For me, the Fourth Step is not just a list between the pages of a well-hidden journal, but the Fourth Step is a continuous, yet imperfect practice of empathy. Although I completed an exhaustively detailed Fourth Step, one that extended back to childhood events that had occurred before I had acquired the language to articulate them, and extended forward to fears of impossible and distant somedays, new fears and resentments—or seemingly new configurations thereof—arise on a daily basis.
In my Fourth Step, perennial patterns emerged, a consistent calculus of character defects, which are not the result of my uniquely dark soul, but are merely human. And, when resentments emerge, as they so often do, I must remember that other people, too, are human, and try to extend to them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that has been so cheerfully and gracefully granted to me. When I am actively practicing the Fourth Step, I need to look at other human beings, in all their fragility and fallibility, and think, “ You must feel a pain that I, too, have felt.” We are told that we must ask ourselves in what ways we are similar to others, where are we to blame? Although I might not identify with someone else’s particular action, or in other situations, I might feel blameless, I can identify with the entrenched insecurities, the deep emotional wounds, and the fears that gnarl us and cause us to make the mistakes that I once thought only I could make.
I remember reading my Fourth Step to my sponsor—in my backyard, at coffee shops, at her kitchen table—and what I remember most are not the things I told her, but how she gently empathized with nearly every item in my inventory. And how what once felt so sinister and secret no longer separated me from others. If she could identify with what seemed to be the worst parts of me, perhaps I could learn to identify with others. The cruelest thing I could ever do is to disregard the emotional complexities of others, thereby denying them their humanity. And to truly be human is to empathize with everyone, absolutely everyone.