Step Four

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Dear Fellow Travelers,

Step Four Essay

In keeping with the theme "By the Book" for this quarter, I have relied primarily on two books - "Alcoholics Anonymous," otherwise known as the Big Book, and "The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous," usually referred to as the 12 x 12. Although similar in nature, they do have their differences and nowhere are the differences as stark as it is in the presentation of Step Four. Due to their widely divergent formats, I am choosing to address them separately in this essay.

In addition to the difference in format between the two books concerning this step, there is one primary philosophical difference that I would like to mention before getting to the nuts and bolts of doing the inventory itself. This can best be summarized by the argument between taking a moral inventory and an immoral inventory. I will not advocate one over the other, so I will present both. The Big Book version will take up the largest part of this essay due to its more complex nature.

The Big Book's focus can be summed up in these words from page 64 of "How It Works," which says, "First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what defeated us, we considered its common manifestations." The remaining portion of the chapter describing the process for doing the 4th is aimed entirely at exploring and understanding these manifestations or flaws of character.

The 12 x 12 offers a different approach. It says "It is easier for most of us to proceed with step four if we take time to acknowledge our assets in addition to our shortcomings. No matter how many problems we have, each of us also has positive characteristics; it's important that we recognize them at some point during the inventory process." This listing of positive personal characteristics is not elicited anywhere in the Big Book in regard to doing the 4th step.

I.)  The Fourth Step - Big Book Format.

This step often seems quite confusing to the person studying it for the first time so I will make an effort to break it down into its smaller sub-steps and touch briefly on each one. I will letter them rather than number them so as not to create confusion with the numbering of the steps themselves.

a) "In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry."

This is a fairly straightforward set of directions. We pull out a piece of paper and write down anybody and everything that we are angry with or have a resentment against. Then next to each person listed, we write down what they did that has angered us. Nothing is too small to be considered important. This is called a "grudge list."

b) "On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our ambitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?"

In addition to these injuries listed, the examples given in the Big Book also include pride and fear.

c) "We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty."

This is where we really search back in our minds, making sure we haven't glossed over some petty anger or resentment we thought wasn't worth writing down.

d) "We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future.... We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend."

Remember where in the last step we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over? This is where we get to begin practicing it! As indicated in other parts of the Big Book, its not necessary for us to mean it or even to believe in the power of prayer - it only asks that we DO it.

e) "Referring to our list again. 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."

This takes a bit of practice, because it requires that we remove the "becauses" of our actions. For instance, instead of being able to say "I stole $20 from petty cash at work because my boss had short-changed me on my pay check," I can only say "I stole $20 from petty cash." The text also tells us that these things must be put down in black and white, meaning they must be written. In addition, it hints at the 8th Step, saying we should be willing to set these matters straight.

f) "We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them."

We list all of our fears here. Are we afraid of the dark? Do we fear our spouses are cheating on us? Are we afraid of dying of a terrible disease? Are we afraid of people of the opposite gender?

g) "Now about sex.... We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We subjected each relationship to this test - was it selfish or not?"

The text again says that these must be put down on paper and suggests, as it did previously, that we should be willing to make amends to those we had harmed, as long as we don't do still more harm in the process.

h) "To sum up about sex: We earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing. If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others."

Again, we are given the opportunity to act on that decision we made in Step Three and ask our HP for guidance and strength.

If you have completed the above directions, you have now completed the 4th Step as described in the Big Book. It concludes by saying "If you have already made a decision, and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, you have made a good beginning. That being so you have swallowed and digested some big chunks of truth about yourself."

II.)  The Fourth Step - 12 x 12 Format

Page 32 of the OA 12x12 says that how we do our 4th Step makes little difference, that what's important is simply that we do it. Even in regard to the previously discussed recommendation that we list our assets or positive character traits, it says that whether we do it at the beginning of the step or run a line down the middle of our paper with positives on one side and negatives on the other or alternate between one and the other makes no real difference.

To give the 4th Step some structure though, the 12x12 offers a series of questions for us to answer. These questions range from "Have we ever played a mean trick on someone?" and "Are we afraid to end existing relationships which are destructive or inappropriate for us?" to "Have we ever broken a confidence?" and "Have we ever taken anyone's life?" These questions and answers should be done by writing them, not simply reviewing them in our minds. I've heard that there are 107 questions in all, but I choose not to count them! : )

As in the Big Book version, it asks us to go back through to see if there may be anything we've forgotten and then meditate and be willing to face whatever truths about ourselves that our HP wants to show us.

In closing, I'd like to make a few comments about this step. Some of the things we've written down may be things we hoped we would never have to disclose to another human being. Most of us don't share these most shameful secrets in an open forum and instead share them only with our sponsors, and even then often only when doing our Step Five. I would advise against open disclosure of these things here on this loop unless you have discussed it with your sponsor first. Step Five, which we will discuss in detail next week, only asks us to share these things with ourselves, our HP, and ANOTHER human being, not several hundred! : ) Eventually, the shame some of us carry may be alleviated and we will willingly share these things in a way to help others who suffer from the same experiences, but that time may not yet be here. Please speak to your sponsors about these things before using self-disclosure.



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