The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous figuratively describes the importance of conducting a moral inventory when it compares the 4th Step process to a business owner taking inventory of the value of salable merchandise when referring to, “A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and fact-facing process…. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values.” When we examine ourselves through the use of the metaphor of the business that could go broke if an inventory is not taken it is clear that our own “searching and fearless moral inventory” is needed so we do not end up spiritually bankrupt and looking for our “drug of choice”.
I liked the concept of rigorous self-examination but knew little about how to begin it and more importantly I wanted someone to clarify for me what I could expect to gain from this seemingly arduous task. More specifically my question, plainly put was: what was in it for me?
I had received many opinions and admonitions about what would happen to me if I shirked this task but it was not until I completed my 4th and 5th Steps that I fully understood the personal payoff for me. All of us have known individual blessings that come with the successful completion of an inventory and the sharing of it with God, another human being, and ourselves but mine was so fundamental that I was surprised that I missed it.
I had spent many years managing my hurt and other emotional challenges by formulating ways of being superior to others or developing strategies that would allow me to get even with those that had hurt me. In the end, I was still hurt by what I had become and I had managed to injure many others, who really did not deserve it. The insights I acquired as a result of completing my 4th and 5th Step work helped me to take editorial liberty with an adage that I had heard many times growing up: “ hurt people hurt people.” While it is true that hurt people sometimes injure others, it is not true that hurt people have to deal with the hurt by mistreating others. My Step work helped me to translate the adage into a phrase the really made sense for me:
Hurt people oftentimes hurt people but it is not required!
My inventory helped me to acknowledge the hurts that I had endured in various circumstances and at the hands of numerous others. The analysis of those injuries and the resentments that evolved from them could now be addressed and not obscured by the wrongs that I had done in the name of “getting even”. I did not have to get even with those that hurt me but I did need to understand what happened and the resentments that developed over time. Likewise the wrongs that I had perpetrated in the lives of others were no longer excused by the “eye for an eye” rule that I had used in the past to deal with the injuries I suffered. The “hurt people hurt people” proverb began to take on new meaning when I came to see those who had hurt me as “sick people”. Being hurt was no longer going to be an excuse or justification for hurting others or withdrawing into my self-constructed prison of isolation. I would need to understand what drove me to hurt others and I was going to get those answers in an honest examination of my own defects of character.
The 6th and 7th Steps would help me to cope with discomfort in adaptive versus maladaptive ways and the proverb no longer seemed as unbending as before. Hurt people don’t have to hurt people. But you will hear more about that in my next article on the Forgotten Steps.