Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.


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 different.

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 it.

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 control.

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 maintain perspective.

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 facts."

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 going.


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 honesty?

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 situations?

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,

Step Three

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