Searching and Fearless

Warehouse 06-08-07 (26)


For those who aren’t in 12-step recovery, that word probably ushers in thoughts of Starbucks-fuelled grad students counting sweaters in the back of H&M as one part of their under-paid job requirements. Knit-One Pearl-Two while the supervisor, youngest of the crew, checks off the stock pars and lists any extra items or items that are damaged.

For those of us in 12-step, inventory has another connotation.  Inventory is where we take stock of our selves.  We look back and document resentments, fears, sex harms and other harms through a process of identification and clarification.  We seek to put down on paper the exact nature of the things that get us and keep us squirrely.   We take an honest look at our behaviours and thoughts and what really drives them.  We write to discover the truth about our lies.

Fun stuff, eh?

Well, who amongst us is really into looking that deep into ourselves, into our less-than-shining moment, into our dark past?  Who is interested in dredging up the muck from days gone by?  No one, but it’s important for many of us to peer into the abyss and assess the damage before it gets into the red zone.  It’s vital to those who are suffering to keep drink and/or drug out of hand to get a handle on what makes us tick.  For those who want to change how they approach life, it’s a tonic to the old way of handling things.

Again – fun, huh?

Personally, I don’t mind the process.  I like it in some strange way.  It can be difficult at times, but it can also illuminate the unlit crevices of my spiritual and mental make-up.  It also brings into the light the stuff that I don’t want to come out.  It forces me to examine the lies that I have created to forge my façade.  It demands that I take a look at the stuff that is eating away at me from the inside out.

The first time I did inventory, it was about 60 pages long, all hand-written in neat little columns and it took me several days to share with my sponsor. (Inventory is step 4.  Sharing it with another human is step 5).  It took me way longer than it should have, but I did it.  And writing it all down – the bad and the ugly (no good in this one) – left me bereft of hiding spots.  It was all out.

Or at least everything I was conscious of at that time.

What inventory does is that it shows precisely why we do and act the way we do.  It uncovers warped coping mechanisms, uneven thinking and illogical actions.  For me, it was an epiphany of sorts.  It lay to waste all my lies and justifications.   It allowed me to take an objective view into my own head.  And for a muddled and foggy dude like myself, I needed that clarity.

Many people bolt when it comes to doing this step.  All but one of my sponsees have jumped ship at this point.  For many, it comes across as daunting and overwhelming.  “Why do I need to bring all this crap up? I’m not drinking – isn’t that good enough?” some cry out, pulling hair and gnashing teeth (note – no one was pulling hair and gnashing teeth).  I know guys who have been in the program for years and refuse to touch this exercise.  Some knock on that door and then leave before they put pen to paper.

Yes, it can be overwhelming, but the truth is that once I started the process, it was easy to continue.  I had to take a non-judgemental attitude towards myself.  Sure, I did some crappy things in my time.  I did some stuff that to this day makes me cringe and suck in my teeth and wonder  who that madman was. But I had to plod through the work to see my part in all of this.  You see, the whole thing comes down to this: all my problems are of my own making.

Let me repeat: ALL of my problems are of my OWN making.

Yup – everything.  Doesn’t mean that if some dude comes in off the street, punches me and runs away that it’s my fault.  That’s ludicrous.  But what is my fault is if I continue to resent that guy. If I stew in those bitter juices for years and years.  If I take it out on others.  If I let it get to me that much.  To play victim.  That is what the inventory gets into. What am I doing to perpetuate my own suffering?  Or what did I do to turn everything ass-over-tea kettle?

Look, there are countless articles on this step.  Countless worksheets and lectures and seminars and all that jazz.  I work straight from the book and keep it simple.  I like simple.  I can complicate a toothpick, so simple keeps me honest.  And honesty is what it’s all about.  An honest searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. Whatever I hide is what will keep my thinking sick.  Those deep, nasty secrets I want to take to the grave with me?  They will take me to the grave sooner if I don’t drag them into the light. And I had to share it all.  In doing so, I became a free man.  And share it I must continue to do.

I mention inventory here because I am dire need of it these days.  I have been holding resentments and playing into fears for a while now.  I have been whistling in the dark, hoping to keep my spirits up while nervously looking around the shadows.  I am currently on that step in my NA work but will have expedite the process by doing it the way I used to.  To get the relief I need.

Resentments have been at me lately, and I have been working on self-reliance (oooh, bad idea) and self-will (even worse idea).  I have been neglecting my conscious contact.  I have been allowing these things to add up, without even being fully conscious.  And where does this bring me?  My wife told me the other day that I have not been myself lately.  She has been up late at night anxious about me (the last time she was up like that was just before I got arrested and got outed for my alcoholic self).  My mother emailed me yesterday and mentioned that I sounded like my old self on the phone and she was worried.


So, there it is.  Restless, irritable and discontented.  Not at toxic levels, but enough for others to notice and for me to feel off-kilter.  I recognize some of the things I feel now are similar to those when I wrote my first inventory years ago.  I have written smaller ones since, but I get the feeling this is going to cut deep.  I am already bracing myself to face some things I have been unable or unwilling to face as of late. Lies I have been telling myself.  Stories that no longer serve me.  And it’s going to be tough, but I will do it, because I need me.  My family needs me present.  My work and other parts of my life need me to be emotionally and mentally available.  Wrapped up in me is a bad place to be.

There is a line in the header of this blog.  Right after “Message in a Bottle” is the phrase “swimming in big chunks of truth”.  Well, that’s where I’m headed now.  In the deep end of the pool where all that stuff is.  I may have some fear, but I have a greater fear of what I will become if I don’t do this.  And hey, this is stuff we just have to do.  Often.  It’s not like I’m breaking down the Berlin wall here, but I am certainly trying to crash down some of my self-imposed barriers.  Barriers to my authentic self and a life of service and giving back.  Of serenity.  Of living life on life’s terms.

Just another chapter in a life worth living.  And celebrating.  One dusty box at a time.

Me...but not really me.
Me…but not really me.





40 Comments Add yours

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Excellent post Paul. I like to explain to first-time fourth steppers that the reason it seems difficult before it’s done is that they are looking at the work through the wrong lens. What really happens is they will be free of those things, that the completion of the next five steps will not be what they think. I ask them to understand they are mistaken and to go from there. I can’t go into the whole process in a comment but I’m sure you get the gist. It will help the newer folks be less fearful.

    For your next fourth, read this post:
    Try to apply that concept to your resentments (the notion starts in the fifth paragraph). The end result is that you will learn how to cut yourself off at the pass. Good luck my friend and good on you for homestly assessing what others who care about you are telling you about your shortcomings. That’s excellent work my friend. Truly excellent.

    1. Thank you so much, Jim. I truly appreciate the kind words, and certainly your post (which I will print up and read today). I too will tell first timers that this isn’t about beating yourself up. It’s about taking an objective view. I know some folks get worked up about later amends, etc. and I tell them that the steps are in order for a reason. They may not be ready right then and there, but they aren’t there yet! But I can only guide them there. I can’t write their inventory for them.

      I can only focus on my shortcoming and such, and that is what I will be doing starting today. I feel better after hitting a mtg last night and helping a newcomer. I can already feel a shift in my perspective, but I still need to get down to causes and conditions.

      Thanks again – I really appreciate the time and effort you took in your comments 🙂


      1. bgddyjim says:

        My pleasure brother. Wouldn’t that be funny? Offer to write someone’s fourth, tongue in cheek? You’re on to something there, that would be a laugh and a half! Ah-hahahahahaha!

  2. clearlee says:

    Hey Paul, I truly admire your desire to dig deep and reflect on yourself and your life. It is a rare quality, I think, and one that takes a lot of courage. I’ve recently started an inventory of sorts and it is not for the faint of heart! I want to do it but I find it very challenging. I keep procrastinating. Thank you for posting this and reminding me that it’s necessary to do the work. best, lee

    1. Hi Lee – thanks for this. I think we do this in some other ways – this is a deep cleanse so to speak, and having done it before I know the benefits, even if it’s a bit tough at moments. It’s like ripping off a big band-aid and I know once it’s done, I am better for it. Not that everything is hunky-dory after that, but I get the clarity I need to move forward. I do the procrastinating thing too…lol. I certainly did this time!

      Great that you are investigating yourself as well. Lots of dividends to get!


  3. Paul says:

    Well written Paul. Step 4 sounds like a tough one. i was imagining my own dark secrets while i was reading your post. Not a place I would like to go. Not at all. I have a great admiration for your perseverence (sp?) and honesty.

    1. Thank you Paul. One thing we distinguish between is a thoughtful and useful inventory and just hitting ourselves over the head with regret and remorse. One brings some clarity, the other just brings unneeded pain.

      Always a pleasure having you here, kind sir.


  4. ainsobriety says:

    I think is beautiful that your family is willing to be honest with you about their concerns and that you are able to hear them and acknowledge that they are right.
    Moving forward by understanding and making peace with our actions is vital.
    This might be hard, but it will be worth it.
    I avoid some of this myself. I am still in the self protection and care phase. I need a bit more stability before i can tear down any more barriers. But i will get there. You inspire me.


    1. I understand about the care and self-protection phase. We beat ourselves up a lot in our active addiction (and afterwards too), so some self-care is needed. I know for me I also needed to get down to brass tacks…and get the relief I needed. So it’s a balancing act.

      But yes it’s nice to have my family feel safe enough to tell me this stuff. I need to have that barometer, or else I get too wrapped up in myself.

      Thank you for the kind words and for the insight, Anne. Love it.


  5. k2running says:

    Love this post!!! 4th &5th steps…. utterly terrifying but so freeing!
    I think that it would be nearly impossible to achieve serenity without a step 4. I so admire your honesty, strength, and courage to put your “stuff” out there, and continuously inventory yourself.
    We are all working on progress not perfection😊

    1. “I think that it would be nearly impossible to achieve serenity without a step 4. ” I agree. I mean, some folks find a sense of serenity without the inventory, but for this cat I needed it. Still do. Honesty is something that can elude me still, and the biggest lies are the ones I tell myself. Who knows, I could still be lying to myself about something right now and not even know it. But as you said, progress, not perfection 🙂

      Thanks for being here, Katie!!!


  6. Taking an inventory really is a continual process and not just a one time deal. I hope you’re able to unravel what’s been bothering you and find some peace within.

    1. Absolutely, Judith. Step 10 asks us to take daily inventory. And I do that when I catch myself copping a resentment or a fear. Problem is that either I don’t *think* I need to do that Step 10 (self-will at work) or I find some big stuff hitting me from out of nowhere, usually something coming up from the past which didn’t come up on the other inventories (I have done several).

      Thank you – I am already feeling better while doing this!!


      1. I think just putting it out in the air (or Internet, as it were) makes a huge difference in getting the process started. I’m happy you’re already feeling some relief.

  7. Hey Paul,
    “I can complicate a toothpick…” Yep. and a cotton swab.LOL. The initial inventory was tough, heady stuff. But once I got that out of the way, I made room for the other layers of the onion. What’s remarkable to me is that the blind spots have become truths over time, and I am still sober to talk about them. You have such a great way of making me think as well as so many others. Thank you for your strength, hope, and honesty; you are a Christmas blessing!

    1. Cotton swab…lol. I may steal that one 😉

      Yes – the famous onion analogy. No matter who we are, we are all there, peeling away. I am certainly peeling away – tears usually come with those layers…lol. I like what you said about blind spots becoming truth. That’s my biggest thing – the lies I tell myself start to become rock-like truth, but in fact aren’t rock like at all. They can crumble easily when I see them for what they are. And that can take time.

      Thank YOU for your honesty and strength too – I love your insight and wise words.

      Blessings to you!!


  8. sobermom says:

    Awesome piece. I’ve been stuck on step 4 for a while now. You are inspiring me to put pen to paper and get it done so I can move on. Thank you!

    1. I think it’s easy to get stuck on this step. I took too long on my first one, even though it was a big one. What took me months should have really taken me a week or two at most. I just got complacent or found other things to do instead…lol. But we do it and get it done and share it and boy is there relief after that! (At least for me there is)

      Good luck with the rest of your inventory – the sooner it gets done the sooner you can share it!


  9. Dede says:

    I was sitting here, waist deep in old resentments and then I opened this blog post. Wow. Thank you for helping me to see I’m done with all this. You continue to be a blessing in my life. Thank you.

    1. Aww thank you Dede…glad this resonated with you. I always happy to hear when my ramblings make sense to others…ha ha. We are never alone, are we? I have to say that after writing this and getting on with my own inventory, I went to a meeting and spoke to a newcomer for about 30-40 min and that made a huge difference for me too. Resentments seem to shrink when I work with others and when I practice gratitude.

      I am grateful for you being here 🙂


  10. Great post Paul. So true. As you said, the first step for an honest inventory is to be able to accept that one’s responsibility of his/her life. It lays you bare and doesn’t allow you to blame anyone else. It is a little like what we do when we do self audits, we have to admit that we could have done better.

    1. Thanks Tiff! You said the key word here – responsibility. For much of my life I didn’t take any responsibility. None. It’s only in the last few years I can say that I am doing that. Good and bad. I know that it’s hard at times, and I have made pretty much most of my amends, so it’s nice to feel the relief of not looking over my shoulder or fearing the phone. I am clean, in many ways, but I can easily pick up things that cause me to make poor choices.

      Thank you for this – love having you here.


  11. jenkirk72 says:

    I always appreciate your raw honesty. With your mindfulness, I have no doubt that you will be able to tackle this task!!

    1. Ha ha thanks Jen. I appreciate the comment on this. Honest – I do my best, lest I get wrapped up in self-delusion. (Like the self-delusion that my 20 km run today is gonna be a cake walk…lol)

      Have a happy Sunday!


  12. Hi Paul. Great post here and it makes me reflect on my past but I never really considered it related to my sobriety. I relate it to being an idiot from aged 17 to 25! I am not that person anymore and I always kept those secrets under lock and key (in my brain). Although I partied hard and had a great time, I wouldn’t want my husband or kids to know those truths. That’s my private ME. Can’t I just leave it there? Collecting dust? It was 36 years ago – doesn’t see to be bothering anyone. What do you think?

    1. You know, the idea behind the inventory is to not rehash all the old stuff. It’s not to bring out every embarrassing thing we’ve ever done. It’s about looking at our behaviours and thoughts and coping mechanisms and fears, etc. that we collected over the years. the one things I didn’t mention in this post is that there are always patterns to these things. For me, it was manipulation, playing victim and ducking responsibility. People pleasing. Now, for me to see this, I had to dig into my past and pull out some notable examples. The stuff that jumps to mind stuff. And from there, like a CSI crew, I put it under a microscope and see what makes it all tick.

      So while I may have done stupid and silly things, I am not going to mention the time I made an inappropriate comment to the hostess of a party. But if I see that over the years I have been verbally abusive towards women, then THAT is something I look at. Also, we are not airing this out for everyone to see. We keep this to ourselves, and share it with one (or more if needed) person who understands the process and is discreet and trustworthy. Some seek others in the program, but a priest or other faith worker can be it.

      Anyway, it comes down to what feels right to us – what may be a big thing for you isn’t for another. It’s all so personal!

      Thanks for this – made me think about this a bit more!


  13. mishedup says:

    great post as usual Paul…
    what great family and friends you have that kind of honesty come back to you i think you must have set up that paradigm, and beautifully..
    i think we are always growing and learning. sometimes a great 10th can take care of our issues, but going back to basics may very well be needed. i think about this a lot…when/if i need to get back to work on this stuff.
    i honor your recovery, and the way you sure it so honestly. it helps me so much, keeps me thinking.

    1. Aww thank you Mish. Coming from you, that is so very meaningful. Step 10 covers some of the more immediate stuff. But as I mentioned in another comment, I am not so dutiful in this step. So things slip in. Sometimes I think I “got it” but forget to let my HP in on it. Also, I have bigger stuff either come back, or stuff from the past comes up, stuff that I missed on the first inventory. So I think it’s a combo for me on all this. And I don’t mind. I need back to basics sometimes, lest I get ego-driven.

      I honour your recovery as well, as you wear it well and you inspire me to keep digging.


  14. Dustin John says:

    Having an objective and honest view of what I did during active drug/drinking was as uncomfortable and stomach turning as having explosive diarreah on a first date. I did everything i could to hold back. Squeemishly rocking back and forth in my chair, holding back the emotional blast. Once I finally committed, it was like a 100 year old dam, finally giving way.
    Once all the major, self destructive actions from my past had come out, it took me a while to sift through the mess. Searching to write down things that had been burried by the major guilt sucking and destructive memories.
    Now that I have rebuilt the landscape into a decent living quarters, I have decided (because of new science studies) to do a searching and fearless inventory of my childhood. Looking at my childhood objectively has proven to be extremely difficult. It is easy to say “my childhood was great”. I dont think that is fearless or objective.
    Thanks for another awesome post Paul! These two steps I believe are the make or break of an individuals sobriety. Great stuff! Have a Merry Christmas!

    1. thanks for sharing all this, Dustin. It’s amazing how much there is to sift through once we put pen to paper and just lay it all out there, eh? Not easy, but necessary to get the crazies out and to really see the forest for the trees. The causes and conditions which make us pick up are the keys to understanding where we are at. I couldn’t just abstain. I just couldn’t. It wasn’t until i could see exactly how my shortcomings played into my needing to reach, could I start to shift things. Gave me an idea what it was I was asking to be removed from me in steps 6 and 7. Even then, I don’t know it all. Is my introversion a shortcoming or a blessing? Who knows, I don’t. But at least when we open it up, can we see the truth…our truth.

      I am glad that you are continuing in your journey to explore further. Peeling the onion, as they say.

      thank you for being here, Dustin. You made my day.


  15. stephrogers says:

    wow, thanks Paul, this really made me think. It’s actually incredibly hard to hold myself up to the microscope like that, and to do so really honestly, without all the excuses that I make up to justify myself along the way.

    1. Hey Steph!! i am so chuffed to see you here. As for what you said, I get it totally. I didn’t want to do it for my entire life. Never interested in getting real. Too busy putting on a show / facade. Too busy people pleasing. Numbing out. And like you so wisely put it – justifying it all!

      Not easy, but for a guy like me, necessary.

      Hope you are doing well. Made me smile seeing your avi here 🙂


  16. As usual, I loved your post. One of the things that hit home with me is the part about holding on to grudges/resentments…I hate when I find myself playing the victim in a situation. Let go, learn and move on. Of course, easier said than done. 🙂

    As always, thanks for being so open and honest. Especially when it’s not always pretty.

    1. Playing victim?! I was genius at that! I can still find myself doing it, and like you, I don’t like it. And like you, I try to let go, learn and move on. Amazing it took me only 40+ years to learn that lesson!! Where were you all this time to teach me this? lol. But in all seriousness, it’s pretty amazing when we *can* let go and just move on, eh? Resentments are the hardest to let go because sometimes they are just so much FUN to hold onto, eh? ha ha.

      Lessons continue to come for this guy.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this – learned from you.


  17. Paul, you inspire me, as always. A second inventory, at this time of year, what dedication that shows. And though I’m sorry you have been experiencing less that complete serenity of late, what a miracle this story illustrates… how far you’ve come. Can you imagine your reaction to your mother and wife if they made these comments a few years back? And yet, now, solidly sober, your response is to sit down and closely examine what’s going on with you.

    Truly inspiring, Paul, I look forward to hearing the resulting miracles from the inventory. Merry, blessed Christmas to you and yours!

    1. Hey Josie!
      Funny how this came up at this time of year. No real reason that I know of other than it just happened now! As for the comments – yeah, I would have been very defensive back in the day. Glad I can take them at face value and know that they come from concern rather than criticism (which is what my mind would have told me before).

      Thanks for being here – and yeah, I will probably chime in with what has happened!

      Merry Christmas and hope all is well!


  18. Lisa Neumann says:

    Dropping by to tell you I love the post (which you already know) and to send some New Years Love. You inspire so many of us with your writing. Thanks for being you. Looking forward to 2015 blogging. My love top you and your family. Lisa

    1. Thank you Lisa and Happy New Year to you. You are a shining star for me and so many others.

      Blessings and hugs!


  19. dbp49 says:

    A very interesting post. I’m not in a 12-step program at the present time, but perhaps if I’d given my last step four a little more effort, I wouldn’t be so badly in need of another one. I’ll work my way there eventually but it’s never an easy task.

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