Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Step Four Thoughts

Well….back to our adventure.

Every adventure has its planning.

    We figure out where we want to go and what we want to do.
    We work out the details for finances and time off from work.
    We make reservations at a hotel or resort.
    We get the airline tickets or get the car checked out.
    We stop the mail and newspaper.
    We clean out the refrigerator.
    We take out the garbage.

Now we are free to enjoy our adventure knowing everything is all done. It took a little work yet it was so worth it.

In recovery there is a similar scenario.

    We decide we want to become abstinent and recover.
    We get into the details - taking Steps 1, 2 and 3 – then working the rest of the steps.
    We make a reservation - a commitment - to ourselves, a sponsor and to our HP.
    We get our literature that takes us toward our recovery.
    We come prepared to stop some old ways and learn some new ones.
    We clean out our refrigerator and cupboards – literally,
    We get rid of the garbage by doing our fourth step.

We are now free to find peace and happiness in our recovery. It may take a little work and I can say, for myself, it has been worth it, so worth it.

Taking out the “Garbage”

It is time to take out the garbage. I never thought taking out the garbage would be the most loving thing I ever did for myself. That is what is says on page 29 of the OA 12 x 12. Well, not the garbage part!

Seriously, when we get right down to it, our past is what is driving us to food. The pain, the mistakes we have made, the misunderstandings, the fears, all that junk is driving us to numb ourselves with food. The only way out of it is to face it.

Okay, did I almost lose you there? If so, give these questions some thought:

    Do you believe your life has been so messed up that you must be evil?
    Are you thinking you do not deserve to be free?
    Have you done things you never want to admit to yourself, let alone let anyone know about them?
    Do you figure it is too late to bring up the past?
    Are you wondering if this is just going to make matters worse?
    Do you think you need to be abstinent to do your fourth step? (While being abstinent is ideal, some have found their abstinence in doing their fourth step!)

How about you suspend all your hesitancy or talk to your sponsor about it and give what I have outlined ahead a try?

Step Four – How Character Defects are Born

I have come to believe that some of the childhood issues that had me so confused for so many years were because I did not have the concepts or the words to understand what was going on with our family as a child. I did not know how dysfunctional our lives were. I had to make up living as I went along without a full toolbox of tools to work with. I did a lot of bizarre things out of fear. I started overeating at age 12. I stopped growing emotionally then. So, I came into adulthood really messed up. That is how my character defects were born.

The following list of character defects which you can use as a guide in your fourth step work. Please look it over thoroughly.

character assassination of others
closed mind
fear of change
financial insecurity
intellectual superiority
self pity

The Work

Here are the basics of doing the fourth step.

We want to get out all those old feelings that are getting in the way of our recovery. The whole point with your fourth step is that there is no right way. Just doing it is the most important thing. Do not feel you have to do it “perfectly”. Just do it!!! You and your sponsor can discuss it and find a way you are most comfortable with. Here are some possibilities:

1. You can do it as outlined in page 33 of the OA 12 x 12 (as set forth from the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 64-71):

  1. Write down names of a person, institution or principle which you feel resentment, fear or other uncomfortable feelings.
  2. Write down the events which caused those feelings.
  3. Write down the basic reaction was affected by the incident.
  4. List any defective character traits in us which might have placed us in a position to be hurt.

2. You can use The Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous -
pages 34 – 43.

3. You can do your fourth step chronologically listing all those pivotal moments in your life – good and difficult.

4. You can do it randomly by asking your HP to remind you of those times and places or people that were significant.

5. The WTS 2005 Third Quarter step study has a useful form at this link -

6. You can also find a pdf downloadable Fourth Step Inventory Guide at the OA bookstore at

What I am going to do for this step study is suggest you do three scenarios for practice. You are welcome to do more if you want. I just want you find a way that works for you.

So, for these three scenarios think of an experience as far back as you can remember that caused you the following feelings. If you want you can think of a person that you had some problems with. Just use the outline above.

  1. One on resentment or a person you had a lot of resentment toward.
  2. One on fear or a person that brought up fear in you.
  3. One on the positive events that has happened in your life – Again, pick an event or a person.

I will do them so you see what I mean:

1. Resentment

I remember how I resented my mother being a compulsive victim. She was always whining about something. I would fight it. I would tell her what I thought she should do. I would resent that my mother was not there for me and she always expected me to fix her. It would make me angry that she was so stuck. Over the years I found myself in a vicious circle because when I would tell my mother what to do she would whine to my siblings that Coralee as mad at her and they would get on my case about just accepting her for what she was. That did not help, believe me.

What I realized in my fourth step was that whenever someone in my life would whine too much about something and seemed to be stuck, I would get in my character defect I would call being arrogance and judgmental. I lost a friend one time because she could not stop talking about her difficult situation. I was a little intense in my telling her I did not want to hear about it and although I made amends she fired me as a friend. I probably would have fired me too.

It taught me that whenever I feel that way about someone I am thinking is whining too much and not making any movement, I need to talk to my sponsor and other OA friends. I need to find a more compassionate and patient way to say what I need to say. Or, I can let it go.

2. Fear

Fear ruled my life. Every day was filled with fear people would find out that I was defective and stupid. Maybe, that I was mean or evil. I was always looking for the person who could save me. I pretended I knew more than I knew. I talked a good talk. I would change my story to fit what I thought they wanted to hear. I was a master at reading peoples’ faces. If they appeared to disagree with me, I would waffle. While I never got into telling outright lies, I was dishonest about who I was.

It was sad to be so fearful. I never felt accepted because I was not accepting myself. I never felt close to anyone because I would not let myself really be myself because of my fears.

To live in this character defect, for me, was like being stuck in a prison of my own making.

3. A Positive Event

My marriage to my husband was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was not easy at first because of all my issues. However, because he treated me with great respect, things started to change. I learned to trust on a whole different level. I learned to be more respectful to others. I felt safe enough with him that I dealt with my severe depression by entering an inpatient eating disorder program where I found OA. I developed strength and faced many of my fears. I also came to understand myself and others better and became more compassionate.

I developed character. Character that has served me so much better than the character defects have. Once I called upon my courage to face my fears, it started to get easier and easier. It was not near as difficult or as painful as I had expected.

A Final Thought Before You Do Yours

In Step Five there is some helpful information to keep in mind when doing your fourth step. It will prepare you for taking Step Five. It talks about the need to additionally discuss the “exact nature” of those things we feel we did wrong. It suggests you also:

1. Talk about why we did the things we did.
2. Express what feelings led to our actions.
3. Explore what we felt afterward.
4. Look at what those actions cost us.

Knowing this will help you find the motives behind our situations and “coming to understand our motives helps us to forgive ourselves.”

I approached my last fourth step with the attitude of learning from my mistakes. It taught me even my “dark” side can give me a gift – of understanding something I may never have understood otherwise. If you approach your fourth step with this attitude, you can move to greater understanding and wisdom and it will make the effort so worth it.

Your Turn

Now, please practice on three of your own.

1. Resentment

2. Fear

3. A Positive Event


Once you have completed these practice inventories, please answer the following questions:

  1. Were they thorough, fearless, searching and complete? If you answered “No” to any of them please share what you believe is getting in the way and how can you move on?

  2. How do you nurture yourself while you are doing this Step? Are you able to be gentle and compassionate with yourself?

  3. What does the statement, "We are as sick as our secrets" mean to you?

  4. Have you discovered that as you've worked Step Four you have felt any relief?

  5. Can you make a commitment that you will finish your fourth step by the time we are done with this step study at the end of March? If not, when?

Leader’s Share on Questions

  1. Were they thorough, fearless, searching and complete? If you answered “No” to any of them please share what you believe is getting in the way and how you can move on?
    Yes, although when I was doing them I did have some anxiety admitting to everyone that I was really arrogant and judgmental at one time in my life. However, because I have done fourth steps I feel more confident I have learned from those mistakes.

  2. I could get a little more specific about situations and how my character defects caused others problems.
    That is the whole idea about Step Four, isn’t it?

  3. How do you nurture yourself while you are doing this Step? Are you able to be gentle and compassionate with yourself?
    I work at accepting my humanness and forgiving myself. Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better.” I know I have stopped bad behavior in many ways and when I learn about something else, I know I will work to change it also. It strengthens me to be honest.

  4. What does the statement, "We are as sick as our secrets" mean to you?
    To me it means when I was at my worse, I was trying to hide everything from everyone. I could not see the damage it was doing to myself or to those around me. Only when I opened up did healing begin.

  5. Have you discovered that as you've worked Step Four you have felt any relief?
    I occasionally struggle with that impatience for whiney people. It is a relief to just be aware of it and know there is a part of me that has great compassion for people in pain.

  6. Can you make a commitment that you will finish your fourth step by the time we are done with this step study at the end of March? If not, when?
    Yes, I can make that commitment - I am working on a new one.

Suggested Reading

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, pp. 29-44
Overeaters Anonymous, 2nd ed., p. 238
The Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous, pp. 27-30
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., pp. 64-71
AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 34-41

A Guide to the Twelve Steps for You and Your Sponsor, pp. 8-9
Fourth-Step Inventory Guide
“We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 72).

Fourth Step Prayer:
Dear God,
It is I who has made my life a mess. I have done it, but I cannot undo it. My mistakes are mine and I will begin a searching and fearless moral inventory. I will write down my wrongs. But I will also include that which is good. I pray for the strength to complete this task.


Pray for those who hurt you; they need the prayers and we need the practice.

Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.

You can DO what you want, or you can GET what you want.

It is not the experience of today that drives people mad, it is remorse of yesterday and the dread of tomorrow.


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