Countless experiences in life have demonstrated that my mind’s exposure to something does not necessarily enable me to understand, accept, or interpret it adequately on the first pass-nor the second, nor the third, nor, in some cases, the 25th. Take step four of the adult child recovery program, for instance. I have read it weekly for almost seven years and only recently was I able to glean from it what its purpose was-or at least what I understood it to be this time. I wonder why I was able to do so from a different or even the proper angle now. Two reasons come to mine. The next time I read it, maybe a third will. I cannot predict that.
To access my memory, I can tell you that, at least in words and perhaps even theory, that it states that we make “a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.”
One of these concepts-namely, “fearless”-certainly explains why I could not understand the step’s value. I was not fearless! Indeed, fear, I have now realized, was one-if not the main-reason why I could not see it from a more positive angle.
Targeted by and prayed upon by my para-alcoholic father, who never uttered a nuance about the origin of his own alcoholic upbringing, hardly left me with any sense of self-worth or -esteem. Indeed, picking myself apart now only led to the ever-expanding hole in my soul he already bored. Why, I wondered, would I want to make it any larger? What was the value in such a process? In fact, the more I probed it, the more I fell into it. This was supposed to be recovery?
Because we take personal criticism as a threat, which itself is one of the adult child traits, what value could there be to shining a spotlight on the flaws and inferiorities I am very aware I have and am ashamed of, but have gone to considerable lengths to conceal?
Back to my mind’s latest pass over the step. While I will touch upon fear again, what I have discovered is that viewing it from a new angle required my readiness to undertake it, which itself required a solid foundation built by the previous three steps.
“Foundation,” perhaps subconsciously, is an accurate analogy that sheds light on the fourth step’s purpose. I am reminded of those who purchase undervalued properties with the intention of renovating them with beautiful landscaping and high-end internal finishes in order to earn a profit. While painting a wall and installing a marble bathroom will certainly enhance the house’s cosmetic appeal, deeper inspections often reveal that flaws, such as basement wall cracks or crumbling subfloors, first need to be addressed to improve the building’s structural integrity before the visible enhancements can be made. Otherwise, it will rest on a weak, possibly deteriorating foundation.
Similarly, the structural integrity of my soul must first be restored before I can climb higher, and my character defects constitute my own cracked basement walls and crumbling subfloors. Alas, I have finally been able to see the value of this step.
I find some comfort in concluding, after an initial skim of my structural weaknesses, that most of my defects are byproducts of my chaotic, unsafe, and abusive upbringing. Having had a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance, short of God himself, I do not know how I, as a helpless child betrayed and attacked by my very parent, could have emerged otherwise.
And with the words “God” and “parent,” again perhaps subconsciously used in a single sentence, comes the opportunity to return to the concept of fear I promised I would discuss. By transposing the image of my earthly father on my eternal one, how could I embrace a step such as this? How could I identify my defects and turn them over to a force I equated with a figure like the Wizard of Oz who thundered, “THE GREAT OZ HAS SPOKEN” to meek and minute Dorothy in a tone that reverberated beyond the confines of the television set into my living room? And with the hopelessly uneven power plays I routinely experienced with my father, that is exactly where overwhelming interactions such as these took place.
Therein is the second reason why I had been unable to see the value of this step. I first needed to see God as the opposite to, and not composite of, my earthly father, one who is loving and trusting, not damaging and demeaning.
The key to approaching this step is therefore being ready to understand it and see it in the proper light, one that is ultimately beneficial and not additionally detrimental. The right perspective for me entails the co-effort with God of identifying the very obstacles that prevent me from rising toward Him so that He can remove their barriers and restore me to wholeness.
Architects, incidentally, call this structural integrity.