Step Four: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”
Steps 1 through 3 of the Twelve Steps are things that mostly happened in our heads and with our words. We “admitted we were powerless”, we “came to believe”, and we “made a decision”. These are critical tasks and it would be nearly impossible to recover from addiction without doing these on a daily basis. But there’s not a whole lot of action involved. Sure, we may have written out a first step or said the third step prayer, but to this point, we haven’t done much of anything. Step 4 is where that all changes. In fact, the beginning of this section of the Big Book says “next we launched out on a course of vigorous action…”. Now we’re talkin’!
What does a Step 4 look like?
I have seen two different forms for a Step 4. The first is a long document that follows the items outlined in the Big Book. The second is a worksheet; taking the same content and putting it in an easier-to-complete worksheet form. Either way is perfectly fine as long as it meets the criteria of “searching and fearless.” I believe this means we spend a lot of time thinking and writing. I believe it means we directly acknowledge the things that we have done and the motivations behind them. I believe it means we don’t sugarcoat our behavior. I believe it means we don’t intentionally leave anything out. Of course there will be things that are left out unintentionally, especially if we’ve been dealing with our addiction for many years. Even with a very deliberate and thorough process, very few of us can remember all of the details of our lives. The point is that we do our best, and if something comes to mind later that we missed earlier, we write it down.
What is in a Step 4?
At first glance, we might think that a Step 4 is simply all of the things that we did as part of our addiction. But there is a lot more to it than that. The Big Book talks about looking at our lives from several different angles and I believe these are critical to a complete inventory. I recommend to my sponsees and others in our fellowship to include the following sections in a written Step 4:
Early in my recovery, I found talk of resentments surprising. I didn’t think my problem had anything to do with resentments – until I started writing them down. As I worked my 4th step I started to realize that I actually did harbor a lot of resentments. More often than not, they turned out to be the driving force behind my behavior. The Big Book says that “this business of resentment is infinitely grave…when harboring such feeling, we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit…the insanity of [our addiction] returns…” After identifying these resentments in Step 4, the rest of the steps help us to learn how to watch out for resentments and to deal with them in healthier ways so that we can experience a life of serenity.
Just because we start our inventory with our resentments, this does not mean we blame others for our behavior. The Big Book goes on to say “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?” This is the part of our inventory where we list the things in our lives where we have hurt others with our selfishness and dishonesty. And this list should not be limited to just sexual acting out – most of us have hurt people in other ways as well. These items should also make the list. This is not a time to sugarcoat our actions either. We don’t need to qualify or put adjectives on the items on this list. In the words of Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am!” Finally, because thinking through the ways we have hurt people can bring up many painful memories and emotions, it is important to remember that you are not the sum of your bad behavior. You have done a lot of good things in your life too. And these should go on the list as well. It is a complete inventory, after all.
I have heard it said that most of what we fear never comes to pass. Yet many of us spend a lot of time in worry and fear. While our resentments keep us tethered to the past, our fears tether us to uncertainty about the future. And serenity cannot be found in either the past or the future. Serenity is found by coming to terms with the present, in whatever form it takes. Listing our fears in Step 4 and learning to deal with them in the rest of the steps is a major component of having a successful recovery.
Final Thoughts on Step 4
It is often said that recovery is “simple, but not easy”. And while the outline above is fairly simple, there is nothing easy about it. Many people get hung up on Step 4 and never complete it because of the amount and the difficulty of the work involved. But if it is important to you to get healthy and the 12 Steps is the path you choose, it is worth the effort. Put lots of prayer and thought and effort into the lists described above. Set aside some time each day to work on this until it is finished. This is the beginning of a “vigorous course of action” that will bring us the spiritual awakening described in the Step 9 promises. We will be closer to God than ever before, we will be able to look our fellow man in the eye, and we will have peace and serenity we never knew was possible.
May you find spiritual health, emotional health, and physical health today my friends!
-A grateful member of the Awaken community
Awaken is a Birmingham, AL based ministry walking with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders who have been impacted by sexual brokenness & addiction. Our goal is to help people experience hope, connection, and healing through the gospel and the recovery process. If you want to know more about Awaken or our resources, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!