Step Four

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.




Hi friends.

My name is Shlomo and I am a food addict and compulsive overeater. In our previous post on step 3 I posed a riddle: How do I know if I have taken step 3 properly?

My answer is simple. I have taken step 3 properly only when I am actually working the rest of the steps, since only then do I carry out the decision I made in step 3. So the first sign of taking a proper step 3 is beginning immediately to take step 4.

Let us see again how the Big Book puts it.

"Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our food was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.

"Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory. THIS WAS STEP FOUR." pages 63-64.

So there is no waiting between steps 3 and 4. We begin step 4 immediately after we take step 3.

I have to understand that the purpose of the steps is to make me experience a spiritual awakening. In order to achieve that, all the things in myself that block me from my H.P. have to be removed. Abstinence alone is not enough.

"Cessation of compulsive eating is but the first step away from a highly strained abnormal condition." BB page 122.

Abstinence is a very important first stage. We cannot recover without it. But in order to recover and be free of my obsession with food, I have to take all 12 steps, and continue to take steps 10-12 on a daily basis.

In order to remove the things that block me from H.P., I have to be aware of them and identify them first. That is what step 4 is all about. The Big Book compares it to a business inventory.

"A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values." BB page 64.

This example also makes clear some of the words in step 4:

Searching means fact-finding.
Fearless means fact- facing.
Moral means truthful.

In a business, the facts we seek are damaged or unsalable goods. Facing the facts means deciding what to do with them, which in that case, means getting rid of theses goods. And we have to do it truthfully without fooling ourselves.

After understanding this example we can more clearly understand what is meant by taking step 4.

"We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations." BB page 64.

Let me explain a few of the words and expressions here. Flaws in our makeup means our liabilities, or character defects, or shortcomings or wrongs. Those are all words that describe the same thing, which is our spiritual malady whose root is selfishness and self-centeredness, also expressed in our self will run riot.

Let us again have a look at how the Big Book describes our spiritual malady. Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self- seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt." pages 61-62.

"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the compulsive eater is an extreme example of self-will run riot, ..." page 62.

You may have noticed that I repeat some of the things I have written in my previous posts. There is a purpose behind those repetitions. As a compulsive overeater I know that I never used to listen to anyone, since I thought I knew what they were going to say anyway, and I thought of my answer instead of listening. So sometimes it took three or more repetitions till I got what the other person was saying, if I went to the trouble of listening occasionally. Maybe you don't need those repetitions but I sure do.

Let us now return to our step 4 discussion.

An old-timer once told me that all I needed to take step 4 was to get a paper, get a pen and get honest. I tried doing that and got nowhere, I just could not think of anything to write about.

I also tried taking step 4 by answering the 170 step 4 questions, that have become quite popular in our fellowship. Actually I did all the steps by the question and answer method used by OA-HOW.

It didn't have any real effect on me either. Then I took step 4 by answering the 75 questions in the OA 12&12. This too did nothing for me. I know there are people in OA who worked step 4 by the question and answer method and it worked for them, but it didn't work for me. Maybe I was not honest enough, but all I could conclude from my answers was that the people and the world around me were treating me very badly and it was all their fault.

Then I had a sponsor who told me to go to the source. He explained it as follows : At the source of a river the water is cleanest. The further you go from the source the more polluted the water becomes. So do what the people who wrote the Big Book did. They guaranteed that if you do exactly as they did you will get the same results, which were a spiritual awakening and the removal of the obsession.

I found out that my sponsor was right, at least as far as I was concerned. When I took step 4 according to the method of the Big Book, I got a very clear picture of the things that blocked me from H.P., and then by working the rest of the steps I got clear enough of them to have a spiritual awakening.

To me the difference between taking step 4 by the question and answer methods, and by the Big Book method, was like the difference between fishing with a rod and hoping that with luck I will get a fish or two, and fishing with a large net and getting a whole load of fish. The fish here were my liabilities (character defects) that were blocking me from contact with H.P.

When I continued taking the steps I found out something else too. Steps 4-9 taken the Big Book way, gave me tools that could be used in my daily work of steps 10 and 11, since step 10 is essentially steps 4-9 applied on the spot to deal with things that happen during the day. And part of step 11 is a daily review at night, which also consists of steps 4-9.

I didn't get such tools from the question and answer methods of doing step 4. This does not mean that you cannot take step 4 by the question and answer method. It just means that for me the most effective quick and useful way was to take step four according to the Big Book.

There are also other methods of taking step 4. One of them is a liabilities and assets list, which was quite popular in the early days of A.A, and was used quite successfully by Dr. Bob, the A.A cofounder, who sponsored about 5000 people. I took step 4 this way too. As you can see I was quite obsessive about it.

But, still, I like the Big Book's way best. It is what I use on a daily basis too, and it is the way I sponsor.

There are a lot of variations on the Big Book method too, and probably there will be some purists who will say that what I do is not exactly the Big Book method as they understand it. That is fine with me. I don't claim to be an expert on anything, just a compulsive overeater and food addict who shares on what works best for him. This is the only thing I can do in these posts.

The Big Book starts us on the inventory in a way that is very easy to follow. We begin by dealing with one manifestation of our spiritual malady, which is resentments.

Here are some of the ways I express resentment: holding a grudge, wanting revenge, becoming angry every time I remember or meet a certain person, blaming someone else for my troubles, hating someone, cannot stand someone. It can manifest in prejudice, or gossip, or envy, or criticism. So there is a lot to resentment that is not so obvious at first.

The original meaning of resentment is re-feel, usually an injury or insult, which means repeating the same feeling again. That was exactly what I did. When someone made me mad I didn't quiet down and forget it after a short while. I continued to replay the incident in my head like a videocassette over and over, and each time the other person appeared to be more of a villain and I more of a martyr.

I also played around with the scene and with what I should have said and how I should have answered, and what I will do when I meet him again. I also became angry at myself because I didn't tell him off as I should have, and was wallowing more and more in self pity. After a time the picture in my head was as far removed from what really happened as can be, and I occupied my time by this delusion feeding my anger again and again.

My head was full of such people and my thoughts about them. They were like free tenants occupying the space in my head without paying rent. I was really their victim since they controlled my thoughts, made me feel worse and worse about myself till my obsession drove me to food just to make me feel better, which of course eventually made me feel worse.

I knew all about people and institutions I resented; I also knew why I resented them since my head was full of them and this was quite a popular pastime with me.

Did someone have to do something to me in order to be resented? Not really. I resented people I didn't know personally who did nothing to me, like movie stars, thin people, etc. It usually was expressed as envy or irritation. I just could not stand them. I even resented people who died many years ago. My motto was never forgive and never forget. A lot of good it did me. It just drove me deeper and deeper into the food.

Let us see what the Big Book has to say about resentments.

"Resentment is the 'number one' offender. It destroys more compulsive eaters than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically." page 64.

The 12 steps are the spiritual solution to our spiritual malady. When we are in the spiritual solution we are also in the mental solution (free of the obsession with food), and we can then deal with our physical solution, which is abstinence quite easily, without white knuckling because we DON'T want to eat compulsively.

So let us see how we deal with resentments. We will do it in stages.

"In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principle with whom we were angry." BB page 64.

Let us draw a five column table in our notebook. There is an example of the first three columns in the Big Book on page 65.

The heading of the first column is: I am resentful at.

We fill up that column first, before we do anything else. Best leave a space of two to three lines under each name, as in the first column example on BB page 65.

In order to facilitate filling the first column, you can use a partial list of people, institutions and principles, that may probably star in the step 4 resentment table. Use it to jog your memory and feel free to add or subtract from this list as you see fit.



mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, childhood friends, school friends, bosses, fellow workers, subordinates, doctors, clergymen, other races, OA members, wife, husband, children, sweethearts, nieces, nephews, neighbors, acquaintances, in-laws, customers, teachers, lawyers, counselors, nosy people, etc...


marriage, church, religion, races, law, authority, government, education system, commerce, correctional system, mental health system, jails, asylums, governments agencies, political parties, businesses, credit bureaus, banks, etc...


God-Deity, Jesus Christ, ten commandments, Death, life after death, heaven, hell, Satan, sin, adultery, golden rule, original sin, seven deadly sins, retribution, Men made laws, like speeding laws, or property laws, etc... Physical laws like, if I overeat I get fat, and spiritual laws like, what you hate being done to you don't do to others, or all humans are born equal in the eyes of God, etc...

Some remarks:

We may resent a bunch of people for practically the same reasons, like a bunch of neighbors, bunch of coworkers bunch or relatives, etc... Then we can list them as a group and not individually.

We may resent people who are long dead. Add them to the list. We may resent people who did us no harm and we don't even know personally. We add them to the list too.


1. Make a five column resentment table, on a sheet of paper, in your notebook, or on your computer.

The heading of the first column will be:


Fill that column with all the people, institutions and principles, that you resent.

Leave an empty space after each name (see example on BB page 65). Share four people from your first column with us.



my wife,
my sister,
my eldest son,
my boss

2. Was it easy to fill that column? How did filling that first column make you feel?

Have a nice day.


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