In the fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous, we’re asked to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of ourselves. I’ve been to AA meetings all over, and while every group runs itself a little differently, one thing that seems constant across all groups is this: the fourth step brings up a lot of fear and apprehension for people. It’s that journey inside: Everyone seems terrified about what they might find.
The fears of addicts seem remarkable to me especially if you consider the ups and downs of an average day in the life of an addict. When I was using drugs, someone was always after me. I remember one night, a guy—let’s call him Bill—pulled over to give me a ride. It was early evening on a cold winter night, and I was hitchhiking to a small neighboring town, to purchase Dilaudid from a paraplegic named Bobby, who occasionally got prescriptions that he resold. I stood on the berm of the road and cautiously eyed Bill’s car. A big husky guy, he had a job at the mill, and was usually flush with cash. I had a vague memory of getting the best of him in a drug deal, but I couldn’t remember how we had left it. Why had he stopped? I grinned winningly to see what he’d do. He rolled his eyes and said something like—Get in, ya fuck. We’re blockin’ traffic. Sounded friendly enough to me, so I dove into the front seat. Right off, he asked if I were headed up to Bobby’s. I said no, not really sure why I had bothered to lie. He drove us into no man’s land, a deserted stretch of road that runs alongside the mill. A mile or so along the isolated road, he pulled off to the side and brought the car to a stop. I thought maybe he was having car trouble, but then he leaned his fat, sloppy body weight against me and put his hands around my throat. I said something like, “Jesus, Bill.” And he said he was certain I was going to Bobby’s and that he wanted all my money. I coughed pitifully, not really needing to, but hoping the sound of pitiful coughing might make him feel bad enough to remove his hands from around my neck. I never seriously considered handing over my cash. Headlights from a passing car lit up the cab, and Bill gazed into the rearview until the lights passed, plunging us back into darkness again. “What are you going to do with the body?” I croaked.
I don’t remember feeling scared. If anything, I felt gratitude I had lied about my destination. That lie had offered me just enough plausible deniability to bolster my own resolve, just enough doubt to ward off Bill’s attack.
But that’s not courage. For courage, you have to feel fear and move forward anyhow. Recovery demands courage. In chapter 4 of Dopefiend, I wanted to show the kinds of things that did terrify me. Looking for work, asking for help. Trying to convince my family to take one more bet on me. None of it was nearly as life threatening as my ride through no man’s land with Bill, but all of it was absolutely terrifying at the time. I was trying to hammer out a completely different way of being me in the world. Fortunately for me, I had a lot of help.
That night in no man’s land, after he gave up trying to rob me, Bill beat on his steering wheel in disgust. “You’re going to let me choke you,” he said, “rather than give me your money!?” He said this with so much revulsion and disbelief, I found it amusing, but I did not smile.
Holding back the money from Bill wasn’t hard. What’s hard is standing up to my own fears and doing what needs to be done. And that’s the sort of thing that requires courage.
Reading group questions for Chapter 4:
- What is the relationship between fear and courage? Can you have one without the other?
- The young agent in the bursar’s office requests tax records from the DOPEFIEND, which can only come from the DOPEFIEND’s mother. The DOPEFIEND describes this as a “deal breaker” for receiving financial aid from the school. Is this reluctance to ask his mother for financial records about fear?
- What feels “life threatening” about doing a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves? What kind of death do we fear in sobriety? Why don’t we feel more fear for our life while in the throes of addiction?