Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.


Step 4 is the beginning of our cleansing. Steps 1, 2 and 3 got us ready to work within the spiritual realm. Yes, we took action (i.e., we admitted, we came to believe and we made a decision). Step 4, however, is where the real gut-level work begins.


How I’m going to lead the Step 4 Discussion

Unlike other step studies where the leader feeds questions and directions on how to make the lists involved in working Step 4, actually directing us how exactly to make “the searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” I’m going to lead a *discussion* of Step 4. I’ll discuss the various ways I did the step, why Step 4 is crucial for recovery, why so many of us do the “OA 3-Step Dance,” why sometimes doing a wrongly motivated Step 4 is sometimes even worse than not doing it all ­ those kinds of things.

YOUR JOB is to work on the actual step WITH YOUR SPONSOR (you all DO have a sponsor, right??).

Similar to the previous steps, I’ll ask some guiding questions, and I hope you’ll respond while you’re working on the step WITH YOUR SPONSOR (you all DO have a sponsor, right?? **This is not a typo ­ I’m hopefully reinforcing the urgency of working with a sponsor J **).

Your sponsor will guide you in the format that s/he found the most effective. Some use the Big Book’s guide, some use the OA workbook, some use the OA 12&12, some use other guides. Let your sponsor guide you.

But above all, work Step 4 this week. You’re not writing “War and Peace.” Keep it simple and just do it (hmmm ­ that might make a good product slogan J).


A pre-Step 4 foundation

Before we start, let’s take a look at the foundation we’ve built.

In Step 1 we’ve admitted that our lives are a mess and that we are powerless over food. We took a look at the other areas of our lives that we have similarly tried to control, even though there was no possible way we could succeed. In Step 2 we came to believe that, as much as we didn’t really like it, we were not the center of the universe. We came to believe that there was some Power in the universe that was stronger, wiser, more knowing and powerful than we were ­ and it wasn’t us. In Step 3 we made the decision to trust that Power with our lives, turning our lives over to that Power’s care (some of us call that Power “God” or “HP” or PGTO or any other in a wide range of possibilities) as though our lives were any other precious object that we asked a trusted someone to take care of.

In other words, “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let God.”

Can you honestly say that you are completely powerless over food and that despite your best attempts, your life is a wreck and totally unmanageable? Have you come to believe ­ or are you coming to believe ­ that you’re not the center of the universe … that there is a Power greater than yourself who can and will return you to a place of perspective and “sanity?” One day at a time, are you choosing to turn your life over to the care of God (as you understand God), understanding that you might have to make that decision many times during the day?

If you can honestly say that you can answer those questions in the affirmative, then you are ready to jump into working Step 4. We are urged in the Big Book to get right to it, that delay can be fatal. So let’s get to it.

As a cartoon character might say, “AACCCKKKK!!!”

The OA 3-Step Dance

Let’s face it, no one really wants to open the refrigerator and start cleaning from the back of the shelves when we know that there’s a lot of green icky stuff that looks like it could easily walk its way out of the ‘fridge. In a very real sense, that’s exactly what we’re going to do with our lives: we’re going to open up our soul and clean it out, green icky stuff and all.

My experience is that it’s not the actual inventory making that freaks us out; rather, it’s the *fear* of what we might feel and think and maybe what someone might think of us if we actually wrote down all the lying, cheating, dishonest, unethical and damaging things we’ve done.

The sad thing for too many OA’s is that they let the fear get in the way of working this crucial step. So they come into OA, do Steps 1, 2 and 3, hang around for a little bit, relapse and leave (or leave and then relapse). They come back to OA because they know it’s the only thing that’s going to give them peace and sanity around food and life. They do 1, 2 and 3 again ­ freak out from the fear and head back out the door. Again and again, like some weird nightmarish waltz gone berserk. If you’re one of these OA 3-Step Dancers, it’s time to take a deep breath and give yourself one of the greatest and most loving gifts you possibly can: a clean soul and mind.

The thought of making a fearless and searching moral inventory might seem not to be the most pleasant and enjoyable part of working the OA 12-step program of recovery. But if we’ve done the footwork of Steps 1, 2 and 3, we know that we can do anything with the help of our Higher Power. Many of us have already experienced some length of abstinence from compulsive eating ­ now did you really think you could ever do that before OA? Probably not ­ and the blessing of abstinence is coming at you courtesy of the strength and love of your Higher Power. Now if HP/God/whatever can keep your face out of food for an extended period of time, do you really think that HP/God/Whatever’s going to dump you now? Hardly.

Your OA sponsor (you DO have a sponsor, right?) will tell you that the only way to get through Step 4 is to do Step 4. Other OA’s will say that bravery is not the absence of fear; rather it is feeling fear and doing what has to be done anyway. If you have concerns or fears, find someone in OA who has done Step 4 and has lived ­ and thrived ­ to talk about it. Let go of the idea that somehow you’re the worst evildoer in the world. Remember, we agreed that none of us is terminally unique … keep this in mind as you work.

Why is this Step so darned important?

I’d like to be able say that my compulsive eating is genetic or that my parents made me into what I am today or that “hell, if you had my life, you’d eat this way, too.” But the reality is that for some reason, I’m a compulsive eater/food addict, and eating is how I cope with life. The emotional/mental aspects of this disease involve lying, cheating, stealing, hurting myself and other people, hanging on to resentments and a whole range of hurtful attitudes and beliefs and an even bigger range of hurtful behaviors. All this stuff ­ behaviors and attitudes/beliefs ­ causes incredible shame and guilt.

I can’t talk publicly about what I think or do because the world would be horrified and disgusted with me (and I am equally disgusted with myself). So I never talk about it because to admit these things would be (I thought) unbearably humiliating. The problem is that my keeping all this stuff inside, trying to keep my defects hidden from the rest of the world, literally eats at my soul and my mind, so I stuff down the feelings of guilt, shame, resentment, anger, self-loathing with massive quantities of food ­ anything to keep from feeling like the disappointment that I believe I am and that I believe the world thinks I am.

Step 4 is where I begin to clean out my soul.

The Big Book (I think) compares Step 4’s “housecleaning” to a business’s taking inventory. I can compare it to my desk or bedroom: unless I clean out my closets and file drawers periodically, they begin to overflow with what’s a lot of useless junk. Soon I can’t find anything, so even if I have useful things, I can’t find them. Step 4 cleans out my mental, spiritual and emotional closets and file drawers as I make lists of all my resentments and my fears.

It’s really this simple: If I avoid Step 4 because I’m afraid of what I’m going to find, I find that I’m going to eventually pick up food again. If I do Step 4 ­ and I’m able to be brave because I have a Higher Power that I’ve decided to allow to take care of me ­ I get rid of all the garbage that’s keeping me prisoner to shame and guilt and self-imposed humiliation.

What exactly is a “moral” inventory?

For those who are men and women who hold deeply religious beliefs, morality may be related to God’s expectations of us, and the moral inventory list would include things like the “Seven Deadly Sins.” For those who do not hold such beliefs, morality may be related to our Higher Power’s belief that we are decent men and women who have done damage to ourselves and to others through harmful, hurtful and damaging beliefs and attitudes that have led us to harm ourselves and others. The “moral” inventory that we are asked to take ­ searchingly and fearlessly ­ includes things like resentments, fears, prideful and selfish and self-seeking attitudes that block us from our best selves (and from God or HP) and from others. We’re hanging on to these items like they’re some kind of lifeboat. We may have learned these beliefs and behaviors from others; most often we just kind of picked them up on our own as self-defense mechanisms. It doesn’t really matter where we got them. What is important in Step 4 is understanding that we are damaged goods and that our own thoughts and actions have gotten us into heaps of trouble and have hurt others.

What is essential for a successful Step 4 is that we FOCUS ON OURSELVES. Yes, when we start we might list how other people hurt us; most of my resentments were based on how I thought I was other peoples’ victims. But as we work Step 4, we ignore those other peoples’ behaviors and we focus on what WE DID to cause our side of the problem. I’ve heard this called the 33 1/3% rule: in any given situation, I cause 1/3 of the problem ­ other people cause 1/3 ­ and the last 1/3 just “is.” Step 4 asks me to look at myself and my own 1/3. For the first time in my life I stopped blaming other people and began to see that maybe I had something to do with my own misery ­ what a concept.

How NOT to do the 4th Step ­ things NOT to do (WARNING: serious sarcasm ahead):

1. List your resentments and fears and sexual issues thinking that you’re going to excite or titillate your sponsor.

2. List your resentments and fears and sexual issues thinking that you’re the worst thing in the world since the Marquis de Sade or Caligula or even your parents (just joking).

3. When feelings, thoughts and reactions come up while you’re writing your inventory, don’t share your feelings, thoughts and reactions with your sponsor ­ don’t connect with your sponsor on a regular basis ­ don’t go to meetings ­ make sure you isolate yourself (etc.).

4. Don’t do Step 4 because you’re scared.

5. Keep eating.

Been there, done that ­ and it doesn’t work. But seriously, even a less-than spectacular attempt at Step 4 is better than none at all.

Time to get working

I want to repeat something I said at the beginning:

But above all, work Step 4 this week. You’re not writing “War and Peace.” Keep it simple and just do it (hmmm ­ that might make a good product slogan J)


Questions to guide you as you write your inventory based on your sponsor’s suggestion:

1. Why is a “moral” housecleaning so essential to continued recovery?

2. What do you hope to gain from working Step 4?

3. Do you have a sponsor? How do you see your sponsor as a useful tool in the Step 4 process?

4. What are you afraid of?

5. If you have previous put off writing a Step 4 inventory, how has your attitude towards doing Step 4 changed ­ in other words, how come you’re willing to do it now?

6. What are you thinking and feeling about working Step 4?

7. What Step 4 guide are you using (what guide has your sponsor suggested)?

8. Please share your thoughts as you work Step 4 with your sponsor.

9. What do resentments, fears, angers, self-seeking motives, selfish motives have to do with keeping us in shame, guilt, fear, humiliation and food?

10. When you finish working Step 4, please share your experience with the group.

Breathe ­ wear recovery and work Step 4 like a loose garment ­ you are going to be ok. That’s a promise.

Many hugs ­

Penny (compulsive eater/food addict)

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