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had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice
these principles in all our affairs."
The joy of living is the theme of A.A.'s Twelfth Step, and
action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our
fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience
the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin to
practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives
so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety.
When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it
is really talking about the kind of love that has no price
tag on it.
Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing all
the Steps, we have each found something called a spiritual
awakening. To new A.A.'s, this often seems like a very dubious
and improbable state of affairs. "What do you mean
when you talk about a `spiritual awakening'?" they
there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as
there are people who have had them. But certainly each genuine
one has something in common with all the others. And these
things which they have in common are not too hard to understand.
When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most
important meaning of it is that he has now become able to
do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before
on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been
granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness
and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he
is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end,
not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real
sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold
of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he
had hitherto denied himself. He finds himself in possession
of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace
of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite
incapable. What he has received is a free gift, and yet
usually, at least in some small part, he has made himself
ready to receive it.
manner of making ready to receive this gift lies in the
practice of the Twelve Steps in our program. So let's consider
briefly what we have been trying to do up to this point:
One showed us an amazing paradox: We found that we were
totally unable to be rid of the alcohol obsession until
we first admitted that we were powerless over it. In Step
Two we saw that since we could not restore ourselves to
sanity, some Higher Power must necessarily do so if we were
to survive. Consequently, in Step Three we turned our will
and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
For the time being, we who were atheist or agnostic discovered
that our own group, or A.A. as a whole, would suffice as
a higher power. Beginning with Step Four, we commenced to
search out the things in ourselves which had brought us
to physical, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy. We made a
searching and fearless moral inventory. Looking at Step
Five, we decided that an inventory, taken alone, wouldn't
be enough. We knew we would have to quit the deadly business
of living alone with our conflicts, and in honesty confide
these to God and another human being. At Step Six, many
of us balked--for the practical reason that we did not wish
to have all our defects of character removed, because we
still loved some of them too much. Yet we knew we had to
make a settlement with the fundamental principle of Step
Six. So we decided that while we still had some flaws of
character that we could not yet relinquish, we ought nevertheless
to quit our stubborn, rebellious hanging on to them. We
said to ourselves, "This I cannot do today, perhaps,
but I can stop crying out `No, never!' " Then, in Step
Seven, we humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings such
as He could or would under the conditions of the day we
asked. In Step Eight, we continued our housecleaning, for
we saw that we were not only in conflict with ourselves,
but also with people and situations in the world in which
we lived. We had to begin to make our peace, and so we listed
the people we had harmed and became willing to set things
right. We followed this up in Step Nine by making direct
amends to those concerned, except when it would injure them
or other people. By this time, at Step Ten, we had begun
to get a basis for daily living, and we keenly realized
that we would need to continue taking personal inventory,
and that when we were in the wrong we ought to admit it
promptly. In Step Eleven we saw that if a Higher Power had
restored us to sanity and had enabled us to live with some
peace of mind in a sorely troubled world, then such a Higher
Power was worth knowing better, by as direct contact as
possible. The persistent use of meditation and prayer, we
found, did open the channel so that where there had been
a trickle, there now was a river which led to sure power
and safe guidance from God as we were increasingly better
able to understand Him.
practicing these Steps, we had a spiritual awakening about
which finally there was no question. Looking at those who
were only beginning and still doubted themselves, the rest
of us were able to see the change setting in. From great
numbers of such experiences, we could predict that the doubter
who still claimed that he hadn't got the "spiritual
angle," and who still considered his well-loved A.A.
group the higher power, would presently love God and call
Him by name.
what about the rest of the Twelfth Step? The wonderful energy
it releases and the eager action by which it carries our
message to the next suffering alcoholic and which finally
translates the Twelve Steps into action upon all our affairs
is the payoff, the magnificent reality, of Alcoholics Anonymous.
the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards as he tries
to help his brother alcoholic, the one who is even blinder
than he. This is indeed the kind of giving that actually
demands nothing. He does not expect his brother sufferer
to pay him, or even to love him. And then he discovers that
by the divine paradox of this kind of giving he has found
his own reward, whether his brother has yet received anything
or not. His own character may still be gravely defective,
but he somehow knows that God has enabled him to make a
mighty beginning, and he senses that he stands at the edge
of new mysteries, joys, and experiences of which he had
never even dreamed.
every A.A. member declares that no satisfaction has been
deeper and no joy greater than in a Twelfth Step job well
done. To watch the eyes of men and women open with wonder
as they move from darkness into light, to see their lives
quickly fill with new purpose and meaning, to see whole
families reassembled, to see the alcoholic outcast received
back into his community in full citizenship, and above all
to watch these people awaken to the presence of a loving
God in their lives--these things are the substance of what
we receive as we carry A.A.'s message to the next alcoholic.
is this the only kind of Twelfth Step work. We sit in A.A.
meetings and listen, not only to receive something ourselves,
but to give the reassurance and support which our presence
can bring. If our turn comes to speak at a meeting, we again
try to carry A.A.'s message. Whether our audience is one
or many, it is still Twelfth Step work. There are many opportunities
even for those of us who feel unable to speak at meetings
or who are so situated that we cannot do much face-to-face
Twelfth Step work. We can be the ones who take on the unspectacular
but important tasks that make good Twelfth Step work possible,
perhaps arranging for the coffee and cake after the meetings,
where so many skeptical, suspicious newcomers have found
confidence and comfort in the laughter and talk. This is
Twelfth Step work in the very best sense of the word. "Freely
ye have received; freely give..." is the core of this
part of Step Twelve.
may often pass through Twelfth Step experiences where we
will seem to be temporarily off the beam. These will appear
as big setbacks at the time, but will be seen later as stepping-stones
to better things. For example, we may set our hearts on
getting a particular person sobered up, and after doing
all we can for months, we see him relapse. Perhaps this
will happen in a succession of cases, and we may be deeply
discouraged as to our ability to carry A.A.'s message. Or
we may encounter the reverse situation, in which we are
highly elated because we seem to have been successful. Here
the temptation is to become rather possessive of these newcomers.
Perhaps we try to give them advice about their affairs which
we aren't really competent to give or ought not give at
all. Then we are hurt and confused when the advice is rejected,
or when it is accepted and brings still greater confusion.
By a great deal of ardent Twelfth Step work we sometimes
carry the message to so many alcoholics that they place
us in a position of trust. They make us, let us say, the
group's chairman. Here again we are presented with the temptation
to overmanage things, and sometimes this results in rebuffs
and other consequences which are hard to take.
in the longer run we clearly realize that these are only
the pains of growing up, and nothing but good can come from
them if we turn more and more to the entire Twelve Steps
for the answers.
comes the biggest question yet. What about the practice
of these principles in all our affairs? Can we love the
whole pattern of living as eagerly as we do the small segment
of it we discover when we try to help other alcoholics achieve
sobriety? Can we bring the same spirit of love and tolerance
into our sometimes deranged family lives that we bring to
our A.A. group? Can we have the same kind of confidence
and faith in these people who have been infected and sometimes
crippled by our own illness that we have in our sponsors?
Can we actually carry the A.A. spirit into our daily work?
Can we meet our newly recognized responsibilities to the
world at large? And can we bring new purpose and devotion
to the religion of our choice? Can we find a new joy of
living in trying to do something about all these things?
how shall we come to terms with seeming failure or success?
Can we now accept and adjust to either without despair or
pride? Can we accept poverty, sickness, loneliness, and
bereavement with courage and serenity? Can we steadfastly
content ourselves with the humbler, yet sometimes more durable,
satisfactions when the brighter, more glittering achievements
are denied us?
A.A. answer to these questions about living is "Yes,
all of these things are possible." We know this because
we see monotony, pain, and even calamity turned to good
use by those who keep on trying to practice A.A.'s Twelve
Steps. And if these are facts of life for the many alcoholics
who have recovered in A.A., they can become the facts of
life for many more.
course all A.A.'s, even the best, fall far short of such
achievements as a consistent thing. Without necessarily
taking that first drink, we often get quite far off the
beam. Our troubles sometimes begin with indifference. We
are sober and happy in our A.A. work. Things go well at
home and office. We naturally congratulate ourselves on
what later proves to be a far too easy and superficial point
of view. We temporarily cease to grow because we feel satisfied
that there is no need for all of A.A.'s Twelve Steps for
us. We are doing fine on a few of them. Maybe we are doing
fine on only two of them, the First Step and that part of
the Twelfth where we "carry the message." In A.A.
slang, that blissful state is known as "two-stepping."
And it can go on for years.
best-intentioned of us can fall for the "two-step"
illusion. Sooner or later the pink cloud stage wears off
and things go disappointingly dull. We begin to think that
A.A. doesn't pay off after all. We become puzzled and discouraged.
perhaps life, as it has a way of doing, suddenly hands us
a great big lump that we can't begin to swallow, let alone
digest. We fail to get a worked-for promotion. We lose that
good job. Maybe there are serious domestic or romantic difficulties,
or perhaps that boy we thought God was looking after becomes
a military casualty.
then? Have we alcoholics in A.A. got, or can we get, the
resources to meet these calamities which come to so many?
These were problems of life which we could never face up
to. Can we now, with the help of God as we understand Him,
handle them as well and as bravely as our nonalcoholic friends
often do? Can we transform these calamities into assets,
sources of growth and comfort to ourselves and those about
us? Well, we surely have a chance if we switch from "two-stepping"
to "twelve-stepping," if we are willing to receive
that grace of God which can sustain and strengthen us in
basic troubles are the same as everyone else's, but when
an honest effort is made "to practice these principles
in all our affairs," well-grounded A.A.'s seem to have
the ability, by God's grace, to take these troubles in stride
and turn them into demonstrations of faith. We have seen
A.A.'s suffer lingering and fatal illness with little complaint,
and often in good cheer. We have sometimes seen families
broken apart by misunderstanding, tensions, or actual infidelity,
who are reunited by the A.A. way of life.
the earning power of most A.A.'s is relatively high, we
have some members who never seem to get on their feet moneywise,
and still others who encounter heavy financial reverses.
Ordinarily we see these situations met with fortitude and
most people, we have found that we can take our big lumps
as they come. But also like others, we often discover a
greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous problems
of life. Our answer is in still more spiritual development.
Only by this means can we improve our chances for really
happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually, we
find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to
undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for emotional security
and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance,
and for family satisfactions--all these have to be tempered
and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction of
instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives. If
we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the
horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment.
But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first--
then and only then do we have a real chance.
we come into A.A., if we go on growing, our attitudes and
actions toward security--emotional security and financial
security--commence to change profoundly. Our demand for
emotional security, for our own way, had constantly thrown
us into unworkable relations with other people. Though we
were sometimes quite unconscious of this, the result always
had been the same. Either we had tried to play God and dominate
those about us, or we had insisted on being overdependent
upon them. Where people had temporarily let us run their
lives as though they were still children, we had felt very
happy and secure ourselves. But when they finally resisted
or ran away, we were bitterly hurt and disappointed. We
blamed them, being quite unable to see that our unreasonable
demands had been the cause.
we had taken the opposite tack and had insisted, like infants
ourselves, that people protect and take care of us or that
the world owed us a living, then the result had been equally
unfortunate. This often caused the people we had loved most
to push us aside or perhaps desert us entirely. Our disillusionment
had been hard to bear. We couldn't imagine people acting
that way toward us. We had failed to see that though adult
in years we were still behaving childishly, trying to turn
everybody--friends, wives, husbands, even the world itself--into
protective parents. We had refused to learn the very hard
lesson that overdependence upon people is unsuccessful because
all people are fallible, and even the best of them will
sometimes let us down, especially when our demands for attention
we made spiritual progress, we saw through these fallacies.
It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally
secure among grown-up people, we would have to put our lives
on a give-and-take basis; we would have to develop the sense
of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around
us. We saw that we would need to give constantly of ourselves
without demands for repayment. When we persistently did
this we gradually found that people were attracted to us
as never before. And even if they failed us, we could be
understanding and not too seriously affected.
we developed still more, we discovered the best possible
source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found
that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and
love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else
would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn't very
well play God to our fellows nor would we feel the urge
wholly to rely on human protection and care. These were
the new attitudes that finally brought many of us an inner
strength and peace that could not be deeply shaken by the
shortcomings of others or by any calamity not of our own
new outlook was, we learned, something especially necessary
to us alcoholics. For alcoholism had been a lonely business,
even though we had been surrounded by people who loved us.
But when self-will had driven everybody away and our isolation
had become complete, it caused us to play the big shot in
cheap barrooms and then fare forth alone on the street to
depend upon the charity of passersby. We were still trying
to find emotional security by being dominating or dependent
upon others. Even when our fortunes had not ebbed that much
and we nevertheless found ourselves alone in the world,
we still vainly tried to be secure by some unhealthy kind
of domination or dependence. For those of us who were like
that, A.A. had a very special meaning. Through it we begin
to learn right relations with people who understand us;
we don't have to be alone any more.
married folks in A.A. have very happy homes. To a surprising
extent, A.A. has offset the damage to family life brought
about by years of alcoholism. But just like all other societies,
we do have sex and marital problems, and sometimes they
are distressingly acute. Permanent marriage breakups and
separations, however, are unusual in A.A. Our main problem
is not how we are to stay married; it is how to be more
happily married by eliminating the severe emotional twists
that have so often stemmed from alcoholism.
every sound human being experiences, at some time in life,
a compelling desire to find a mate of the opposite sex with
whom the fullest possible union can be made --spiritual,
mental, emotional, and physical. This mighty urge is the
root of great human accomplishments, a creative energy that
deeply influences our lives. God fashioned us that way.
So our question will be this: How, by ignorance, compulsion,
and self-will, do we misuse this gift for our own destruction?
We A.A. cannot pretend to offer full answers to age-old
perplexities, but our own experience does provide certain
answers that work for us.
alcoholism strikes, very unnatural situations may develop
which work against marriage partnership and compatible union.
If the man is affected, the wife must become the head of
the house, often the breadwinner. As matters get worse,
the husband becomes a sick and irresponsible child who needs
to be looked after and extricated from endless scrapes and
impasses. Very gradually, and usually without any realization
of the fact, the wife is forced to become the mother of
an erring boy. And if she had a strong maternal instinct
to begin with, the situation is aggravated. Obviously not
much partnership can exist under these conditions. The wife
usually goes on doing the best she knows how, but meanwhile
the alcoholic alternately loves and hates her maternal care.
A pattern is thereby established that may take a lot of
undoing later on. Nevertheless, under the influence of A.A.'s
Twelve Steps, these situations are often set right. *
the distortion has been great, however, a long period of
patient striving may be necessary. After the husband joins
A.A., the wife may become discontented, even highly resentful
that Alcoholics Anonymous has done the very thing that all
her years of devotion had failed to do. Her husband may
become so wrapped up in A.A. and his new friends that he
is inconsiderately away from home more than when he drank.
Seeing her unhappiness, he recommends A.A.'s Twelve Steps
and tries to teach her how to live. She naturally feels
that for years she has made a far better job of living than
he has. Both of them blame each other and ask when their
marriage is ever going to be happy again. They may even
begin to suspect it had never been any good in the first
of course, can be so impossibly damaged that a separation
may be necessary. But those cases are the unusual ones.
The alcoholic, realizing what his wife has endured, and
now fully understanding how much he himself did to damage
her and his children, nearly always takes up his marriage
responsibilities with a willingness to repair what he can
and to accept what he can't. He persistently tries all of
A.A.'s Twelve Steps in his home, often with fine results.
At this point he firmly but lovingly commences to behave
like a partner instead of like a bad boy. And above all
he is finally convinced that reckless romancing is not a
way of life for him.
has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and are in
a position to do so. Some marry fellow A.A.'s. How do they
come out? On the whole these marriages are very good ones.
Their common suffering as drinkers, their common interest
in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance such unions.
It is only where "boy meets girl on A.A. campus,"
and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may develop.
The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.'s and long
enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual,
mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking.
They need to be as sure as possible that no deep-lying emotional
handicap in either will be likely to rise up under later
pressures to cripple them. The considerations are equally
true and important for the A.A.'s who marry "outside"
A.A. With clear understanding and right, grown-up attitudes,
very happy results do follow.
what can be said of many A.A. members who, for a variety
of reasons, cannot have a family life? At first many of
these feel lonely, hurt, and left out as they witness so
much domestic happiness about them. If they cannot have
this kind of happiness, can A.A. offer them satisfactions
of similar worth and durability? Yes--whenever they try
hard to seek them out. Surrounded by so many A.A. friends,
these so-called loners tell us they no longer feel alone.
In partnership with others--women and men--they can devote
themselves to any number of ideas, people, and constructive
projects. Free of marital responsibilities, they can participate
in enterprises which would be denied to family men and women.
We daily see such members render prodigies of service, and
receive great joys in return.
the possession of money and material things was concerned,
our outlook underwent the same revolutionary change. With
a few exceptions, all of us had been spendthrifts. We threw
money about in every direction with the purpose of pleasing
ourselves and impressing other people. In our drinking time,
we acted as if the money supply was inexhaustible, though
between binges we'd sometimes go to the other extreme and
become almost miserly. Without realizing it we were just
accumulating funds for the next spree. Money was the symbol
of pleasure and self-importance. When our drinking had become
much worse, money was only an urgent requirement which could
supply us with the next drink and the temporary comfort
of oblivion it brought.
entering A.A., these attitudes were sharply reversed, often
going much too far in the opposite direction. The spectacle
of years of waste threw us into panic. There simply wouldn't
be time, we thought, to rebuild our shattered fortunes.
How could we ever take care of those awful debts, possess
a decent home, educate the kids, and set something by for
old age? Financial importance was no longer our principal
aim; we now clamored for material security. Even when we
were well reestablished in our business, these terrible
fears often continued to haunt us. This made us misers and
penny pinchers all over again. Complete financial security
we must have--or else. We forgot that most alcoholics in
A.A. have an earning power considerably above average; we
forgot the immense goodwill of our brother A.A.'s who were
only too eager to help us to better jobs when we deserved
them; we forgot the actual or potential financial insecurity
of every human being in the world. And, worst of all, we
forgot God. In money matters we had faith only in ourselves,
and not too much of that.
all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance.
When a job still looked like a mere means of getting money
rather than an opportunity for service, when the acquisition
of money for financial independence looked more important
than a right dependence upon God, we were still the victims
of unreasonable fears. And these were fears which would
make a serene and useful existence, at any financial level,
as time passed we found that with the help of A.A.'s Twelve
Steps we could lose those fears, no matter what our material
prospects were. We could cheerfully perform humble labor
without worrying about tomorrow. If our circumstances happened
to be good, we no longer dreaded a change for the worse,
for we had learned that these troubles could be turned into
great values. It did not matter too much what our material
condition was, but it did matter what our spiritual condition
was. Money gradually became our servant and not our master.
It became a means of exchanging love and service with those
about us. When, with God's help, we calmly accepted our
lot, then we found we could live at peace with ourselves
and show others who still suffered the same fears that they
could get over them, too. We found that freedom from fear
was more important than freedom from want.
here take note of our improved outlook upon the problems
of personal importance, power, ambition, and leadership.
These were reefs upon which many of us came to shipwreck
during our drinking careers.
every boy in the United States dreams of becoming our President.
He wants to be his country's number one man. As he gets
older and sees the impossibility of this, he can smile good-naturedly
at his childhood dream. In later life he finds that real
happiness is not to be found in just trying to be a number
one man, or even a first-rater in the heartbreaking struggle
for money, romance, or self-importance. He learns that he
can be content as long as he plays well whatever cards life
deals him. He's still ambitious, but not absurdly so, because
he can now see and accept actual reality. He's willing to
stay right size.
not so with alcoholics. When A.A. was quite young, a number
of eminent psychologists and doctors made an exhaustive
study of a good-sized group of so-called problem drinkers.
The doctors weren't trying to find how different we were
from one another; they sought to find whatever personality
traits, if any, this group of alcoholics had in common.
They finally came up with a conclusion that shocked the
A.A. members of that time. These distinguished men had the
nerve to say that most of the alcoholics under investigation
were still childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose.
we alcoholics did resent that verdict! We would not believe
that our adult dreams were often truly childish. And considering
the rough deal life had given us, we felt it perfectly natural
that we were sensitive. As to our grandiose behavior, we
insisted that we had been possessed of nothing but a high
and legitimate ambition to win the battle of life.
the years since, however, most of us have come to agree
with those doctors. We have had a much keener look at ourselves
and those about us. We have seen that we were prodded by
unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a life business
of winning fame, money, and what we thought was leadership.
So false pride became the reverse side of that ruinous coin
marked "Fear." We simply had to be number one
people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In fitful
successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in defeat
we were bitter. If we didn't have much of any worldly success
we became depressed and cowed. Then people said we were
of the "inferior" type. But now we see ourselves
as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all been
abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had sat
on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness
or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth
and ability. The result was the same--all of us had nearly
perished in a sea of alcohol.
today, in well-matured A.A.'s, these distorted drives have
been restored to something like their true purpose and direction.
We no longer strive to dominate or rule those about us in
order to gain self-importance. We no longer seek fame and
honor in order to be praised. When by devoted service to
family, friends, business, or community we attract widespread
affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater
responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and
exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service.
True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and
not upon vain displays of power or glory.
more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be
specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be
useful and profoundly happy. Not many of us can be leaders
of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly rendered,
obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved
with God's help, the knowledge that at home or in the world
outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood
fact that in God's sight all human beings are important,
the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return,
the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in
self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer
be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in
God's scheme of things--these are the permanent and legitimate
satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp
and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could
possibly be substitutes. True ambition is not what we thought
it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully
and walk humbly under the grace of God.
little studies of A.A. Twelve Steps now come to a close.
We have been considering so many problems that it may appear
that A.A. consists mainly of racking dilemmas and troubleshooting.
To a certain extent, that is true. We have been talking
about problems because we are problem people who have found
a way up and out, and who wish to share our knowledge of
that way with all who can use it. For it is only by accepting
and solving our problems that we can begin to get right
with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him
who presides over us all. Understanding is the key to right
principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to
good living; therefore the joy of good living is the theme
of A.A. Twelfth Step.
each passing day of our lives, may every one of us sense
more deeply the inner meaning of A.A.'s simple prayer:
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the
difference. Thy will, not mine, be done."
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