Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.


That metaphor about the conscious mind driving the car, and the bunch of other guys down there who sometimes get hold of the wheel and who have unknown and different agendas. well this is where we begin to make peace among all the parts of us. One of the fearful things about the idea of letting go of the control of our lives is not knowing just how destructive the unseen forces are, how much rage or self-destruction we have down inside there. The housecleaning steps Four through Nine, if done thoroughly, take us to a place where all the forces in us are in harmony and we have no secrets from ourselves nor major unfinished business. That's a promise.

There are many obstacles and objections to doing a whole-person, whole-life, nothing is off-limits, moral inventory. As the AA 12 & 12 puts it, Pride says "You need not pass this way." and Fear says, "You dare not look!" And no discussion of Step Four can conceal the prospect that all this information is going to be shared with another human being in Step Five. And there are those in the therapeutic community who advise clients not to go there, not to rake up the coals of the past. And there are those who want to suppress the symptoms with socially acceptable medication (which is what we've been doing with food for so long) and the chaos is just driven further underground.

The guys down there who sometimes grab the steering wheel are very much afraid of the light of day and come up with all sorts of ploys to delay or prevent the self-examination. They get so scared that the period between finishing Step Four and doing Step Five can be intensely uncomfortable and needs to be short. But it is important to get on with Step Four even when one doesn't know who Step Five is going to be taken with. It's like the Old Testament story where Abraham tells Isaac (or Ishmael if you're Muslim) "God will provide the lamb." I'll say more about this in the stories.

I won't say more about the necessity of doing an inventory and will assume that if you're going through the steps, you are ready to get on with it. When I came to the AA program there was a saying "You're as sick as your secrets." And we took it literally, too literally sometimes as we'd talk about the "exact nature" in meetings and the bluehairs as we called them would roll their eyes and wish they were somewhere else. We may not have looked so good in the eyes of the world, but most of the people who practiced this kind of openness are still sober.

I'm going to recommend what worked for me - the inventory as laid out in the AA Big Book beginning on the bottom of page 63. I don't think this set of cookbook directions has been improved on since the 1930s when the first 100 AAs put it together. The chapter on Step Four in the AA 12 & 12 is a good essay on Step Four - makes a lot of sense AFTER you've done an inventory. But it's like the difference between getting the plans and directions for building a birdhouse, and reading an essay on birdhouses. If you want to end up with a birdhouse, follow the directions. And read the essay later.

I have only recently read Step Four in the OA 12 & 12 and I think it is great. A really good plan for an inventory would be to follow the directions in the AA Big Book, which I'm going to talk about next, and THEN go over the questions in the OA 12 & 12 chapter and answer IN DETAIL the ones that hit a nerve. Simply going over a set of Fourth Step questions, and there are many versions out there, answering it like a checklist - Have you ever had sex with animals? No. Have you ever been addicted to daytime television? Yes, etc - is a waste of time.

As with all these steps, the intentions of the heart are central. If your intentions are to come clean with your whole life, you will do it. And if you have reservations, no set of directions will be so good that you can't find loopholes in it, and then the effort will not succeed.

So, and this is maybe the most important thing I'll say in all these words, if there is ANYTHING you feel you can't put down on paper and share with another person, it will put a cloud over your efforts and you won't feel clean. I think everybody has a couple of secrets they mean to take to the grave with them, an encounter that happened in a semi-blackout with a stranger - maybe the wrong sex or an act you can't bear to think of - half an hour after the bars closed, a betrayal of a friend, cruelty to an animal as a kid, maybe a recurring fantasy you think is shameful, something that makes you feel sleazy in your own eyes. If you're like me, those things, and there may only be a handful of them, will try to bubble up from time to time like the Loch Ness Monster just poking his head up for a minute and then pulling it back down. No matter what inventory format you choose, these hot items cannot be left out of it. And they must be dealt with in detail, and that is where the freedom comes. Because these are the secrets that separate us from others and are maybe the true source of loneliness.

I'll start the personal stuff, the stories, now. I won't be able to keep a clean line between Steps Four and Five, they're so tightly related. But I'm sure I won't be lost for words next week when it's time to write on Five.


It was apparent to me in the first days of program that while all YOU guys might have resentment and fear, in my case I had sex and authority problems. And besides that, I didn't have any resentments because everything that had ever gone wrong between me and others had been my fault. Then one day I realized what a resentment was and nearly filled a legal pad with them.

And a couple of years down the road, when I had taken the steps as suggested and dealt with resentment and fear, and selfishness and dishonesty, well sex and authority sort of took care of themselves.

I had been involved with India, with languages of India, in the 1960s and had done field work in a village there. I had gone along with all the 1960s Maharishi, Everything-is-Everything fad and though I'd studied Sanskrit in fact I had no idea what those old guys were talking about, chakras and the Atman and karma and dharma and the like. And I'm telling you this because I remember the day, remember exactly where I was (Hanauma Bay) when I read Bill Wilson's essay on Step Four in the AA 12 & 12, when ancient India suddenly passed in front of my eyes.

It was like a light came on. People operate at levels of survival/money/material things, sex/gratification, and power/prestige, Bill W said, and these are appropriate things to be concerned with and want. But if we exist only on those levels of consciousness, the rule is that there never will be enough and we'll generate fear and conflict across our whole lives. And our need is to move our consciousness to a plane of service and inspiration and beyond. This was Rig-Veda for the Western masses, in plain English, for this Texas boy at least. Now I understood what the Indians had been saying three thousand years ago with their talk of chakras and raising the consciousness.

So to begin with, now I understood, we need to look how we've overreached in those areas Bill W called Security, Sex and Society and the Indians called the first three chakras. Back in the sixties, I had had these yearnings for higher consciousness, humming along with the Infinite, and had experienced some of it with psychedelics. But there never had been a bridge between up there and down here. And I began to see that the inventory was the beginning of making that connection. I came home from the beach knowing I would write an inventory.


My first inventory - don't follow my example - was what might be called an immoral inventory. It was more of an autobiographical Step One, a gushing out of a lifetime of everything (bad) I had said, done or thought. I kept a yellow legal pad and wrote on it from time to time. There was one page that had those half-dozen hot items, and I could almost feel that page hotter than the others when I'd reach under the bed to check if it was still there. I was not sure I could tell those things to anybody else, but I did write them down.

At first glance, Step Four was writing down things I knew about myself and Step Five was telling them to somebody. Both steps turned out to be discovery processes, turning up tons of unexpected material.

One example: I had been raised in the forties and fifties in the small-town Old South and as an adult I'd rejected much of their philosophy and culture. In the first year in program, I had been married to a black girl from Baton Rouge for four years now and we'd been through a lot to be together. Our getting together at first was an act of rebellion on both sides, but then we fell in love and are friends and sometimes lovers even today thirty years later. Well, she, Bessie, used to say to me, "I don't love you because you' re not a racist, I love you in SPITE of your being a racist." I thought, what a tacky untrue thing to say. Can't she see that I'm a liberated free-thinking modern man?

Well one night she was sleeping in the next room and I was writing on my inventory. And I discovered Bobby Wilson from Tyler, Texas nineteen-forties was still very much alive. I was eaten up with racial stuff. And as I wrote, I pulled my own covers on an elaborate con job: I am a tortured poetic soul, born 200 years too soon, and I hurt for all the racism and poverty and war and injustice in the world. no wonder I drank and took no responsibility for my actions. and my shoulders and neck muscles loosened and I started to laugh from way down in my tummy. I had run that one for a decade and a half without seeing it myself. And now I had a lot of work to do. And it was the beginning of getting some harmful racial stuff out of my heart.

And then in the seven-hour Fifth Step (at about eight months sober in AA) there was still more discovery (of things you'd figure out about me easily but I didn't know about myself). "Now in 1962 there was this student, and I told her my wife didn't understand me and she was the one. and in 1967 there was this student, and I told her my wife didn't understand me and she was the one. and in 1969 there was this student, and I told her my wife didn't understand me and she was the one, and in 1970. Hey, maybe there's a pattern here!" And my sponsor would smile.


That "immoral inventory" and Fifth Step in the first year, bought me another couple of years' sobriety. That couple of years was characterized mostly by out-of-control overeating, failed attempts at jobs and relationships, what I see now as a lot of manipulative dishonesty. I lived outdoors twice during that time, and spent four months in a men's halfway house even though I had more than a year's sobriety.

That winter of 1976 and spring of 1977 I lost my places to hide. Harry L - a full-blood Hawai'ian who spoke heavy pidgin English - had agreed to be my sponsor when I was still in the men's house. So many of the people there - it was not a recovery house as much as a dry-out-and-get-ready-for-the-next-round sort of place - were taking pills and I thought I probably should have something to take the edge off too. I called Harry and said "Harry, I'm having trouble with depression." Harry said - and this is one of the times I feel my life was saved - "I dunno, wat is dees deepression." Damn Hawai'ians don't know English, I thought. Then Harry said brightly, "Self pity I unnahstand!" I have never been able to apply the word depression to myself since that moment. I smiled as I imagined little bottles of pills with instructions that said "Take one as needed for self-centered fear," "Take two tablets with meals for self-pity," "Take one tablet daily for sense of morbid responsibility."

So no pills. But there was still the food. And then in May 1977, I told you, I was struck abstinent. And it took, and about August, and thirty pounds lighter and still counting, pressure from inside started to build. I treasured my abstinence, but I was wearing the hinges off the refrigerator door just opening it and looking, again and again. I knew I was going to lose my abstinence within another day or so, something had to give.

I sat down at the dining room table. All three meals for that day were eaten already. I remember telling myself, I have never felt so much pressure in my life and not done SOMEthing about it. I am going to sit here at this table and see whether I explode or melt. And I picked up a legal pad and the AA Big Book, and drew some columns just like the ones on page 65. Follow the directions, just for once. Dr. Carl Jung had written, before there ever was an AA, "I have my new patient write down all the things he hates, and all the things he fears." I was about to do that for the first time.

This time I made my database of people, institutions, philosophies and the like, that I resented. Maybe Jung's word "hated" was better in some cases. And following that, as if Bill W had been reading my mind before I was even born, was the statement, "The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got." Yes, there had to be more. The next two pages, 66 and 67, are solid gold - told me what to do with my database or grudge list. Paragraphs start with "We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future." "Referring to our list again." Following the lead of the Big Book, I looked at each resentment in light of my part in each case.

This look at relationships, marriages, jobs, family affections gone sour, looking unsparingly at my own part in things - was the first time in my life I had gotten honest about what I was UP TO. What my real motives were, what kind of person I really was. Why did I get into a marriage where she sought total control over my life? Well, I was a selfish alcoholic/addict who wanted a woman who would give 150%, do sex my way, have the real job and the checkbook and credit cards while I stayed home and drank. and the only woman who will sign up for that kind of arrangement is a control freak who wants to be mother to a bad boy. And I had characterized myself as a loving unselfish man who was the undeserving victim of this powertripping Amazon. And on it went. A quote out of an earlier part of that same chapter fits me to a T: "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."

Next I turned to fears. I listed all the fears I could come up with, big ones, little ones, looked at the price I paid for them - they made me afraid to risk rejection, they made me joke away abusive remarks instead of responding in my own behalf, they made me lie about what I was up to so you' d give me what I wanted. Little things - fear of hurting my feet. OH, that 's why I never went barefoot as a kid, always wear boots even in Hawai'i instead of flipflops.

And I wrote about sex. In the early days of AA, Freud and Margaret Mead were current and the society in general was prudish and anti-sex, and there was open warfare on the topic. I suspect Bill Wilson would have liked to formulate an AA policy on sex (and some other things), but cooler heads prevailed and AA stayed out of the fight. The Big Book talks rather about finding one's own ideal, with God's help, asking questions like "Is it selfish?" There is another statement that makes me feel they read my mind: "In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer will come, if we want it." Makes me laugh when I realize how often I DON'T want the right answer.

And of course, the beginning of getting comfortable about sex, finding my ideal, getting out of conflict, the book says, is to review my conduct over years past. Was I selfish, dishonest or inconsiderate? What harm did I do, and to whom? And as I said, what I found about myself was not sex problems, but a long history of being selfish, dishonest and inconsiderate and more.

This was a typical inventory of an active mind and life, about twenty-five pages on a legal pad. It doesn't take long to write one of these. A couple of days is enough, especially if the internal pressure is great. If I'd had the pills or the food to mask the pressure, a couple of decades might have found me still sitting on the same square.

Now I did my fifth step with Harry, all over his house out in Pearl Ridge cause family would intrude and plop themselves down wherever we were and I did not want an audience and we'd move to another room. When I finished, Harry said he wanted me to do some more writing. Picture yourself a very old man, at the end of your life, looking back. Now if there were no limitations of time, or money, or talent right now, what would you like to have done with your life? Write down your dreams and come back and read it to me.

Strange how it had been easy, under the pressure of my internal chaos, to write bad things about myself, easy in comparison with putting down on paper the desires of my heart. I prayed and wrote. And what I wrote was something like this: I'd like to have a family. I'd like to finish my PhD in linguistics. I'd like to get involved in Jewish linguistics, go to Israel and work with Yiddish and Ladino. I'd like to use my language ability to carry the message in places where it hasn't reached.

I picked Harry up in my truck and drove him out to Barber's Point to my bee farm to show him my beehives, and read him the dreams I had written down. He did not comment on them. This was about August, 1977. I was an unemployed maintenance man on welfare, seemingly unemployable, this was before Makaha even, and my dreams were a cruel joke if you looked at the impossibility of getting there from here.

In December 1985, I had begun raising Seth, was married to Dr. Nancy, had been writing my doctoral dissertation in linguistics for a year and the Sokhnut had agreed to pay for our relocation to Israel as immigrants. On a Friday afternoon that December, I defended my thesis in the traditional way - the public was there, many people I didn't know in the room, someone other than my committee chimed in to question me, and I was awarded a doctorate in linguistics and the other students gave me a koa frame for my diploma and put a lei on my neck. And that night Harry died with leukemia. It hit me like a thunderbolt. Harry made me plant seeds, and they've come up!

That Monday I turned in two copies of my thesis on archival bond and the Japanese clerks in the Dean's office found errors, Tuesday I handed in the corrected copies on archival bond, Wednesday the movers came to crate up our stuff, and Thursday we left for Israel. I picked up a sponsoree in Tel-Aviv who was a recovering heroin addict and our common language was Yiddish. Nancy and I began to learn Hebrew and watched Seth become a little native Israeli kid.

So, this stuff is powerful. Way more power than we know about.


Last story. Israel was industrial strength, and so was my wife. We fought a lot, or rather she raged and I withdrew. If I were in that situation today I would end the marriage as cleanly as possible, but I was afraid of her, afraid of losing face and failing one more time, and didn't do that. I was lonely. My refuge was the good OA groups in Ramat-Aviv and Tel-Aviv. One of my students got a crush on me and I told her no, I did not want to have secrets from my wife. And after almost a year of the marriage going from bad to worse, I gave up on it. The girl called one day and invited me to go swimming. I did NOT meditate and ask God what I should do about this specific matter, and we ended up on the living room sofa with our clothes all over the room. I got into one of those Bill Clinton - Monica Lewinsky things of telling half-truths till my words were ringing in my ears and everybody knew I was lying anyway... it got messy, and the mess sloshed onto my marriage AND my job.

I knew I needed to get clear and do the right thing no matter what the cost, and the beginning of that was a good inventory. There was nobody in Israel I was willing to share an inventory with. But I told God, I want to get right and do right. I stopped seeing the girl and started writing. And it was painful, and what I saw was painful. Selfishness and dishonesty and inconsiderateness and not weighing the harm that would come to others. And I finished writing on a Sunday or Monday, still no idea what I was going to DO with the inventory but I asked God to show me. Now Monday nights we had a combined AA/OA/NA meeting at our house that was well-attended. That night a man I'd never seen before walked in the front door and sat down next to me. He was a recovering alcoholic, director of a halfway house in New Zealand on a professional visit to Israel. Somebody had pointed him to our meeting. I asked him if he'd hear my fifth step, and the next day I caught the bus down to Tel-Aviv and told him everything. He was a religious person but did not lecture, listened respectfully and I was clean again. He left for home the next day and I barely remember his name.


Since Step Four is the first of the action steps, this set of questions is about your experience in taking the actions. You'll need a copy of the AA Big Book pages 63-71 to do these things. (If you don't have one, print out Chapter Five "How it Works" from )

1. What kind of walls did you hit, what resistance did you encounter, before starting to write?

2. You've made columns and listed all the people/institutions/ideas you resent or hate. Was it hard to make the list? Hard to admit the resentments?

3. You've looked at each case to see if you were at fault some way. Did you make any discoveries about your ways of dealing with people or your unreasonable demands on life?

4. I'll repeat the quote "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." Does that mean more now, after examining your resentments in this way, than it did when you first read it?

5. You've listed your fears and what price you pay for them. Were there discoveries there? Something that helps you understand a life problem in a new light?

6. After "reviewing your own conduct over years past," do you see your ways with sex and relationships in a different way? Are you motivated to find your own ideal, your own standards? Or if you have your own standards, are you more confident about living by them rather than by the rules other people set up?

7. Were you able to write down the deepest darkest secrets you were going to carry to the grave? Was it scary?

8. Do you know who you're going to share this inventory with? Have you asked him/her?

9. Did you find it hard to write out the dreams of your heart? Can you share them with us?

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