STEP FOUR ~ INTRODUCTION
This is not going to be a "how-to" on working Step 4,
but rather a discussion of why and what happens when I
work Step 4. Please take this opportunity to work Step
4 with your sponsor. There are many ways to actually
work Step 4, and your sponsor will surely have
suggestions. I recommend the Big Book's method because
I think it's the most comprehensive without getting
into one-size-fits-all territory. I believe that there
are only two ways to do Step 4 wrong. One is to not do
it at all. The other is to believe that you are
writing a 4th step to impress someone (i.e., your
sponsor) with how terrible a person you are. Honesty -
rigorous, not brutal - is the key.]
Step 4 is where we begin to get really honest with
ourselves about who we are and what we have done. Even
beyond the Higher Power "deal," Step 4 is what
differentiates Overeaters Anonymous from every other
"weight-based" organization. All the other
organizations asked me to make them my Higher Powers,
so I was kind of used to that. But Step 4 - going back
into my history to figure out where *I* had been wrong
- well, that was a whole new thing, and NONE of the
other groups had asked me to do that. And since NONE
of the other groups had provided me with long-term
freedom from weight gain (which was all I really
wanted), maybe there was a reason that OA was
The point of Step 4 is to clean out the combination of
attitudes, behaviors and thought-processes that caused
me to behave in ways that harmed others and myself.
Like the AA literature, I like the analogy of Step 4's
"moral" inventory to cleaning out the pantry or the
refrigerator. I need to know what's there: what's
enjoyed (meaning there are fewer of those things and I
need to buy more) and what's definitely NOT enjoyed
(those are the things that are growing moldy and gross
in the freezer or getting yuckily dusty in the pantry
and clearly need to be thrown out and NOT bought in
the future). Step 4's "moral" inventory tells me
what's in the brain, heart and soul - the stuff that's
working for me and the stuff that's not. The things
that are working for me are the things that are
helping me grow as one of God's beautiful creations.
The things that are NOT working for me are the things
that cause me to eat and block me from God and other
people and my own life.
Step 4 asks me to come to terms with my past with the
focus on ME. I am asked to look at every aspect of my
life - with a HUGE magnifying glass - and to focus on
*my* part in all my life's situations. It asks me to
be rigorously honest - and that's what recovery is all
about (Anecdote: a former sponsor used to say that
"abstinence was synonymous with recovery." I wanted to
smack her. Guess what? Abstinence and recovery *are*
synonymous with recovery.)
Step 4 asks me to list my resentments from the very
beginning of my life - current and past. If it's in
the brain, it gets written down. I had a lot of
heavy-duty resentments that I had fed and nurtured
because I defined myself as a victim, and these
resentments helped define my role in life. Then Step 4
asks me to look at each resentment and see MY part in
Step 4 asks me to list and then look at my fears, and
I had LOT of those, too, because they, too, defined
my role as a victim. If it's in the brain, it gets
written down. And then Step 4 asks me to look at each
fear and see where it's coming from.
Step 4 asks me to list EVERY life situation that
caused and is still causing me anxiety or pain or
distress. If it's in the brain, it goes on the paper.
And then, yes, Step 4 asks me to look at each
situation and see what MY part is/was.
The "my" part is usually an instinct gone out of whack
- a "character defect." Instinct as an asset is a
wonderful thing - it keeps me alive (i.e., fear when
we are harmed). But when instinct goes beyond
life-saving to overwhelming and overpowering, that's
when it becomes a liability. Fear run amok destroys.
Anger gone overboard becomes resentment. Determination
becomes stubborness, jealousy and envy take over from
learning from others, self-improvement become greed
and overblown pride and ego. Step 4 asks me to list my
character defects, my instincts that had gone out of
Bottom line: Step 4 is where I learn to be responsible
for myself and my actions and reactions.
Step 4 can be HUGE, taking a week, weeks, months (my
experience tells me that anything longer than that is
serious avoidance). Step 4 can be life affirming.
Step 4 is NOT a weapon to be turned on ourselves. Our
honesty is to be *rigorous,* not brutal. Sponsors help
Step 4 can also be frightening. When I hear OA's talk
about avoiding Step 4 because they are afraid, I
understand why. I also wonder about their level of
commitment to recovery. I know about the "3-step
waltzers" (you know, Steps 1, 2 and 3 - 1, 2 and 3 -
1, 2 and 3). And yes, I am also afraid. But the
reality is that the thing I am most afraid of is
*feeling* sadness, anger, fear, shame, guilt,
embarassment, etc. That's why a sponsor's help is so
essential in reminding me that "feelings are not
The Big Book and watching people leave OA and go out
and eat tell me that if I don't work Step 4, I'll also
go back out and eat. Working Step 4 is the "going to
any lengths" that we talk about. People that work Step
4 don't NOT feel fear - they feel the fear and do it
anyway (we call that "courage"). If we have worked
Steps 1, 2 and 3 to the best of our ability, we're
ready for Step 4. We have a Power greater than
ourselves that can restore us to and maintain our
sanity. We've turned ourselves over to that Power, so
we know we'll be safe.
We're ready to pick up a pen and some paper and get
1. Why is it crucial to have worked Steps 1, 2 and 3
before working Step 4?
2. Working Step 4 is a radical change from diet and
weight-loss/control organizations. How so?
3. Why is working with a sponsor so critical to the
success of Step 4?
4. What do you think of the analogy of working Step 4
and cleaning out your refrigerator/pantry? Are there
other analogies that work for you?
5a. How is recovery/abstinence synonymous with
5b. What do you see as the difference between
"rigorous" honesty and "brutal" honesty?
6. What's the difference between writing down events
that are causing you anxiety, pain, shame, etc., and
writing them down along with YOUR part in those
7. Are you an "OA-3 Stepper?" How come - or why not?
8. "Character defects" can be defined as "instincts
run riot." Can you identify with this definition - or
is there a definition that works for you?
9. Are (or were) you afraid to work Step 4? If so,
what are (or were) you afraid of?
10. If I don't work Step 4, I'm told by the OA and AA literature that I'll go back out and eat. What do you think about this?
Yours in Recovery,
The Twelve Steps
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