Looking back, I think I’d begun the process of the fourth step from the first few days. Like my life was all contained in a one big box, and I took it in my hands, flipped it over so everything fell on the floor, and said here’s nothing. What dust is kicked up. What shattering noises. What breaks will break.
If I am odd in my willingness to do the fourth, I think it started, there; it started in knowing that alcohol was hardly the problem. My problem was everything.
Where people hesitate at the fourth, or refuse it, or wonder what good it could possibly do, I wonder if it isn’t a difference in our understanding of the problem. People don’t want to change themselves; they want to stop drinking. Most of us don’t even want that; we want the consequences to stop, not the drinking.
There isn’t anything wrong with that want. I’d had it for years. There is a part of me that wants it today.
Within that first week of sobriety, I called my father.
I hadn’t spoken to my him in years, hadn’t seen him in nearly seven. There are very few people in the world I actually dislike. My father may well be the only one.
But there I was. Daddy, I’m an alcoholic. I’m trying to stop. Not really I’m sorry. No ‘help me’ or ‘goddamn you’, just ‘here I am. One sick motherfucker’.
All subconsiously, I had identified that relationship as central, realized I could no longer afford my anger. Around my dad, or anything and anyone else. Had started to not only decide and understand, but to act. I found a loose string and following it noticed how trouble connected to pain, how grief connected to the way I acted. How tangled my hands were and bound up my thinking.
I was in Brooklyn for the first 90 days. As I trudged through, it became clear I was falling apart. I was losing my apartment. I had seriously damaged my career and wasn’t sure what could be salvaged. That upended box could have been a lot of things. I looked at a halfway house. I could have scrambled and saved the apartment. I could have moved in with friends. But my dad got a little quiet on his end. He wondered if I wanted to come home.
So it was that he came to Brooklyn. He and I packed a U-haul full of books, ransacked my apartment of 10 years, and drove away in the middle of the night on my 88th day sober. So it was that we spent days alone together, in the intimacy of a roadtrip, taking turns at the wheel. So it was that I crossed the Minnesota/Wisconsin boarder and began to cry without noise, suddenly feeling how real it all was. I would never have that Brooklyn apartment again. I might never have Brooklyn again. I’d struggled with my phone, all full of people who either were disappointed in me, hated me, or who were just like me. It rang and I hid from it. I threw it in a trashcan outside a truckstop in Pennsylvania.
We pulled up in front of their house, a place I’d never been before in a little town I’d never heard of. My sister, belly fat pregnant. My mother trying to make it a festive occasion. I lasted ten minutes in the house before I’d found a meeting and blew in, dirty jeaned, exhausted, but all in. That was my 90th day sober.
We’re sick people, alcoholics. Mostly, we don’t know why we do the things we do or how things got to be the way they are. There is something cathartic in the fourth step. Something of integrity, and humility, and commitment to change and healing. But there is also something of wisdom, enlightenment, revealing and understanding. Many of us say we always felt there was a script to life, or a set of rules and instructions, that we were never given or never read. This is true. We have not learned the basic lessons of our experience. We haven’t done the work of going through. Step four turns out to be that script, that set of rules and instructions. It is the place we learn who it is we are, where we came from, why things happened after that. This is the holy book, the owner’s manual, the lost map. Writing it down is important. We’re a people of language. Words shape the way we know. Words are tools, and sacraments, and contracts. It turns out the holy writ is a thing you write with your own hands, in ink or pencil or crayon. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising.
But surprising, enlightening, it is.