I’m putting steps 4 and 5 together as step 4 is pretty secular to start with. As I’ll show, so is step 5 but not entirely. As I’ve been writing these out my goal has been to translate the ‘god stuff’ into spiritual material that we, as atheists, can deal with and utilize.
I consider step 4 to be the first of the steps that directly affect the psyche in the ‘behavioural therapy’-ish way that the steps work according to me. In terms of interpretation, I’ll offer very little on step 4. I’ll suggest anyone doing the steps and having trouble with not knowing enough. read the 12 and 12. It covers more than I thought it did around my concerns and questions. It even has some good material on atheism in the first three steps.
My step 4 in AA wasn’t my first. I had been in OA and Al-anon as well and done step work in those programs as a sort of mystic theist. I found doing step 4 as an atheist to be easier as I didn’t have the heavy burden of my gods judgement on me. I was just making a list so I could figure out what went wrong.
The process of step 4 is well documented so I’ll just mention the part that stuck out for me. We now know that writing something down and looking it forces it out through the language centers of our brains and back in again. In a very real way, it changes our perception. This alone started the process of healing for me no matter what I was inventorying on. When it was written down it seemed like I could work on it and felt less overwhelming. The process also allowed stuff to the surface that just thinking about it a lot couldn’t access.
Step 5 seems obvious. Just cut ‘God’ out right? To my mind this is short sited. It’s a trick to start with because God would already know. Why admit to him? Once again this is a spiritual tactic. I had to read the 12 and 12 on step 5to start to understand what they were stabbing at. I’d encourage anyone who’s reading this to read that as well.
I think the god part of this step is about being willing to face that we have had problems. And to be real about that with the people we know. Not to disclose our entire inventory to everyone we meet, or even anyone beyond our sponsor. This is where being an atheist wasn’t enough for me, and my humanism had to begin. I started to see myself as one among many and I was doing my step 4 and 5 to try to be a useful part of my human community again. To fix and repair my warpped psyche. Now at the time I did it I did it for entirely selfish reasons. But, as with many actions taken in AA, the right action was what was important, attitudes were to come later.
So, other than being honest with myself and disclosing to another my inventory on how and why I had drank, it was important to integrate my inventory into my belief system. For me this meant accepting that I was taking a painful and emotionally difficult step to do something that was healthy and healing rather than numbing and escapist. And looking back, that was a huge change in and of itself.