god, only to have those pleas go unanswered. Even while the abuse was taking place, we may have begged, “please someone, make it stop,” but nothing changed. This makes it hard to believe that there’s someone or something out there or deep within our essence listening to us.
Now it is time to take tiny steps in trust, outside ourselves and/or deeper into ourselves. We must come to know that, all our lives, through the good times and the bad times, a universal force has been keeping us alive so that one day we could become the healthy people we were meant to be. We must feel this at our inner-most core. We must believe it, so that our inner child finally can feel safe. It is time to stop abandoning ourselves, as we believe others have abandoned us. For each of us, a higher Powers is waiting to be found.
Until now, power and strength have been missing in our lives, power to be whole and complete people, strength to be responsible adults. Now we can begin to learn how to develop these attributes, but first we need to decide where the power is going to come from. Each of us needs to personally define higher power. This entity of force, whatever we choose to call it, will guide us on a path that will ultimately, in our personalized time frame, restore us to a healthy, happy life. And when we do choose a personal Higher Power, we allow that Power into every aspect of our lives.
We must recognize that operating on our ego alone has not given us the strength we need and the happiness we deserve. There must exist a power greater than ourselves, a spiritual reality that can support us in every step of our recovery. To change our negative habits and thought patterns, we need to turn to a power greater than we are. Many of us have tried to change at different periods in our lives, only to fall back into our old ways after a short time. With a Higher Power in our lives, taking an active role, and giving us strength, love and nurturing every day, we can change. We can improve our lives. We can be restored to sanity.
Some of us have confused the words trust, faith and control. The dictionary defines trust as a firm reliance; committed into the care on another; charge. Faith is defined as confidence, loyalty and allegiance to a system of beliefs. Control means a power to regulate, direct or dominate.
We were told by the sick people in our lives to put our trust in them. They would take care of us. They wanted us to believe that they knew what was best for us. They said they knew what we needed, even before we did. The they told us to have faith only in them; that they had control of our lives. They tried to direct our thinking to fulfill their sick and perverted needs.
Joan, who was abused by her parish priest over the course of several years, said: My abuser told me that he was God, and I believed him. There was no one answering my prayers, so I figured he must be right. He told me that I was hopeless, not worth anything, and I believed that , too.
Those of us who were used in cult or ritual abuse were programmed to believe that the group was in control of our very souls and beings.
These were our gods out of fear, given to us when we were vulnerable. We are not children, adolescents of vulnerable adults any longer. Now is the time to decide just what our beliefs are, to choose a Higher Power consciously, as an adult. It makes little difference whether our Higher Power is found in a conventional religious setting or is some kind of force. Now is not the time to debate the existence of a Higher Power; our very lives depend on a simple belief in the good-ness of a Higher Power.
We are now ready to take back control of our won destiny. We need to insert the pronoun, “I,” back into our lives. We can trust our feelings for the first time, trusting in our inner voice. The power in which we choose to believe must be a power or force that we can trust and one with which we can have a personal, open and loving relationship. We no longer have to believe in someone else’s definition of god. The faith practices of our parents need not influence us in our choice of a Higher Power.
Higher Power means different things to different people. To Sara, it meant a self-help group: For a long time, I had to regard the Twelve-Step group I belonged to as my Higher Power. I had given up any belief in a supreme being, but I realized these people collectively were bigger, more knowledgeable, and stronger than I could ever be alone.
To others, it is the Higher Power of a traditional, formal religion: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu. For someone else, it is love, or the power of the universe. How we define this power is our personal choice. Perhaps we associate the old concept of a Higher Power with the perpetrator or our old family system that didn’t work. Perhaps we rebelled against that god.
Lisa cried: Where was God when my father was molesting me week after week? Why did God let this happen?
Or perhaps we decided to distance ourselves from any association with the perpetrator or our family, deciding that “if they believe in that god, then I sure don’t want to.” Very young children see their parents as god-like, and if their parents abused them, why would they want to believe in a Higher Power at all? Now, as adults who are ready to change and to grow, we must risk believing that there is a power greater than ourselves that can and will help us, if we only ask.
If you don’t have ready concept of spiritual reality, there are many ways to find your own Higher Power. Some people write a letter or want ad, listing all of the characteristics they want in Higher Power. Then they visualize some entity entering their lives which matches their description. Some people put their Higher Power into human form; others believe there is a force in the universe that is their Higher Power. You could draw a picture of you Higher Power. Others have difficulty calling anything “god,” so they think of their Higher Power as Good Orderly Direction.
Heidi shared: Talk with other people who have discovered a personal Higher Power, and ask them what they did and how it worked for them. The idea is to make our Higher Power personal, someone or something that we can call on at any time. That’s the kind of Higher Power we need to help us get through this life and really live, not just exist.
This journey through the Twelve Steps is not part of a conventional religious theology. It is a spiritual pathway to serenity and peace. What we are asked to do in this Step is to define a Higher Power that will work for and with us on our journey into recovery. When we talk about this spiritual journey, we aren’t referring to religion. We are talking about a spiritual awakening, a mental change that takes place through working these Twelve Steps. This spiritual awakening means things pertaining to our attitudes and actions, not what Higher Power we believe in. These Steps will change us. When we have completed these Twelve Steps, our attitudes and outlook on life will change. We will have a change in our thinking and the way we feel. And because our attitudes and thinking change, our behavior will change, too. That means we will begin to live sanely and rationally. This a promise of better things to come.
To be restored to sanity, we must first acknowledge the insanity of our pre-recovery life.
Tom stated: I would really like to get married, but every time I begin to get close to a woman, I see my mother’s face on that woman and I run away and hide. Does every woman look like my mother? I feel like I am going crazy.
There are many definitions of insanity. One definition that seems to fit many us is: continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Another example of insanity is: fantasizing about changes in our past, in our families, and in the perpetrator, when in reality we can’t change them at all. Repeatedly entering into relationships where the significant other is similar to the perpetrator, hoping to rewrite our history, is another good sign that reliance on a Higher Power is needed.
It is also important to recognize and to accept that we were once sane. To be restored means to be put back again to something we once were. Maybe we wonder if we ever had sanity in our lives, and doubt that we did. For some of us that is close to the truth. But even if we have to go back in our lives to the moment of conception, at least then there was some sanity for us. With the help of a Higher Power, we can be restored to that spiritual, peaceful calm which we need in our lives today.
Some so us might still believe that we aren’t worth restoring to sanity, that we don’t deserve it.
Hope recalled: My mother told me I would not amount to anything. I was not worthy even to consume air. She told me if I talked to anyone about the physical and emotional abuse she gave me, I would be locked up like Aunt Mary. I can’t even begin to imagine how she could have named me Hope.
Such thinking must change, because each of us, no matter what our past, deserves to be sane and rational. We are good people who have been seriously hurt, and we deserve to have wonderful things happen to us.
We can be restored to sanity. Our Higher Power can lead us to change the way we feel about ourselves and to change our attitudes toward other people. Our Higher Power can transform us from a victim into a survivor. Our Higher Power can change us from a wounded being to a healthy person, and re-program our thinking so we can become a complete person: healthy in mind, body, soul and spirit
Sanity for us is soundness of judgment; sanity is making decisions that make sense in today’s reality, not in yesterday’s memories. Sanity is living daily without feeling crazy, without feeling dirty, without the negative thoughts that run through our mind’s constantly. Sanity is knowing peace and serenity in our lives today.
Insanity is like being in hell, and being restored to sanity means climbing out of that hell, one step at a time. The joys of sanity are unimaginable to us while we’re living in our pain. When we’re surrounded by and filled with insanity, we can’t imagine anything being different. But with our Higher Power’s help, we can be restored to sanity.
This Step asks us to consider all the alternatives available to us for believing in a Higher Power. It asks us to consider choosing someone or something to guide us, to direct us, and to restore us to sanity. We must keep an open mind and be realistic in our thinking. We have already taken one risk by admitting our powerlessness over sexual abuse. Now we must take another risk and search our Higher Power. We keep seeking and searching. We make our decision based on our personal faith and trust. We have full control over all of our choices, and our rights are being restored to our control. In Step One we acknowledged the problem. In Step Two we find the solution: we learn, or re-learn, to have faith that something or someone more powerful than we are will help us whenever we need it.
Step Two Questions
Do you have a Higher Power, a universal force, or a force beyond yourself in you life right now?
At some time your life, did you reject the idea of a personal Higher Power?
Did you ask a Higher Power for help while you were being abused?
Did you ask a Higher Power for help while you were being abused?
Did you feel that your Higher Power was ignoring you?
What kind of spiritual beliefs did you receive from your caretakers while you were growing up?
Do those beliefs work you now?
Do you believe that you can’t give your power away or you will be abused again?
If you had a Higher Power, what would it be like?
Do you believe in a Higher Power, but don’t believe that Higher Power is interested in you life?
Were you told that your abuser was God?
Were you told that God would never help you?
Are you afraid to believe in anything outside of yourself?
Do you believe that there might be something somewhere that has more power than you do?
Is there a force or spirit deep within your being that might give you strength when you need it?
Are you willing to rely on that source of strength?
Are you willing to be open to whatever comes as an answer to your seeking?
Are you willing to believe that your personal Higher Power cares for you?
What would it take for you to believe in a force greater than yourself?
I you can believe in a Higher Power, do you believe that your Higher Power will restore you sanity?
Are you willing to let your Higher Power guide your life?
Do you still believe that you have handled things just fine on you own?
Are you afraid to trust anyone or anything but yourself?
Are you a member of a church or religious organization?
Are you spiritu8al needs being met through that organization?
Do you feel that something fundamental is lacking in your life?
Are you willing to consider believing in a Higher Power?
Can you conceive that a force beyond yourself is ready to help you?
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power, as we understand that Power.
Step Three is the transitions step between the cognitive steps - Step One when we admit; Step Two when we come to believe - and the action steps that remain. We are thinking beings, whether or not we are aware of all our thoughts, and all action is preceded by thought. This is the Step in which we will begin the change from reacting, felling, then thinking individuals into people who think, feel, and then react.
We’ve admitted we have a problem: the horrible results of sexual abuse or incest that have permeated every aspect of our lives. We’re coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves will restore us to sanity. Now we are deciding to trust that power with our will and our lives, our thinking and our actions. This is the beginning of a faith walk with our personal Higher Power.
We consciously choose to change our thinking. We each make this decision on a daily basis and reinforce this decision until it becomes a part of our daily routine. Some of us can only begin the process by hoping that there is a power greater than ourselves. We keep hoping until we want to believe in that power. Then we start believing; and finally we know that there is a power greater than we are. How we do that is not the issue; what matters is that we get out of our own way and seek our own personal spiritual force.
We have to turn our entire lives over to the care of a force beyond ourselves. We can’t just turn over some parts and retain others. It must be a complete and total surrender of our will and our lives.
Charlotte had become addicted to alcohol and compulsive eating as a result of being abused as a child: I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and turned my drinking over to God. Then I joined Overeaters Anonymous and turned my eating over to God. For a while, I was doing okay, but I never really seemed to get the peace and serenity that I saw in others. I was just ‘not drinking or eating. ‘Finally, I came to realize that I had to give up control over the sexual abuse, too. I didn’t want to; that seemed too scary. I was willing to trust God with everything but that. With my sponsor’s help, I began to release control over this last aspect of my life, and my life became calmer, I guess I really did need to give up totally.
This Step requires us to trust our Higher Power entirely. This means that we will depend on our higher Power, not like we were dependent on our parents or other authority figures, but in a healthy dependence, with us knowing that whatever happens, we will be safe and protected. Trusting our Higher Power doesn’t’ mean that we just sit back and relax, waiting to be magically taken care of. We still have to put forth effort; we still have to do the foot work; but then we leave the outcome to this force beyond ourselves.
Making decisions, especially a major one like this, can be very difficult for sexual abuse survivors. Because we weren’t given any choices earlier in our lives, we never learned how to make healthy decisions. Or we made decisions, then agonized over them for days and days, wondering if we had mad the right decision. As a result of working these Steps, we will be able to make decisions, because we will always be safe now that we have faith in a power greater than we are. We are going to change from being people who never trusted anyone into people who trust, even if just a little bit, in a Higher Power as we perceive it to be.
This can be very frightening and totally different from our normal way of thinking. All our lives, we felt we had to stay normal way of thinking. A lot our lives, we felt we had to stay in control or we would surely die. We felt that if we ever let down our guard, even a tiny bit, someone would use and abuse us again.
Mary’s father molested her every weekend for years. She said: I was sure that if I let myself if I let myself relax for even a moment, something awful would happen to me. Ever since I was abused, I’ve operated on the principle of “I can do it, and I don’t need anyone or anything to help me.” I’m so grateful that I don’t have to live that way anymore.
Perhaps it seemed like every time we trusted someone, they hurt us. They tried to destroy us. But the Higher Power of our understanding will not hurt us. We were taught during the abuse to trust the wrong people. We now consciously decide to change this pattern of behavior. Now it’s time to believe that we can trust, that we can turn over our control, and still be safe. Anytime we need the strength to get through difficult situations, we can call on our Higher Power, and know that it will enable us to do whatever it is we have to do.
This Step may cause us to begin the grieving process and to feel a longing for the things we have missed in our lives: friends, the ability to trust, feeling any emotions, feeling safe. We may grieve the loss of our family of origin, or the loss of our control to others.
Betty was confused about what it meant to be a complete individual, to be in control of her own destiny: I thought everyone dealt with life by letting the stronger people make all the decisions. I thought I was supposed to be weak and dependent. No one ever told me it was okay for me to be in charge of my life.
Those of us who have experienced dissociated disorders may mourn the loss of time and reality. We may have to grieve the loss of our child hood and our faith in other people.
We learn the have patience with ourselves, and to give ourselves the time necessary to come to know ourselves. We need time to get in touch with the feelings and memories we have blocked for many long years.
These Steps do not come with a specific time frame in which they must be completed.
We allow all the time necessary for our Higher Power to nurture and heal the deep wounds that sexual abuse left us with. We allow our Higher Power - as we understand it - to do for us what we have not been able to do for ourselves.
We must not think of this Step as one of surrender. We are not being asked to give up. We are being asked to trust a force beyond ourselves to guide our thinking and our actions. We can always go back to our old ways and take our will and lives back into our control if we wish. We have done this many times before, to our detriment.
Our Higher Power does not want to manipulate our lives, but to help us to become the people we were always meant to be. We are like the rowers in a small boat. We row and row and row some more, hoping we’re heading in the right direction, but usually going in circles. Suddenly we have a helping force at the tiller, guiding us into a safe harbor that we hadn’t even know existed.
Our own defiant willfulness and stubbornness has gotten us this far in our lives.
John had been abused by his babysitter until his family moved when he was seven: I decided as I got older that no one would ever take advantage of me or my body again. I decided that even if it meant never letting anyone close to me again, that was what I would do to keep myself safe.
Now we need to let go our need to be in charge, and let our Higher Power be the boss in our lives.
Linda shared: There is such a relief in knowing that I don’t have to be in charge anymore, that I don’t have to manipulate and twist and turn, trying to control results and people and things, so that I will be safe and so that I will get what I want. Now I realize that I may not know the whole picture, that everything that happens has a purpose. I’ve come to accept that eventually everything turns out to be what I need, not necessarily what I want.
Step Three sounds simple, but is not always easy to do. For some of us, it will take a daily re-commitment. Others may have to re-commit on an hourly basis; or maybe minute by minute, sixty times an hour, twenty -four hours everyday. We may need to remind ourselves over and over, “I’m trusting in my Higher Power on this,” until we make it such a habit that trusting comes automatically.
Sandra struggled for some time with this concept of trusting a god of her understanding: It was very hard for me to see or believe that God was working daily in my life. Finally, someone at a Twelve Step meeting suggested I use a god box, and write down all my daily problems and put them in this box. I thought they were kidding, but I tried doing it. At the end of one month, I pulled out all my bits and pieces of paper. I was amazed at the number of problems that were solved, seemingly without my intervention at all. I had to put some papers back in the god box, by my faith in God was intensified because there were fewer papers to put back than to throw away.
Perhaps we will begin trusting a force beyond ourselves with little decisions, gradually working up to trusting our Higher Power with major events in our lives. But hold on for the time needed to complete this very important Step. We don’t want to quit just as our miracle is about to happen, and happen it will. This Higher Power - as you understand it - is willing to accept you as you are and give you all the time, nurturing, love and attention you need.
We gain some wonderful benefits from working this Step. We will be free from worry fro the first time. We can stop fretting about what happened in the past, because we finally accept that it’s over and we can’t change it. We don’t have to be concerned about what will happen to us in the future, because we know what we are always safe with our Higher Power working in us and through us. This gives us a wonderful sense of security, knowing that we will be able to handle anything that comes our way because we have an invisible strength behind us. We don’t have control over any results, so we can give up trying to make everything turn out the way we want it to. We still make plans and goals, but we leave the results up to that force beyond ourselves. Our Higher Power will help us to do things that we never dreamed possible on our own.
We will gradually lose our fear, especially our fear of trusting others. As we give up control to our Higher Power, we see that it does work, that we are safe and protected for the first time in our lives.
Jackie told us about her dreams that were shattered after her friend’s father raped her: I had always planned to college after graduation. After he raped me, though, I felt so stupid for letting that happen that I gave up my dreams and went to work as a secretary. Now, twenty years later, because of these Twelve Steps and trusting in my Higher Power, I am making my dreams come true. I graduate next month from college, and have been accepted into graduate school. I never would have been brave enough to go back to school without the help of my Higher Power.
As soon as we are comfortable with this Step and have acted on this decision, we see ourselves and our view of the world changing in peace and love for the first time. As we silently and slowly release our lives to the care of our Higher Power, we may begin to feel our hurting inner child come into our conscious minds. For the very first time we may know the fears and confusion our inner child has always known: the internal war of sexual abuse still rages within us. This war goes on silently, the way we think and feel today. Our inner child learned the harsh reality of this world too soon and may not remember when there was a time to laugh and play. We aren’t going to be able to stuff this child away again as we did when we were being abused. Today is the beginning of a new life with ourselves, our Higher Power and our inner child.
As we begin to experience nurturing, peace and love for the first time, it is important for our inner child to get to know them, too. We need to re - parent ourselves, using the same patience and understanding that our Higher Power is using to nurture and love us. In this manner, we give to ourselves what the adults in our lives did not. Just as parents should guide their young ones to become free individuals, our Higher Power will guide us in becoming the whole individuals we were meant to be, integrated for the first time with love and a sense of security.
This Step will help us to get in touch with our true feelings and with how we perceive ourselves in relation to the people in our lives. It will help us to realize how we react to other people, places and things, and how we fit into the universe as living, feeling human beings.
Step Three is one of willingness and hope. This is when we become willing to do something about the effects of the past and about how we are living now. This is when we begin changing from our victim roles into recovered people. This Step gives us hope that we can change, that it will be safe to change and that we will become stronger, healthier, healed people as result of that change.
Step Three Questions
Is it difficult for you to make decisions?
Do you spend days agonizing over minor decisions?
After you make a decision, do you obsessively worry about whether it was the right one?
Can you let your Higher Power into every aspect of you life, but not all?
Are you willing to give your Higher Power some parts of your life, but not all?
Are you willing to turn your thinking over to your Higher Power?
Do you believe that you must still control certain aspects of you life?
Can you share your pain and sorrow with that force beyond yourself?
Are you willing to take action to change your life?
Do you think that changes will come about with no effort on you part?
Do you believe that things will magically change?
Do you trust that your Higher Power will take care of you?
Are you willing to trust your Higher Power with the results of your actions?
Are you willing to think before you act or react?
Are you willing to feel before you act or react?
Are you willing to change your thinking?
Does being dependent on someone or something other than yourself scare you?
Are you afraid to trust your Higher Power with your life?
Are you willing to give yourself all the time you need to heal?
Do you feel that you have to be cured by tomorrow at the latest?
Do you trust yourself?
Do you trust other people?
Do you trust certain people just because they are authority figures?
Can you see where you control ends and trust begins?
Can you see where your control ends and trust begins?
Can you distinguish between deciding to trust your Higher Power and having other people take charge of you life, whether you like it or not?
Are you still giving you will over to people who don’t deserve to even be in your life?
Do you know that, at any time you want, you can take back your pain and hurt?
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step Four is the first action step on our journey through the Twelve Steps. We will write a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves; to search means to look into or over carefully and thoroughly in an effort to find or discover something. There is no negative connotation to that definition. We are asked only seek out ourselves into little pieces. We are going to look at patterns of actions, reactions, and behaviors that have developed over the years and are now a part of us. We will not be searching alone, for Step Two and Step Three have introduced us to our personal Higher Power, who can help us get to know ourselves better.
With the help of our Higher Power, we will explore the positive and negative aspects of ourselves, and how they influence our lives.
The fearless part of this inventory may be the hardest part for us; we have know fear for such a long time that it has become an integral part our makeup. Some of our fears may include feeling that if someone were to know us for who we really are, the would run away forever.
We have been afraid to look at the distorted picture of ourselves that the perpetrators of our abuse forced us to see; we are afraid of what long-put-aside horror we might relive if we force ourselves to write a thorough inventory. But, just as our Higher Power knows all our secrets, so there is a part of each of us that still remembers the terrible things we have tried so hard to forget.
Our very survival has, at times, depended on building and then maintaining the great walls of denial we have built for ourselves, but, try as we might, the simple fact is that we don’t like ourselves; we would rather be anyone else but a person who had lived through the horrors of sexual abuse. And yet, we have lived through that horror, and now we will learn to like ourselves.
The moral part of this Step refers to our new ability to distinguish between what is good and what is bad for us; what is fair and equitable; what is right for us now, at this time and in this place in our live. We aren’t judging ourselves on what our past performances has been. We are examining our past so we can change what we are today, not our history. Many of the patterns in our lives today exist because of our past, but we can’t go back and change that past. We can only change our attitudes and reactions toward it. By finally putting the blame for our abuse squarely on the perpetrator, we will free ourselves for the more important task of accepting responsibility for the way we live our lives today.
By writing this inventory, we hope to gain better insight into just what shortcomings we need to change and how our shortcomings we need to change and how our shortcomings have caused us to harm others. We need to actually put our inventories down in writing, because through the years we have learned to suppress many things: feelings, attitudes, even actual events. If we try to keep the reality separate from what we have tried to make ourselves believe for so long, we will likely continue to fool ourselves into minimizing what happened to us. By forcing ourselves to write out the facts, we can begin to deal with them.
Sue had been raped by her boyfriend one night after she told him she was breaking up with him. She shared: Last week at my meeting, I was sitting at a Fourth-Step table and mentioned that I had never taken an inventory, but I do a mini-inventory in my head each night. One of the other members asked me why I hadn’t done a Fourth-Step Inventory. She said I was jumping from Step Three to Step 10 and missing a whole lot of healing in between. I went home that night and started on my Step Four, telling myself that I would never sit at an inventory table again and have to admit that I had never done a Step Four. Now I’m really thankful my friend talked with me. I really found out what a difference on inventory can make. I now have an excellent point of reference to continue with the rest of the Steps.
When we write down our inventory, there is nowhere to hide the truth; it will come out, regardless of our intentions.
Alice told us: It’s an amazing thing what happens when I pick up a pen and some paper and start writing, I start out with one sentence like “I’m angry at my sister,” and end up with “so that’s why I’ve always reacted that way in that situation.” Sometimes my writing will take an entirely different tangent from where I thought I was heading. The true difficulty always surfaces. It’s absolutely incredible.
In Step Three we agreed we would trust our Higher Power with our will and our lives. This Step demonstrates our trust in our Higher Power. We know that we will always be safe with our Higher Power, so it will be safe to write this inventory. No one will hurt us; no one will abuse us. Now is the time to write down our secrets, the things we never told anyone before. This is our opportunity to reveal everything: things that were done to us, and things that we did to others.
We keep in mind as we write that we are writing only for ourselves and for our Higher Power. No one will edit this, no one will ever read this.
Tony, whose older sister abused him as a child, told his sponsor’ why he didn’t want to write an inventory: I didn’t want to write anything down anywhere because my mother would always correct my letters for spelling and punctuation and mail them back to me.
His sponsor helped him to realize that this program was for him personally and no one else: No one else will ever see my inventory. And my Higher Power doesn’t grade my life on spelling and punctuation. My Higher Power accepts me as being the best person I can be, right now, flaws and all.
When we get to Step Five, we will share this inventory; for right now, it’s private. We’re doing these Steps one a time, not anticipating or worrying about what’s next.
This inventory is just what the word implies: a listing of what we have in stock; what we’ve learned; the actions, behaviors , and beliefs that we were taught and that are now counterproductive. The techniques we once used to survive only serve now to hinder our growth. The purpose of these Twelve Steps is to help us change our lives, but we can’t change our lives, but we can’t change anything until we know what needs changing; awareness is the first step in change. This Fourth - Step Inventory will be the beginning of that awareness.
Some of us see this Step as a stop sign in our journey. We move alone fine, then come up against this Step, panic, and put the brakes on. We let the thought of writing this inventory, or perhaps the thought of sharing this inventory with another, scare us so much that our recovery is stalled. We make excuses like, “I didn’t do Step One thoroughly enough, “ or Step
Two, perhaps anything to put off writing an inventory.
If this kind of delay feels right of us, that is okay. How long it takes to write an inventory differs from person to person. Some of us will sit down and write our inventory in three or four hours. Or it might take a couple of weeks or months. However long it takes, the important thing is that we do it. We won’t get anywhere in our recovery until we write an inventory, and this is the best reason to do it.
Mary said: Something I’ve heard at meeting is that the only reason you do Step Four is so that you can get on to Step Five. And the only reason to do Step Five is to get to Step Six, and so on. The point is that we do these Steps, all of them, not just the first couple that seem easy.
One of the most important aspects of this Step is that we begin. A reason often given for stalling on Step Four is that people are afraid of what will be uncovered by their inventory. However, we aren’t given anything that we can’t handle right now - our minds are kind. We already know - or at least strongly suspect - that we are victims of incest or sexual abuse. By falling back on our Higher Power’s strength, we will be able to cope with whatever else may come up. Those of us who have someone supportive in our lives, besides our Higher Power, might ask that person to sit with us while we write our inventory, just for moral support.
Another reason given for not writing an inventory is procrastination and/or perfectionism. A lot of us regularly put things off, especially anything that might be painful. This means of avoiding pain is one our character defects. Through this Step, we learn to trust our Higher Power to give us the courage to get through anything, painful or not.
Valerie had been abused by four out of the seven males in her family. She told us: After the pain I went through as a child, I will do anything to avoid pain now. “No pain, no gain,” might be true for others, but for me, forget it. If it’s likely to be painful, I want no part of it.
Perfectionism has two aspects: fear of failure and fear of success. With fear of failure, we’re afraid that we won’t get it right, and we’ll screw up again - usually because someone has told us that we will always goof up everything we ever try.
With fear of success, we’re afraid that if we are proven capable of taking care ourselves, the we will have to do that all of the time. It is hard to feel that we must always succeed. It’s important to acknowledge these feeling, ask our Higher Power for strength and courage, the go ahead and write our inventory anyway.
We should also remember that we are not writing another Gone with the Wind. This is an inventory - a listing - not a novel. We should write it thoroughly, but we should also be willing to call a halt somewhere. Once we’ve covered our life up until the present, then it is done. What we forget in this inventory, we can always cover in another inventory, be it our Step Ten daily inventory, or a mini-Step Four.
Most of what we write will not be a surprise, but it will help us see why we do many of the things we do. Many of us blame others for our actions: “she made me do that,” or “he made me angry.” This inventory helps us see that quite often people were reacting to us and our actions, rather than simply treating us badly out of spite. (This does not pertain to the abusers in our lives. They were abusing us for their own reasons, not because of anything we did. Remember, the responsibility for abuse rests with perpetrator. However, the resulting emotions, and the resulting behavior patterns we have developed belong to us, and these are the things we seek to change.)
This inventory probably won’t reveal anything that hasn’t been done before by or to someone else. One of the wonderful aspects of a Twelve - Step group is that we find we are not unique, that others have experienced similar things and have similar feelings. Those of us who do not belong to a Twelve - Step group might find it harder to believe, but we are not alone. Millions of people have been abused. Each story is different, but the emotions and attitudes the abuse leaves behind are the same.
Notice that this Step says inventory of ourselves. This means that we are looking at our behaviors and attitudes, not at those of others. Certainly other people’s actions will be mentioned, because they have had an all - pervasive effect on our lives. However, we look at our inventory, what we have in stock, what we are working with today.
We learned most of the attitudes and beliefs we act on today when we were children. Like biological computers, we churn out the actions of today based on information input years ago. We need to re - program ourselves to operate in today’s reality, using appropriate emotions and attitudes and rejecting the old stuff we were given as children.
There are many different ways to do Step Four. Fourth - Step guides are available at many bookstores, especially recovery and self - help bookstores, and there are no membership requirements to shop there.
Here are two suggested approaches to writing an inventory:
Option one is to write an inventory similar to what is done in Alcoholics Anonymous. (See the “Big Book.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New Your, @!976, p. 65) Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. Label these columns: Who; Why I’m Angry/Resentful; What It Affects.
In the first column, we list people that we resent or with whom we are angry. These might include our abuser, our parents, our spouse or significant other, our boss; anyone with whom we are angry right now - write down whoever pops into your mind. Whether it is someone in our lives right now, or the kid that lived down the street when we were 10, we write it down.
In the second column, next to their names, we write down the reasons why we are angry at each person. If is our perpetrator, the reason most likely will be that they abused us. Probably there will be other reasons; we can be angry at one person for many different reasons. Maybe we resent our spouse for flirting with someone else at a party. Maybe the boss made a stride remark about us during a meeting. Whatever the reasons are, we write them down in the second column.
In the third column, we write down what aspects of our lives have been affected by this resentment/anger. The flirting may have affected our sex life, our pride, and our self-esteem. The snide remark might have affected our self-esteem, job relations. The incest affected our self-esteem, our pride, our boundaries, our sex life, our ability to trust-this particular list can go on and on.
The basic underlying emotion in all of this fear. Without realizing it, most of our lives have been dominated by fear. We’ve been afraid that someone will abuse us again, or that someone will discover we aren’t’ as together as we try to make it seem. Or we’re afraid our significant other will leave us, or that we’ll look stupid in front of others. As we begin to recognize these patterns, we can begin to change these automatic responses.
After we have written this resentment/anger list, we write a fear inventory of everything we afraid of, perhaps starting with being abused, and heights and snakes. As we begin to trust our Higher Power and confront issues instead of running from them, all of these fears will begin to fade.
Next, we write a sex inventory. We include in this list the things that were done to us, and the things that we did to or with others. We ask our Higher Power to direct our thinking and actions into sane, rational channels with regard to sex. Our abuse has left us with distorted views of sew. Perhaps we seek out inappropriate sexual encounters, or we never have sexual feelings, even when they are appropriate. What we are hoping to find is moderation in such extreme opposites, leading to a healthy sex life a healthy life in general.
Another method of writing an inventory is to write the story of our lives. (First suggested by Bill B. in his book, Compulsive Overeater, CompCare Pub., Minn., Minnesota, @ 1981, p. 60-63)
We begin with a prenatal inventory, then divide our lives into major age groupings and write the history of each segment.
In the prenatal inventory, we write a short story about what if felt like while we were still in the womb. We imagine the feeling and attitudes of the people around us and how they affected us. If our mother tried to abort us, or frequently said or implied she wished we had never been conceived , that is form of abuse.
Serena said: My family didn’t want me to be born. My mother frequently complained about “that damned second shift” and how the disruption in their schedule caused the pregnancy. My brother hated the idea that he would no longer be the youngest, the special child. From these attitudes, Serena learned resentment, jealousy, abandonment and shame. Her reactions to these feelings shaped her life.
We write down how we felt, even during birth itself. Most of this will be a fantasy, but it will reflect how we feel about others and ourselves right now. Our character defects will begin to show up in this writing without our even being aware of them.
Next we writ a short history of what life was like for us between the ages of 0 and 5. We write down who did what to us, and the emotions and attitudes people expressed toward us. Maybe in all of this we won’t have conscious memories, but our inner child will remember, and will help us to identify these things. Or, we can make this up too, maybe from comments we’ve heard our families make or attitudes we notice now. This part of our inventory will likely consist mostly of what was done to us, because at this age we didn’t know right from wrong, and we were being acted upon.
Then we write about ages 5 to 12 and what happened then. It is here that we will begin to write of things we did to harm others. Most of the character defects reflected here will be those we learned from other people’s examples. And as we write of the important people and events in our lives during this period, we look for any situations that were important to us - not only the sexual abuse - related issues. This is a searching inventory - we investigate every aspect of our lives as thoroughly as possible.
Then we do the same thing for ages 12 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, etc., until we reach our current age.
Gradually we recognize that the actions and attitudes of the people around us when we were tiny are the actions and attitudes we have internalized and used as we’ve gotten older. We are reacting to situations today with the same attitudes, but for the most part we are what we were taught as children. We are also acting and reacting just the way our families did.
Is this the way we want to live now/ Do we want to keep letting history dictate our actions, or do we want to start living in today’s reality?
Many victims of sexual abuse can’t remember much of their childhood, especially the periods related to the trauma. For us, it may be helpful to do our inventory in reverse order, starting with our present age and going backward in increments of 10 years, until we came to the place where we cannot remember. The mind is kind and nothing more than we can handle will be revealed to us. We just start our inventory in the manner with which we are most comfortable.
The other important point to this inventory is that we finish it. Not finishing it gives us a good reason not to feel any more pain. It allows us to avoid the pain of sharing our inventory with another human being. To continue our journey of recovery, we must finish this inventory. It may not be perfect. It may be “absolutely everything that ever happened in my entire life,” but that’s okay. We finish it, so we can move on, and we give ourselves credit for what we have been able to do. When we get to Step Ten, we will take care of any loose ends not covered here.
This Step takes courage. It is very courageous to reveal everything that we’ve never told anyone before. It’s very scary to look into our past this deeply. It can be overwhelming, but fear is one of the character defects that we are going to outgrow.
Marianne told us: After doing my Step Four, I was looking for some surge of great emotional feeling. Instead, I was so calm. My whole entire life was in black and white these pages of paper. I realized I could not change the history on these pages, but I could change my reactions in my present day situations. I did not see any criticism or judgments on these pages, just a list of facts that were so very true. I still can’t believe how calming this inventory was for me. Is this what serenity is? I also knew there were more Steps to do, and the calm reduced my fears and gave me the courage to continue with my recovery.
The courage we gain from writing this inventory will help us face other frightening things that happen to us. We need to start this inventory, and we need to finish it. Our Higher Power will give us the courage to do just that.
Step Four Questions
Are you angry at your abuser?
Are you angry at yourself?
Do you resent your abuser for stealing your life?
Are you angry at other people for not protecting you from the abuse?
Do you feel anger toward everyone around you?
Do you not feel any anger - even about being abused - or are you numb most of the time?
Have you set any boundaries, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, to ensure your safety?
Do you permit yourself to change boundaries as necessary?
Are you afraid to experience sexual arousal?
Do you hate or fear people of the opposite sex?
Do you hate or fear people of the opposite sex?
Do you seek out inappropriate sexual encounters?
Do you find that you cannot have a loving relationship with anyone?
Do you feel like you have an extra - heavy burden to carry that other people don’t?
Are you afraid to trust anyone?
Are you afraid to trust yourself?
Do you get upset when you hear that things will be done defiantly than you are accustomed to?
Are you afraid to feel your anger because you feel like you will explode if you let any anger out?
Are you afraid of people who remind you of those who abused you?
Do sudden movements or loud noises frighten you?
Do you need to remain constantly aware of the people and movement around you?
Are you afraid to let anyone see the real you?
Are you afraid to let anyone see the real you?
Are you afraid to tap into blocked memories because you don’t think you can live through the pain?
Do you feel like garbage as a result of you abuse?
Have you abandoned yourself as one person and become many in order to deal with the hurt?
Do you feel alone all the time?
Do you run away when you find someone getting too close for comfort?
Do you find yourself reliving past experiences as though they were happening today?
Are you responding to a situation today as though you were a child with no control over your life?
Do you believe that you have choices in your life today?
Do you find yourself losing hours out of you day, with no memory of what happened?
Do you dissociate from reality if you feel threatened?
If everything is going well, do you worry and wait for the bad things to happen again?
Have you given yourself permission to take the time necessary to grieve your losses and pain?
If your memories have just surfaced, have you taken the time to grieve the years spent in denial?
Do you believe that nobody could possibly have had a worse life than you?
Do you play “poor me” or “can you top this” when you talk with others?
If you have multiple personalities, can you acknowledge that these parts hold the key to finding some the answers to what happened in you life?
Have you accepted responsibility for your life?
Have you begun standing up for your rights?
Are you punishing yourself by smoking, or by using alcohol, or some other mind - altering chemicals to numb out?
Do you need the thrill of gambling, or spending too much, to feel alive?
Do you need to cut or mutilate yourself to let out some of the enormous pain?
Have you written down what you feel shame for?
Do you feel shame when you make a mistake?
Are you keeping secrets that should be shared?
Did you abuser threaten to hurt you if you told the secrets?
Authors’ Note: We don’t believe it is ever necessary to forgive others or to confront anyone. The Twelve Steps don’t ever mention forgiveness or confrontation. The choice to forgive or to confront should be left to each individual. Some will feel forgiveness or confrontation is necessary, others won’t.
Do you feel you need to forgive the people that hurt you in order to progress in your recovery?
Have you made a decision to confront you abuser?
What do you hope to gain by this confrontation: money, love, support, an apology?
Will these things deny or invalidate your memories?
Will you be able to accept whatever happens?
Are you willing to give yourself time to get in touch with your true feelings about forgiveness and confrontation?
Can you use your energy to address the issues of incest, sexual abuse, or rape, instead of attacking your abuser?
If you are an adult, can you look at yourself and accept that the abuser cannot control you life anymore unless you permit it?
We admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Having completed our Fourth-Step Inventory to the best of our ability at this time, we need to admit our wrongs to our Higher Power, to ourselves, and to another person. We need to acknowledge where we are wrong before we can begin to make changes. This will take honesty and courage - it can be very difficult to admit to anyone what was done to us and, more importantly, what we have done to others.
We admit to our Higher Power what has happened to us and what we have done to ourselves and to others. We remember our new loving relationship with our Higher Power and we trust that our Higher Power always loves us. Giving our Fourth Step over to our Higher Power will prepare us to tell another human being.
Some people feel that the act of writing the inventory is an effective way of telling our Higher Power. Others have a conversation with their Higher Power, revealing what happened in their lives. As we have been comforted by our Higher Power as we have worked through our inventory, so will we find non-judgmental compassion and love as we relate our story of abuse. Our Higher Power has always known our sufferings, and will listen without condemning and with complete attention. As we grow closer and closer to our Higher Power, we will believe that we are not judged or condemned because we were sexually used and abused.
Having told our Higher Power our complete moral inventory, we are now ready to tell ourselves the truth. Admitting the truth to ourselves, maybe for the first time with our walls of denial down, will give us a new perspective on ourselves. We can see the patterns we have developed that have kept us in a victim role. We’ll find flaws in our thought patterns that have held back our maturing process. We will also find potential that have gone undeveloped because of our insecurities. We will see ourselves in a new spiritual light - as complete individuals with ideas, problems, motivations, and with room for growth.
For Shelley, abused by her father for years, writing her inventory finally enabled her to admit to herself the entire truth about her abuse and its long - term effects: For years I thought that once the abuse finally stopped, it was all over. I thought it had no effect on me whatsoever now that the physical aspect was over. When I did my inventory, I realized that the abuse had affected every single aspect of my life. The patterns of survival I had been using were no longer effective, and in fact were causing me to hurt others. When I admitted these patterns and behaviors, I was able to begin the process of changing them.
We might ask why we have to admit anything to ourselves or our Higher Power, since both know everything anyway. That might very well be true; however, many people we’ve talked with have said that they hadn’t admitted the full truth, even to themselves. They had qualified it, or minimized it, or denied it completely. Remember that knowing the whole truth is the only way to be set free. Only in admitting our brokenness can we find the way to wholeness. Now is the time to be totally hones with our Higher Power and with ourselves about everything.
Mary told us: When my children were little, if they did something wrong or were naughty, I would give them a smack anywhere I could reach on their bodies. I had resolved that I would never spank or beat my children the way I had been, so I thought that one good smack would take care of it. In my insanity, I took it to extremes. I remember one time my 4 - year - old daughter ran from me and was cowering in a corner, and I chased her and smacked her so hard her nose bled. Fortunately, I soon realized that even “a good smack” was wrong and changed my behavior. But I had never thought this was abuse until I was doing my inventory and had to admit this to my Higher Power and myself. It was one of the most painful things I had to admit, that I had abused my children physically.
Now that we have shared this inventory with our Higher Power and ourselves, we are prepared to tell another human being everything. This can be the most difficult part of this Step. We have never wanted anyone to know us totally and completely. We have spent most of our adult lives hiding from ourselves in lonely dark corners or our minds. Telling another person will help us to come out of our shell. The secrets which we were told to keep forever are not our secrets; they were given to us by sick, hurting people. As part and parcel of Step Five, we must cleanse our memories of these secrets.
It takes courage, honesty and humility to tell someone else what we’ve just begun to face ourselves.
Noelle was afraid to finish Step Five. She had been ridiculed and told she was lying when she was young and tried to tell her parents about what her teacher had done. She said: Telling God is one thing, because what’s God going to do, hurl a lighting bolt at me or drop me through a crack in the earth? But another person, they can laugh at you, they can be embarrassed, they can condemn you, or worst of all, they can desert you.
This is why it is important to find someone we can trust absolutely, someone with whom we feel totally safe. They must understand that this information in confidential, never to be talked about or gossiped about with others.
We try to choose wisely the individual with whom we will complete Step Five. We might ask members of a Twelve-Step program which person they felt comfortable enough with to share their inventory. If we have strong ties to a religious denomination, we might consider telling the leader of that group. We might choose a therapist with whom we have developed a trusting relationship - or a family member, a close friend, or our Twelve - Step program sponsor.
Remember, we are going to tell this person everything. If one of the things that we have to admit is that we have been unfaithful to our spouse, we should not choose our spouse as the person to whom we will admit these things. We search for someone who will understand why we are doing this. We aren’t looking for sympathy or approval. We need to be heard - maybe for the first time - and perhaps gain some insights into our actions and reactions. We aren’t on a witch hunt and we aren’t crying for pity. We need to talk honestly about all of our wrongs and get them straight in our minds so that we can begin to change and heal.
Frederica chose a member of her sexual abuse survivors group to be the one to tell: I felt that no one “out there” could possibly understand what had happened to me, and what I had done as a result of the abuse, unless they had been through similar experiences themselves. I didn’t feel safe telling just anyone about my mother’s “little parties.” It had to be someone who would believe me and would be able to help me find some direction and meaning in my life. My friend in the group fit the bill completely. She understood about confidentiality, and also knew that I had to do this for my sanity and peace of mind.
It is usually helpful to begin this Step shortly after finishing an inventory. When we come together with the person we have chosen, we share everything that we have written with them. We don’t try to hide anything. This is the beginning of a cleansing process that will spark a change in our lives.
We are totally honest and open; first we tell this person what was done to us, then we tell them what we have done to others. Our inventory has been written to discover our defects. Although the sexual abuse was not our wrong, we accept responsibility for our actions when we have been wrong.
The way we have carried the effects of our abuse into our own behavior is our responsibility. If sarcasm has been one of our survival techniques, then we need to look at those we might have hurt with it. Perhaps we have become compulsive spenders or gamblers, we must look at what harm we may have caused by using our money in these negative ways. If lying has been our instinctive reaction to many situations, where have we hurt others by lying? Now is the time to put away self-pity, denial, self-righteousness and grandiosity, and be totally honest about our entire lives.
Other new feelings and memories might surface while we are giving away our Fifth Step. If they do, we discuss them as another part of Step Five. In order to recover, it is important to admit everything to the person we have chosen - even the absolute worst things we can remember. When we tell someone everything, we share our burden; we open the dark corridors of the past and shed some light on our deepest secrets. We have been hiding our masks and using dysfunctional survival tools for too long. Now is the time to unmask our true selves, and let someone else know us for who we really are. Let someone else see the hurt, the pain, the guilt, the shame, and the distorted view of the world given to us by our perpetrators.
Every abuse victim we talked with said that they have always felt different than other people, and that they didn’t fit in anywhere. We have been living in solitude too long. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy isolating ourselves from the world so we couldn’t and wouldn’t be hurt anymore. When we share our life history with someone else, we find that we aren’t alone anymore; we feel a kinship with another person.
We finally have no more secrets to keep. A tremendous burden is lifted. Now is it time to rejoin the human race. We can choose to be alone, but we don’t have to be lonely anymore. And it’s wonderful know that someone else finally knows the truth and believes us.
Sharing our inner thoughts and feelings with another person will help us to overcome the toxic shame we took away from the abuse. It will give us a new freedom as a recovered individual with our inner self and our inner child acknowledged for the first time. It will help to clear out the residue of guilt, condemnation and humiliation that was used to control us when we were being abused.
It may feel shameful and degrading to tell someone all of the things we have done. That is okay. We will draw strength from our Higher Power to do this. When we are finished, we will no longer be standing alone as we seem to have done all our lives. This will be the beginning of true humility, admitting our strengths and our weaknesses. Sharing helps us see that we are people that deserve to be heard, and who have something worthwhile to say. Admitting our faults and flaws our loud will help us to hear the words that we have written. This will give us a more complete feeling of ourselves. It will also add more weight to what we have felt. As we speak, we may find answers to questions that we dared not ask before. It is a freeing experience to finally admit everything, to begin to let it go, and turn it over to that force beyond ourselves. We may feel a great sense of relief or a sense of lightness. We may feel nothing at all. Working and living the Twelve Steps is a process, not an event or an isolated incident. We are beginning to believe in this healing process. We accept that we are making spiritual progress, and not seeking spiritual perfection.
When we are sharing our inventory, we write down the defects we discover so that we can see exactly what we’ll have to change later. The inventory will also serve as a guide for Step Eight, when we make a list of all persons we have harmed.
John, who had been abused by his father until he was 13, did his Step Five with his sponsor: We met at his house and went through everything. I asked my sponsor to write down what defects he heard, and I wrote down the ones I recognized. After I was finished, we compared lists. We had both written down many of the same things. There were a couple that he heard that I hadn’t even noticed, so it was really helpful to get his input. We also made a list for my Eighth Step that same night because I didn’t want to keep my inventory lying around where someone not so trustworthy might find it. After we had finished, I ripped up my Fourth Step and threw it away. I felt more free than I ever had before.
Feeling free is just one of the benefits we get from doing Step Five. This is a wonderful opportunity to get clarification and feed back about some things that might have puzzled us before. Many times we’re not aware that what we are doing is not healthy behavior, even though it is normal behavior for someone who has been sexually abused. Someone who loves and understands us, yet is unassociated with our pain, can help us to see things differently.
Working Step Five is also a great reality check.
Sue, who finally got the courage to leave her husband after 3 years of abuse in their marriage, shared her inventory and was surprised when her sponsor told her that some of the things for which Sue was blaming herself weren’t her fault at all: I assumed that everything that happened was my fault. My husband always blamed me for whatever went wrong. He told me that he wouldn’t have to beat me or rape me if I had just done something differently. My sponsor helped me to understand that these were lies, that I wasn’t at fault. Just because had things were done to me did not make me a bad person. Because I made a mistake, that doesn’t make me a mistake.
After working Step Five, many people begin to feel a sense of forgiveness, both of themselves and of others. So many of us have blamed ourselves for everything that ever happened in our lives. Now is the time to realize we haven’t been at fault in everything, and to begin to forgive ourselves when we have been wrong.
It is also a time when we begin to forgive others. This might seem impossible at first. How could anyone ever forgive the abuser in their lives?
Sherrie had been abused by her parents for many years, and went into a rage whenever someone suggested to her that she might forgive them: My close friend and I were arguing about this one day when she said that if I would just use the dictionary definition, I wouldn’t be so upset. So I looked it up, and I did calm down. It meant to give up resentment against or the desire to punish someone. I always thought it meant to treat someone as if nothing had happened. When I realized that I would be the one who benefited from forgiveness, not my parents, then I could forgive. Not necessarily forget, but forgive.
Eventually, we will come to an understanding and an acceptance that those people were sick, not just the perpetrators but many of the other people, who harmed us throughout our lives. They were sick, warped people who did a lot of harm. They were hurt people who hurt other people. We may only be able at first to see these sick individuals with a little compassion. In time, we may see that our perpetrators acted out as they, in turn, were taught or were acted upon. They may have been passing on their legacy of shame and guilt, as a way of denying their own pain. It is probably hard to believe now, but eventually we may forgive our abusers.
It we knew someone had cancer and was raging and hurtful, we would understand and pity them because they were sick and couldn’t help it. We begin to understand the wrongdoers in our lives - they also had a cancer, a sickness, and their lashing out did us harm.
Perhaps, in the end, the only reason we will find to forgive people will be that our rage, anger and resentment are holding us back from living our lives completely. When we can begin to understand that, then we can begin to heal.
We may choose not forgive the abusers in our lives. We many never be ready to take that step. That is okay. This is a decision that each individual must make. Nobody can tell us what we should or ought to do.
At this point in our recovery, we will not let anything or anyone stand between us and recovery. We have written down all our shortcomings and have discussed them with another person. Having purged our mind of all its secrets, we are ready to begin the next step in our healing.
Step Five Questions
Are you afraid that your Higher Power may leave you if you reveal the exact nature of your wrongs?
Do you believe your Higher Power will condemn you for you past?
Do you believe that your Higher Power already knows your weaknesses and unmanageability?
Do you believe that you must keep holding on to this information?
Are you tired of carrying this burden?
How does it feel to admit the truth to your Higher Power?
When you admit your wrongs, are you using your Fourth Step Inventory as a guide?
Will you allow your Higher Power to guide you as you prepare to admit the truth to yourself?
Do you resent having to face and admit the truth to yourself?
Do you feel that you have already gone through too much?
Does this feel like just another burden to bear?
Have you been hiding the truth from yourself by minimizing, denying, blocking, etc.?
Do you believe that now is the time to stop running from yourself?
Can you admit that you have mad mistakes?
Are you able to see the patterns that developed in your life?
Can you think of ways to change and improve you old patterns?
Can you admit that you have learned negative behaviors from being abused?
Are you ready to accept responsibility for you acts?
Have you thought carefully about the person with whom you will share this information?
Is there someone you can trust to keep this information safe?
If you have chosen someone, have you been as honest as possible in admitting your wrongs?
Are you willing to let someone see your past exactly as it was?
Are you willing to listen to their suggestions, questions and input?
Are you willing to listen to their suggestions, questions and input?
If you become aware of something not written in your Fourth-Step Inventory, will you share it?
Can you accept the feelings you might have after you have admitted your wrongs to another person?
Can you accept that you might not feel any different after sharing inventory?
Are you getting rid of the guilt and shame you’ve carried for so long?
Are you beginning to accept that you are a worthwhile person?
As you shared your inventory, did you write down the character defects you found?
Are you willing to admit that some of your past actions were the results of being abused?
Are you ready to change?
Are you ready to forgive yourself?
We were entirely ready to have our Higher Power
Remove all these defects of character
Step Six continues the changes we began making in Steps Three and Four when we turned our will and our lives over to the care of the Higher Power of our understanding. Our healing is moving ahead without our having to work so hard to force changes. Our Higher Power is doing for us what we have not been able to do for ourselves. We have stopped giving our Higher Power a wish list of projects to complete and change. We are starting to rely on our new faith and trust in a personal Higher Power to enable us to handle new situations that we used to find fearful or difficult. Our Lives will become less confusing and have more purpose.
Now that we’ve written our fearless moral inventory, and shared it with someone else, we need to do something about our shortcomings. We know what behaviors and attitudes we need to change. We’ve talked about the past and decided what it’s time to stop living there. The techniques we have used to survive are now standing in the way of our recovery. We have been preparing ourselves for change by working through the first five Steps.
We now ask ourselves if we really want to change? Do we really want to become a capable individual? Do we really want to remove our faults and negative attitudes? We will take the time while doing Step Six to get ready to let go of these, and to reflect on what these changes can and will mean in our lives.
Step Six is like setting a dinner table before the meal is actually served. We wouldn’t serve dinner if we hadn’t prepared the table first, so don’t jump ahead and ask that these character defects be removed immediately. We can use this preparation time wisely and heal in our Higher Power’s time frame, or we can rush through this Step only to have to come back and give ourselves the time needed to heal.
If we find ourselves grieving, we allow ourselves sufficient time for it. For some of us, this Step will be a necessary rest period to become more comfortable with and more confident about the new person we are becoming. Others of us will want to begin immediately after finishing our Step Five. The world around us changes constantly, and we must forge ahead at any and all cost. Instant healing would be too much change for us at one time. It would leave us with too many empty holes to fill. So whatever amount of time is right for you, take it. The important thing is to keep going on you journey into recovery
We think back over the Steps that we’ve done so far. Have we truly admitted that our lives are unmanageable and that we powerless? Do we believe that a force beyond ourselves will restore us to sanity and wholeness? Are we now trusting that force with our will and our lives? Have we written as thorough an inventory as possible and shared it with our Higher Power and another person? If we’ve done our work so far, then the answer should be, “yes, to the best of my ability.” This tremendous progress on the road to recovery. However, if the answer to any of these questions is no, then we need to take the time now to look at the previous Steps in greater depth.
Perhaps we haven’t truly decided to trust a Higher Power with our entire lives. Or maybe we haven’t defined a Higher Power that encompasses our needs. We must be sure we have been as thorough as possible.
Sally said: I finally realized that what was holding me back was fear, I realized that if I waited until I was ready, then I would never move on. I have to keep going through my fear. Being ready might never happen, but by taking a risk and relying instead on the power of the Twelve Steps and my Higher Power, I can become ready.
This may be the first time in our lives that we have truly understood why we have reacted the way we have in the past. This is what we are familiar and comfortable with; this is our present frame of reference. But just as old shoes are comfortable but not proper attire for a formal ball, our old patterns don’t quite fit with our new growth and outlook on life.
This is the beginning of a lifetime job, the beginning of true change in our lives. Whatever our chronological age, we are worth dedicating the rest of our lives to the recovery process, which will make our lives richer and happier than they would have been without it. We can’t let the words character defects scare us away from this Step. Character defects are merely habits, attitudes, and actions that aren’t right for us anymore. Actually, it’s good to be able to list them so that we can see where we need to begin changing.
We need help from some force beyond ourselves to remove these defects, because we haven’t been able to change much of anything or our own. Many of us have been living very destructively, abusing our bodies with drugs, alcohol or food. We’ve tried to change many different times. We’ve sworn off, gone to clinics, moved to new towns, changed lovers and friends, all to no avail. Only with a Higher Power’s help will be able to make lasting changes in our lives, in our actions and reactions, and in our emotions.
Marlene shared with us: For years I did drugs to numb the pain of having been abused. I learned to deaden all my feelings this way. I’d try to quit now and then, but never made it past the first day. When I stated working these Steps and asked my Higher Power to take away my obsession, that’ the first time I’d ever been able to put down the drugs and leave them. It’s been over four years now, and I’m still clean, and still asking my Higher Power’s help every day. The pain of my memories has gradually lessened. I feel like I’m finally living.
If we feel like we aren’t ready yet to give up our defects, we ask our Higher Power for willingness. Maybe there will be some defects that we just can’t give up yet, like lack of trust of fear of strangers. Right now we only need to be “willing to be willing”. We have to be will to say, “maybe someday.” The only thing that will cause us problems with this Step is saying, “never.” As soon as we close our hearts and minds to possibility of changing something, we are closing our minds to any Higher Power and to ourselves. We are digging in our heels and saying, “my was is better, and nothing will ever make me change my mind.” This is holding on to our own will, not trusting our Higher Power’s will, or even wanting to find out what that will is Sometimes this comes from our child within, who needs to be in complete control of our feelings to feel safe, that our Higher Power will help us do everything we need to do to live safely and sanely.
Betsy talked about the various compulsions she had developed as a result of being abused by her brothers: If I gave up my cigarettes, then I picked up my gum. When I stopped drinking, I started bingeing on junk food. I asked myself, how can I quit everything? How can I just let it all drop? Where is my safety net? These Steps were the answer for me. When I have problems, I ask God to help me be willing to change.
Using our Fourth-Step inventory list, we write down the character defects that need to be removed, and we become willing to release these shortcomings.
We are beginning to experience a new growth. We have taken the time become detached observers of our lives, to see how our patterns and behaviors have become deeply rooted in our lives. Do we sometimes hear our mother’s messages or our father’s old tapes playing in our heads? Do we hear the constant chastising and condemning that others did? Perhaps we’ll discover that we allow other people to tell us how, when and where to act. We notice how we are acting and reacting in our present situation.
If some of these actions are self-destructive behaviors-such as self-inflicted wounds, alcohol abuse, dangerous relationships-these are the first things we ask our Higher Power to remove from our lives. We take care of our physical safety and change the deadly defects first.
So many of us were taught we were worthless, and that we deserved to be abused, that we have continued abusing ourselves long after the sexual abuse stopped. Some of these abuses aren’t as obvious as taking a razor blade and cutting ourselves, or finding partners that will beat us up for any mistakes we make. Perhaps we rage at people whenever someone doesn’t fulfill our expectations or makes a small mistake.
Maybe we condemn people who do not share our moral or ethical values. Maybe we’re so lethargic and listless that we don’t get out of bed until 3:00 in the afternoon-even when we go to bed at 9:00 the previous night.
Maybe we have 6 hour lunches, beginning with a sandwich and continuing all afternoon with candy, chips and ice cream. Negative self-talk is very destructive: belittling ourselves, calling ourselves stupid for making a mistake, constantly berating ourselves, these are all forms of self-abuse.
Dottie shared: I used to live in the shoulds, coulds, woulds all the time. It was always, “ I should have…if only I could…I wish I would have…” Now, when I hear myself saying these negative things, I ask my Higher Power to help me change my thinking. I don’t want to put myself down anymore.
Sometimes we love our defects. They help us to survive. They make us feel alive.
Sally said: Sometimes I’d get feeling so sorry for myself that it was like I
was wallowing in it. Or when I was raging with anger, I could feel my blood pumping and I felt energized, like I could conquer the world. Pain was the barometer of my existence. The more I hurt, the more alive I was.
Now that we’ve found the readily obvious defects, it’s time to look carefully fro the more subtle ones. If we feel that we’re better than others, somehow superior, that’s pride. Self-pity, that “poor me, I’ve had it so rough” feeling, is also a form of reverse pride or grandiosity. A lot of us play games like “can you top this,” when we compare our miseries with someone else’s to see who has the most difficult life.
Some forms of sexual behavior are character defects. One of these is bed hopping, with no feeling for the other person and with no thought of developing a relationship with anyone. Another sexual defect is deliberately withholding sex from our partner, perhaps in retaliation for some offense against us. Anytime we use our sexuality as a weapon, that is an inappropriate way of using power and control- and thus a character defect.
Many of us have the I wants: “I want a car, I want new furniture, I want a new coat.” In our urgency to be happy, to feel like someone worthwhile, we try to fill our emptiness with things. This is greed: we need to separate our true needs from our wants.
The Judeo-Christian seven deadly sins of pride, anger, sloth, gluttony, lust, greed and envy are useful as a general guide to looking at defects. Each of these wrongs has variations, ranging from total unmanageability to minor difficulties. As we go through these Steps, and continue growing and changing, we will find ourselves moving away from the more serious manifestations of these defects, toward more mild displays. They will never go away completely. We can strive toward perfection as a goal, but we should always bear in mind it’s the journey that is important, not reaching the ultimate destination: perfection is impossible to achieve.
A lot of us spend our lives with our inner child in control. We look like adults, but we’re really living as though we’re still 5, 10, or perhaps 3 years old. Our inner child has never learned to be happy, and is constantly trying to find happiness “out there” somewhere. We are now ready for our Higher Power to show our inner child that we don’t need to have it all; with the help of our Higher Power, we can keep the inner child within each of us safe, and give them the peace they’ve been searching for.
Step Six asks us to begin reaching toward new, exciting goals. Nobody expects us to become saints. Progress is the goal, not perfection. This isn’t another excuse to start berating ourselves again, either. If we fall short of our goal, then we try again. This Step is an opportunity to adjust to what has been, accept our past, then go from there. Gradually our lives begin to change, our defects will begin to be removed, and we will begin to have peace within ourselves. And, eventually, we will be comfortable with our new selves.
Step Six Questions
Do you need to spend some time becoming entirely ready?
Are you willing to let go of every negative behavior?
Have you found some positive behaviors to fill the gaps?
Do you feel that you need some time to let go?
Have you worked the first five Steps as thoroughly as you can?
Are you ready to start living with a spiritual guide-your Higher Power?
Are you beginning to trust you Higher Power?
Do you feel able to ask that Higher Power for help, strength and guidance?
We humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.
Having completed our preparations in Step Six, we now ask our Higher Power to take away our shortcomings. We ask for help to take this enormous step toward lifelong change. Until now, we have been living in fear and shame, running from pain whenever possible. We tried running, only to find we were running away from ourselves. These Steps are giving us the chance to face pain, to realize that, though something may hurt, it will pass, and we will have grown through the process. We can even use the pain to measure our progress. This reaffirms our trust in this process, our way out of the damaging effects caused by sexual abuse.
We think about why we are doing these Steps, about what we hope to gain. For most of us, it’s the chance to truly change our lives. We are tired of living like creatures who have no rights, who feel incomplete and even unnecessary. For some, these Steps will be the last chance we give life, the last chance we have to find hope. By coming this far in the Steps, we’ve begun to revive our long-buried child within. We’ve begun to see that there is hope, and that we will be able to change and really live.
The first six steps have led us to an awareness of who and what we are today, and what need to be changed. Now, in Step Seven, we humbly ask our Higher Power to help us begin that necessary change. These are our shortcomings we are asking to have removed. We won’t be asking our Higher Power to change our parents, or our significant others, or our children or anyone else out there that we think needs changing.
Marie told us: My friends at the meeting told me a new version of an old prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know that that’s me.” I’ve used this often to remember whose defects I’m asking to change.
Although we are asking our Higher Power to begin changing us, there is no magic wand to wave over our heads and mysteriously remove all of our defects. There is no fairy dust or moonbeam to cause change; plain and simple hard work is what will do it. We have to work at changing ourselves. Through our Higher Power we can find the strength and courage we need to keep on working and changing.
We will need humility throughout this Step. Humility is far different from humiliation. They sound the same, and many people use them interchangeably, but there’s a big difference.
We’ve known humiliation all our lives. People have shamed us and tried to humiliate us every chance they got. The abusers in our lives certainly contributed shame and humiliation to our lives. Perhaps others-teachers, parents, neighbors and even friends - have added to that feeling of humiliation that we are so imbued with. Sadly, enough, we’ve brought humiliation onto ourselves by setting ourselves up in situations that would embarrass us or hurt us. We don’t do this consciously, but it still happens all the time. We’ve known humiliation; we’ve gotten comfortable in it, even though it hurts. At least it’s a hurt we’re familiar with, and we know hot to get through. This sabotaging of ourselves is something else that is going to change as a result of working these Steps.
Humility is knowing ourselves honestly, both the positive and the negative aspects of ourselves. Humility is knowing and being proud of who we are, not in a boastful way, but in a quiet recognition of our self-worth and abilities. Humility gives us the ability to see ourselves in a different light, to look at the parts we have played in other people’s lives. Humility is recognizing the less than desirable aspects of ourselves, and making a conscious effort to change those negative aspects into positive ones. Perhaps we had a need to always have the last word in a fight. Or maybe we always needed to prove to others that we were bigger, brighter or better. But we don’t need these defenses any longer, so now we ask for them to be removed.
All of the Twelve Steps are a search for humility, a move toward honest self-knowledge and then self-betterment. It took humility to admit that we were powerless and that we needed a power outside ourselves to help us. It took humility to share with someone else our faults, then to ask our Higher Power to remove them.
We’ve already gotten some release from our pain by using humility. It’s a great relief to lay down the burden of trying to run our lives on our own power. Sharing our histories and our defects relieved us of the deadly secretiveness that we’ve lived with for years. There is nothing shaming about humility. By striving for humility we will become better, healthier people.
Before we used these Steps, we never seemed to have enough: enough things, enough people, enough love. We were constantly trying to fill our emptiness with material possessions or someone’s else’s love. It only served to emphasize and reinforce our already low opinions of ourselves. We felt like the trash and scum of the earth, so why try to change? It never occurred to us that the solution might rest in improving ourselves, and in finding a spiritual base upon which we could live. As we grow through these Steps, our self-esteem is improving; we are accepting that we are worthy people, that we are good, and that we have rights - especially the right to be treated and respected as a human being.
There are a few things we consider in preparation for this process. First, we take into account the faith and trust we have developed in our Higher Power. This is the time to reaffirm our commitment to that spiritual force. We trust in the process and time frame that our Higher Power is using to remove our shortcomings, and that we will not be asked to surrender any more than we can manage at one time. Again, we remember that healing is a process and not an event.
Next, we consider our change from a material-based way of life to a spirituality-based way one. Spiritual values come first for us now. We understand that when we rely only on ourselves, we are blocking out the universal force. But now we know we can rely on our Higher Power for strength and guidance in everything, and that this is the pathway to serenity and peace.
We also consider the grieving process as our shortcomings are removed. We don’t necessarily like our bad habits, but they have been a part or our make-up for so long that we will miss them. We give ourselves time to grieve and to heal.
Patrick shared: I could slip into my old defects as easily as I could my old jeans and sweatshirt. It was time, though, to throw the old behaviors away, just as I had to throw away my favorite pants when they got too raggedy and torn. It hurt, but I knew that after a few tries, my new stuff would feel just as comfortable as the old.
In this Step, we ask our Higher Power to take away all of our defects of character. We could beg or even dare our Higher Power to take away our shortcomings. We could expect that force to do the work for us and simply throw our shortcomings away. But this would leave us with a very large hole in our spiritual selves. Just as nature supplies seed and food for all the animals of the earth, but they have to seek out that food, so too do we have to do the foot work, we have to take the action necessary to change.
We will be changing our focus from ourselves and starting to look for ways in which we can be of benefit to others.
Diana shared: I spent my entire life looking out for number one - me. I know now that I have to help others, be aware of others’ needs or pain. When I get out of myself and my misery and try to help someone else, my life is easier. It’s still a mystery to me why it works that way, but it does. To keep my healing, I had to share it and give it away.
But we don’t look for ways to help others in a self-destructive way. Many of us spent our lives focusing on other people and their needs, instead of looking at our own lives. We search for a good balance in this situation, as we look for that same balance in all our circumstances.
Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to actually do this Step. For some of us, talking with our Higher Power and asking for our difficulties to be removed is enough. Many of us say structured prayers, asking God to remove our shortcomings and acknowledging that we are ready to do God’s will, now our own. Some of us will pick a “defect of the day” from our list of character defects, and ask for help in the morning to overcome that defect, being aware throughout the day when opportunities to change that defect come along.
Janice shared one imaginative method: My sponsor told me to blow up an imaginary balloon, and with each breath blow into the balloon all the anger, or shyness, or whatever, that I’m asking my Higher Power to remove. Tie a knot in the balloon, and release the balloon to the universe. It sounds really simplistic, but helped me to get a handle on what this Step means.
One shortcoming that many of us hare is obsessively thinking about past or future events, worrying about them or replaying them in our minds until we become immobilized. When we find ourselves doing that, we can ask for help to change. Every time we become aware that we’re thinking about the situation again, stop and replace the thoughts with thoughts about our spiritual life. We can thank our Higher Power for the strength we’ve been given to change, or for all the wonderful things we’re now able to do. Sometimes we might have to ground ourselves in reality by thinking. “Now I am brushing my teeth; now I am combing my hair.”
Martha shared: I’ve had memories that I just couldn’t get out of my mind. I’d see the same things over and over in my mind. I thought I would go crazy. I began asking my god to remove this obsession. There are still some times when I have ask over and over, but it always works. When I’m sincere and truly mean what I’m saying, the memories fade away.
Looking back over our list of defects, we can write down what the opposite action is for each defect. Perhaps fear is on our list. We write down courage. The opposite of being judgmental is acceptance of others.
The opposite of negative self-talk is loving messages to ourselves. For the seven deadly sins: The opposite of pride is humility; the opposite of anger is love and forgiveness; the opposite of sloth is action; for the gluttony it is discipline; the opposite of lust is sincere regard for the other person; for greed it is generosity; and for envy it is gratitude. When we practice these opposite actions, we are being generous and thinking of others. We can’t be critical of others if we are accepting them exactly as they are. This is a great way to keep changing and growing.
This process of change lasts a lifetime, and we will need to continue to ask for help to remove our shortcomings for the rest of our lives. We aren’t going to be saints; our defects will always be with us. They just won’t have the same intensity as before. We will be able to overcome them gradually, and eventually we will realize that we are acting and reacting differently. Where once we accepted other people’s blame for their actions, we will be able to say, “that is not my guilt.” Someone that we never could tolerate before will spend some time with us, and several days later we’ll realize that we reacted to that person just as we would to anyone about whom we felt neutral. When we realize that we’ve done something differently, or that we have acted in a totally new and more helpful manner, we will acknowledge that change, congratulate ourselves, and thank our Higher Power for this new behavior. We’ve always been good at criticizing ourselves. We need to take every opportunity we can to find the good in our actions and praise ourselves. It’s our job to rebuild our self-esteem. Noticing and taking pride in our positive growth will help.
Edith had been used by her parents and grandparents in their ritualistic ceremonies. She told us: For the longest time, any change or awareness in my actions was nerve-wracking. My body acted as though I was going to be attacked at any minute. I thought all awareness was awful. Today, I am using awareness as signals that something has changed or must be changed. I can even give myself a pat on the back sometimes. Change is not as scary as it was in the beginning. I have found that Good Orderly Direction [GOD, see page 21] is becoming a daily event in my life. I’m so glad I didn’t quit when things seemed to be too difficult.
We realize that some things won’t change right away, even if we ask our Higher Power to take the pain or negative behavior away. There will be times when the only action we can take is to do nothing.
Frank, who hade been molested by his forth grade teacher, found this to be very difficult: The hardest thing I’ve had to learn to do is to just be. I always want to take action, to fix it, to change things around, to get relief. I’ve come to accept that there are times when I need to feel the feelings and just sit with them, or that I have to wait for a solution to come in my Higher Power’s time, not mine. Patience doesn’t come easily for me, but I’m learning.
Other times we will be able to take action, but we have to remember that most change is gradual; it’s a process, not an instant transformation. It is usually a slow process, not a marathon to be run at the fastest pace possible.
Step Seven requires us to practice humility in our daily lives. We continue this practice, even on an hourly basis if that is all we can handle. Doing this will enhance the spiritual growth that we’ve experienced so far. We will begin to be more observant of others. We will stop being so self-absorbed and we’ll be able to participate in life more freely than ever before. Others will begin to like us better. More importantly, we will begin to like ourselves. It’s nice when other people like us, but it’s ecstasy when we can look in the mirror and honestly say, “Self, I love you, just as you are today.”
Step Seven Questions
Do you understand the difference between humility and humiliation?
Are you beginning to recognize your negative attitudes and behaviors?
What steps are you taking to change these shortcomings?
When opportunities to practice new behaviors arise, do you take them?
Can you ask your Higher Power for help in making those changes?
Can you acknowledge your strengths as well as your weaknesses?
Are you willing to feel the pain, knowing that you will feel a serenity and peace later?
Are you ready to acknowledge your rights and responsibilities?
Is your self-esteem beginning to improve?
Are you beginning to recognize that you are a worthwhile human being?
Are you asking your Higher Power to relieve you of the expectations of others?
Are you honestly and sincerely asking your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings?
Are you asking you Higher Power for balance in you life?
What methods are you using to ask your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings?
Are they working?
Are you still worrying about past events?
Do you replay the negative thoughts over and over in your head?
Do you still rehearse for tomorrow? Or the next day? Or next week?
Are you able to do the footwork, and leave the results to your Higher Power?
Have you tried doing the opposite of your character defects?
When you notice changes, do you take the time to celebrate them?
When you do things differently, does that give you courage to continue?
Are you beginning to take pride in yourself?
Are you demanding that your Higher Power do things when and how you want them done?
Are you starting to like yourself more?
Do you feel a sense of freedom?
Are other people seeing changes in you?