“The idea that the Big Book and the 12&12 represent two different ways of doing Step 4 is widespread in the rooms of AA. Appearances would seem to support that. One book says to do an inventory of resentments and gives us the little three-column chart. The other doesn’t specify what defects to take inventory of, talks a lot about instincts, and instead of the little table, outlines a series of questions we should address in connection with those instincts.
The impression of difference is sustained by the fact that the two texts seem to inhabit two separate universes within the rooms. If we are having a Big Book meeting and discussing a Step, we will rarely bring in what the 12&12 has to say that might shed additional light on that Step, and vice versa if we are having a Step meeting using the 12&12.
We take the opposite approach in this book. We have good reason to. The Big Book is our founding text. But we need to remember that when it was published, Bill W. had less than four-and-a-half years sober and Dr. Bob about six months less than that.1 The rest of the group had even less, many of them much less. A lot more experience would accrue in subsequent years. The 12&12 was written more than a decade later to bring its lessons to the program of recovery.
Hence, if we are to benefit from the full range of early AA experience, we need to work with both our basic texts. As we do this with Step 4, we will find that the difference between the two texts is one of emphasis rather than of substance. The books complement rather than conflict with each other.
Big Book: Harms Done to Us
Returning to the Big Book, recall that its sample chart gives us two things (cf. Chapter 2: Big Book Sample, Table 1). One is a subject for an inventory. The other is a format for exploring that subject. The subject is resentment. That subject dictates the format. Resentment is a reaction to a perceived offense that makes us feel injured. Therefore, the format calls for the injured person to list the injuring parties (Column 1), the injuries (Column 2), and the injured or affected areas (Column 3). Resentment is a form of anger, and hence this second emotion is necessarily examined in terms of its connection to resentment and, similarly, as a reaction to a perceived hurt. . . .
All three emotions, in fact, are examined as responses to the injuries we perceive others have inflicted or threatened to inflict on us. Though our purpose is to examine the harms we have done to them, our point of departure is the harms they have done to us. That remains the governing framework for the entire inventory. Our wrongs are examined in relation to other people’s wrongs as they have affected us.
. . .
Having said all of that, it is nevertheless a fact that the sample itself centers on the experience of having been harmed and the three resulting emotions. It does not show how John has hurt the four people listed. Nor does it explore how John may have hurt people who may not have hurt him and who are therefore not listed, most obviously the woman he had an affair with. That would be Ms. X, the elephant in the room.
12&12: Harms Done By Us
This focus contrasts sharply with that of the 12&12. There Step 4 is mostly about the harms we have caused others, and multiple examples are given of what these may be. Little is said about others hurting us or about any resentments connected with those hurts. This, together with the lack of a specific subject and format for the proposed self-examination, contributes to the impression that the two books are presenting us with two different and perhaps even divergent ways of doing our inventory.
But they are not. What they are presenting instead are two different types of inventory. The Big Book focuses on an inventory organized around the harms done to us, the 12&12 on an inventory based on the harms done by us.
Both types involve our drinking past. In both we are examining our character and emotional defects as manifestations of self, and making a survey of our conduct with regards to the things we care most about in three broad areas: sex, security, and society. But in the Big Book sample we start by looking at how our concerns in these areas are affected by what other people do to us, while in the 12&12 we start from the outset by looking at how these concerns affect what we do to people. One book starts with our experience of having been hurt, the other with our experience of having done the hurting.
This is the first difference in emphasis. There is another. As regard the areas of sex, security, and society, the Big Book simply notes that these are the areas (“relationships,” “pocketbook,” “ambitions”) where we are most likely to be affected emotionally, that is, to perceive an injury or a threat of injury and thus to experience the emotions under scrutiny (anger, resentment, and fear). Its focus is not on how our concerns in these areas lead us to hurt those who have hurt us (though by implication it is clear that they do). Hence, it doesn’t list the harms John caused but only those which, in his view, others caused him. Its focus is primarily on how we look at our hurts and the people we blame for them. Its purpose is to give us a different outlook, a differing view of our situation, a change in perception that will help us to refocus on our own wrongs and relieve us of the most immediate and most troublesome emotions that our old way of seeing is causing us.
By contrast, the 12&12 focuses, not on how we look at our hurts, but more fundamentally on the concerns that shape the way we see them. Hence it concentrates on the “Affects” part of the Big Book sample, expounding on what is presented there as a simple, commonsense idea that requires no elaboration. It develops a conceptual explanation of our experience with regard to sex, security, and society, correlating it to instinctive drives and desires and expanding on the whole subject of our concerns in these areas. It discusses what some of these concerns are and links them directly to specific defects of character and emotion. It shows us how, as a result of these underlying concerns, we are the ones who do the threatening and the hurting, in the process hurting ourselves as well. Its purpose is to help us reorder our concerns so that we may not be led astray and seek to satisfy them in ways that can only cause harm.
Thus, one book helps us to change the way we see, the other the way we care. The two books work together because the way we see things is a function of the things we care about. Our defects of character and emotion are intimately connected with our seeing and caring. Our concerns and construals shape and in turn are shaped by those defects. To change ourselves we need to change both.
The two books work together also because our having been hurt is as much a part of our experience as our having hurt others. We need to look fully and fearlessly and in detail at both. For practical, psychological, and spiritual reasons, this can be done best by first examining each separately, one type of experience at a time. Hence the need for each type of inventory in Step 4: one based on the harms done to us, the other on the harms done by us.
. . .
We will label these two types of inventories Inventory Type A: Harm Done to Me, and Inventory Type B: Harm Done by Me. Note again that what we are doing is organizing the inventories around two different kinds of experience: those where we have been hurt and those where we have done the hurting. In some cases, the people involved may be different and we will do either type A or B. In others, they will be the same and we will need to do both. In either case, the inventory will always focus on ourselves, on our character and emotional defects and on the ways we view and value things in relation to those hurts and those defects.
. . .
The chapters that follow therefore present an extensive and systematic discussion of each of the six components of the inventory as shown in our modified versions of the Big Book sample. As noted, subsequent appendices feature guides for inventories type A and B as well as charts to help us work with the parts that deal with emotions, character defects, and corrective virtues.”
– From Part I: Taking Inventory, Chapter 3: The 12&12 Expansion, pp. 31–32, 34–35, 52
For more PTP4 Excerpts, please click on link.