Letters from the Executive Director

How I Did It: 49 Years of Recovery, Part 3

By October 24, 2018 June 12th, 2023 No Comments

By Cleveland Bell, Riverside House CEO

As we walk through some important factors that have helped me with my recovery over 49 years, we started by talking about why it’s so important to attend regular meetings, whether that’s AA, NA, or FA for you.

A big part of meetings is working through the 12 steps, which I very much recommend. Each step is important, but in my opinion, the 4th step is one of the most important ones.

The fourth step is all about taking a moral inventory of ourselves, and people who don’t work it well aren’t usually victorious in their journey. It’s a really difficult step because it causes us to look deep within, going through those hurts and hang-ups from over the years. It can be painful, but it’s important. In Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12 step recovery program, we go through one step per month for 12 months and then have a one-year meeting at the end. It’s always amazing when a person works those steps and you see them go from a cocoon to a butterfly over that period of a year.

In the AA room, I once met a college professor who asked me to be his sponsor. He had been clean for 10 years and had gone through the steps with a previous sponsor, but that person seemed to have more of a “12 steps in 12 days” mentality. When I did an assessment on the professor, I realized he hadn’t really done the work. We went through the steps again, paying particular attention to the fourth step. It probably took us about four months just for that one step. We found so many hidden hurts and pain. It was with this step that he finally made breakthroughs about who he really was and what was really going on in his life.

He realized he had been wearing a mask, living behind that mask, and believing everything that mask projected. He hadn’t been faithful to his spouse or honest to his family and friends. He had basically been living two lives even though he was clean and in recovery. The fourth step made him come face to face with all of this. After realizing that he had work to do and getting started on it, he began to step out from behind the mask and bring the two sides of his life into one true life that would be much better.

As is often the case, he couldn’t have figured it all out on his own. He needed a sponsor. He’s not unique here, because most people need help, so a sponsor to help guide you through the fourth step and all the others is important. The enemy gets you by making you think you’re the only one who’s gone through something or the only one who has experienced it. (Valium) But you’re not, and a guide will help you walk through that. They are also helpful because a lot of times we blame ourselves for whatever hardships we’ve come across over the years. It’s important to work through all of this as well, and a sponsor can often help you see things in a new way by providing a different perspective on what you’ve been through.


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