What’s a Turn-Around?

At our workshop earlier this month on steps 4 through 9, our speaker mentioned “turn-arounds” as being crucial to unlocking the power of step 4. She and others during meetings in our area have mentioned that this piece of the inventory has differed from other inventories they’ve done and ushered in a massive positive change for them. So what is this turn-around business? Why does it make such a big shift in our thinking? Let’s get some answers!

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous never mentions anything called a “turn-around,” but as our workshop leader explained, the concept is on page 67.

Referring to our list again [of resentments]. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.

This paragraph comes after the famous three columns on page 65 where we list who we were resentful at, the cause of that resentment, and that which it affected in our psyches. Page 67 tells us that we should go back to what we’ve already written in those first three columns and write about our part in each situation where we felt resentment. Even if we don’t think it’s our fault!

Now if it’s not our fault, how can we possibly have a part in it? Here’s how. A trick our addict minds play on us is to continually re-feel pains from long ago. When we re-feel that pain, we are more vulnerable to the suggestion of our disease to eat again. After all, the other person involved in the resentment isn’t thinking about it for us. We’re eating the poison we intend for the other person. We’re the ones letting the situation fester inside of us, aren’t we? That’s why the Big Book tells us on page 62 that “Our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves.”

So what exactly do we write about? We can keep it simple by using the four questions in the middle of that paragraph from page 67. We ask ourselves:

  • Where was I selfish?: What did want in the situation?
  • Where was I dishonest?: What’s the lie I told myself about this situation?
  • Where was I self-seeking?: What did I do to get what I want or to feel better?
  • Where was I afraid?: What fear was driving my thinking and conduct in this situation?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and deepest honesty about our real motivations and actions makes all the difference.

Let’s take an example from one of our member’s own inventories, with the names and circumstances changed to protect the identities of all involved. First we see the three columns as described on page 65:

I'm resentful at:     The Cause:         Affects My:
----------------      ---------          ----------
Bobby                 Made fun of me     Self-Esteem
                      during childhood   Personal Relations

Now here are the four turn-around questions.

Where was I...?
Selfish: I wanted to be accepted as I was.
Dishonest: I told myself a lie that I wasn't good enough.
Self-Seeking: I resented Bobby; later I made fun of him; I ate.
Afraid: I was afraid he was right about me, and that I wasn't good enough.

We might ask ourselves whether wanting to be accepted by others is selfish, and oddly enough, it can be. When we turn to the last question, we see that the motivation underlying this impulse for acceptance is fear! If Bobby had only been accepting, then I would have been good enough. The fear of our not being good enough motivates us to seek acceptance and then we feel pain when we don’t get what we want. So the lie about being not good enough is perpetuated, and it, in turn, gives license to eat and also to make fun of Bobby later as a way to feel better about the situation.

That’s the kind of mind bender our disease pulls on us all the time. We’re just so used to it that we can’t see the lies for what they are. That’s the power of the turn-around. That’s why it makes a huge difference. Once we can combine the recognition of this broken thinking with a sincere attempt to do our HP’s will via the rest of the steps, we can make progress by leaps and bounds. We no longer have to react to our worst thinking with self-loathing and self-destructive action. We can instead pause and ask our God for help as well as trusted OA friends. We can finally see that we are OK just like we are, and that we always were.

Notice also how short these answers are. The Big Book asks us to stick to facts, to make an objective inventory. Anything more than the barest facts allows our addict mind to start justifying our actions, telling us again the old stories that have led us to the food for so long.

And this is just a single example. We will have many, many situations to examine and, therefore, many opportunities for aha moments like these to be revealed to us through the steps. That is an important part of how our minds become untangled and restored to sanity.

So if you’ve wondered what a turn-around is, now you know. It may be known as the “fourth column,” by other phrases, or by no name at all. No matter what, however, it’s just examining our conduct the way the Big Book recommends: attentively, without self-judgment, and with our HP’s help.