Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

I am not just talking about “personal hygiene” here—-or even “mental hygiene” as the Veterans Administration folks used to call it. I am talking about steps that need to be taken for the miracle of recovery to occur. I cannot count the times I have heard people talk about the importance of completing AA’s 4th step in supporting recovery. This step involves taking a self-inventory. There are a variety of ways to work this step; many old-timers are “big book thumpers”  who insist it has to be done exactly as outlined in the “big book.” Personally, I think each person needs to find a way of working this step that works for him or her, and I tend to think it is as important to look at assets as it is defects.

After this inventory is completed the person working the steps is expected to talk it over with another human being and to eventually “make amends” for the past wrongs that were identified. Sadly, in terms of acknowledging wrongs done and making amends, the person working the steps is the one most often overlooked. I believe it is essential for both the inventory and amends to include both the harm done to oneself and forgiving oneself.

I just finished reading a meditation for the second time today. I want to share part of it with you. It is from John Kirvin’s Where Only Love Can Go: A Journey of the Soul into the Cloud of Unknowing (1996, pp. 122-123, Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press). This particular book is a book of meditations based on a book written anonymously in the thirteen hundreds. Text from this ancient book is still used today as one of the basic cornerstones of contemplative prayer.

One of Kirvin’s selections from this ancient text  addresses how we must start our spiritual journey by “cleansing our consciences, and enduring the pain of restoring creation to its proper place in our lives” (p. 122).  It basically says that those of us who have sinned will have a harder job of it, but that “God gives his  grace in a special way to the least of us and to the amazement of the world ” (p. 122).  It points out that many honored in this life will be pushed aside on judgment day while “some who are now despised and considered of no spiritual worth will take their place with the angels and saints.” It ends by admonishing us to “Judge no one in this life, least of all yourself” (p. 123).

Both anonymous works (The Cloud of Unknowing and AA’s big book) stress the importance of self-inventory and conscience cleansing. However, not judging yourself is not emphasized in the big book, and, in my opinion,  doing so is essential for true recovery to begin and to continue. Most of my professional life has focused on two things: teaching mental health nursing and promoting recovery in women who are alcoholics and addicts. Time and time again, one of the major obstacles women often encounter in their recovery journey is the difficulty they have in forgiving themselves. Our culture and most of our religious teachings does not stress the importance of self-forgiveness. But forgiving ourselves is an essential component of being able to begin to love ourselves as God does. After all,  if God through his grace can forgive us, who are we to question his judgment?

Enough said. Just because I am obsessing about a particular topic, it is not fair for me to keep going on and on about it. I hope your spiritual journey includes. self-forgiveness and a growing self-love. I am still working on it  one day at a time myself—–even after over thirty two years of recovery. May God bless and keep you.