Step Four

We admitted we were powerless over food,
that our lives had become unmanageable.

Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Step 4 Part 1

Dear WTSers,

We are 1/4 of the way through our time together, and I have been enjoying getting to know some of you through your writings. I am honored by your honesty and your determination to change and grow beyond your old ideas. What a privilege this service is!

It has been my experience that we lose lots of folks once we hit Step Four. If defiance really is the hallmark of the alcoholic (COE) then here is a good place to use your defiance! Don't let yourself be scared off. Use that willpower - here is a place for its proper exercise! I have heard it said that people don't relapse because they got scared of Step Four; they relapse because they didn't take Step Three.

There are 13 weeks in this quarter, so we're going to take two weeks to complete our study of Step Four. Here is how that will work: Below there are my week's questions on Step Four. This week, you are invited to answer them. They will repost on Thursday, April 28th. The following week, the assignment will be to write 10 minutes per day on Step Four. Whatever is done by the end of the week you will give away as Step Five (but we're not there yet). I'll post a reminder about that assignment plus a brief share on Monday, May 2, and it will be repeated on Thursday, May 5th.

I think that in OA we make too big a deal of the Fourth Step. Reading the AABB, it's clear that the first 100 alcoholics took it in an afternoon, verbally, sitting in their sponsor's living room. Certainly they didn't agonize over it for weeks and months, as some of us have. You don't need to, either. You do, however, need to do it. The AABB reminds me that I said I would go to any lengths for victory over my disease.

One of the questions I often ask myself as i sit in meetings listening to the discussion is, If a newcomer were hearing this, would he/she understand what it has to do with the food? Since I came through the doors of OA to get thin - I had NO desire to give up the food, I just wanted you to teach me to eat without gaining weight - I must realize that I am not alone in asking that question. Surely there are other newcomers who are trying to understand what "an inventory of our grosser handicaps" as the AABB says (p. 71), has to do with losing weight (or gaining weight, or stopping binge/purge, or just stopping bingeing). What does this step have to do with the food? The AA 12n12 points out that my problems were not caused by my eating [drinking] and therefore abstinence [sobriety] alone isn't enough.Frankly, I don't buy it when I hear members say, "I'm an emotional eater; I eat because I get angry/sad/depressed/manic/stressed/fearful/anxious..." I eat because I'm a compulsive overeater, and I'm a COE because I eat. And the first three Steps really are amazingly helpful to me in keeping the food down. Once I make that decision in Step Three, I cannot fail to recover. I get taken care of by my HP, and that means primarily I get taken care of where food is concerned.

If I could just draw a line through my life and lop off all the days and years before I came to OA and start fresh, I probably wouldn't need Step Four. I can't, though, and my corrosive shame about past actions, my resentments of others that I continue to harbor, these all had become so deeply ingrained into me by the time I walked through OA's doors that I couldn't wish them away. They were like barnacles. Or... since I came from the dentist this morning, where I had my semiannual cleaning, they were like the tartar on my teeth that the hygienist had to chip away at, scraping and scraping until finally she could polish my teeth with soothing toothpaste and mouthwash. Ahhhhh! That's Step Four.

So our Fourth Step is intended to allow us to look at our actions up to the present day, according to the OA 12n12. "Our past problems have been controlling our actions and feelings for years, often in ways of which we are not aware." (p. 30). In order to deal with our shame, guilt, fear, sadness, and anger about the past, we had to keep pushing those feelings away - and food accomplished that quite nicely, as long as we engaged in self-deception about how much we were actually eating. As the AABB says (p. 64), "Our [liquor] was but a symptom. We had to get down to causes and conditions."

Well that's pretty darn frightening, eh? Especially when I think that you want me to "give this away" and share it with someone else? Dude - no way! As the OA 12n12 notes, Step Four really tests that commitment we made in Step Three. We are asked to draw up an inventory that is both fearless and searching, when the only searching I was used to was in the refrigerator. So this step may require acting in the way opposite to how our emotions urge us to act.

There is that word "moral" in this step: it's a moral inventory. Personally, my belief is that the word is simply an artifact of the era in which it was written: the 1940s. The language of the AA literature can seem quite old-fashioned to some of us. Other words that the literature uses to describe this inventory are "emotional deformities" and "crazy and damaging conduct" (both from the AA 12n12). It is an inventory of our instincts - which are hard-wired into us to help us survive - run amok; COEs are described as a "battleground for the instincts." We also go about imposing our instincts upon others. So label the inventory as you will: moral, emotional, crazy and damaging conduct, an inventory of instincts. As the AA 12n12 says, "But all who are in the least reasonable will agree upon one point: that there is plenty wrong with us alcoholics about which plenty will have to be done if we are to expect sobriety, progress, and any real ability to cope with life." (p. 48).

The first Fourth Step I did was actually everyone else's Fourth Step, although I didn't realize that until I got to Step Five. What I had done was to write down my list of resentments, all right, but my Fourth Step consisted of a written litany of complaints about how they done me wrong. It wasn't until Step Five, when I heard myself reading this aloud, that I realized I had taken no responsibility for my behaviors. During my 30 years in OA I have done at least five Fourth Steps. I have used the AABB model, a random approach, and I've done targeted Fourth Steps on sex, money, and on my weight obsession. Every single one helped me in some way. The AA 12n12 reminds me that just by writing - I haven't even given it away yet - our sense of relief at finally facing ourselves is amazing.

There are as many ways to take Step Four as there are OA members. The only wrong way is the way that doesn't get done. The most basic is what's in the AABB: we write our resentment, what caused it, and what's affected in us - that gives us a good list of character defects. I have an AA friend who says that few of us do it that way, though, because most of us aren't willing to be that honest and thorough. Here is a list of options (I'm sure there are more):

  1. You can do it as set forth in the AABB pages 64-71:
    1. Write down the name of the person, institution or principle toward which you feel resentment;
    2. Write down the event(s) that caused the resentment;
    3. What was affected in you: self-esteem, security, ambitions, personal or sex relations?
    4. What character defect(s) of yours were evident in the situation - these are what placed you in the position to be hurt.

  2. You can use the questions in the OA 12n12, pages 34 43.

  3. You can do your fourth step chronologically listing all those pivotal moments in your life good and difficult
    (this is the David Copperfield approach: "Chapter One. I was born.")

  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

Why do we start with resentments? According to the AABB, "resentment is the number one offender." Well, what the heck does that mean? I think anger is a difficult topic for many of us, and in my opinion - and it is only my opinion - most of us seriously misunderstand what we're supposed to do with anger. When I first read pages 65-66 in the AABB, where it says, "The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong," I thought it was meant sarcastically. I thought that, having written my Fourth Step, what I was supposed to realize was that everyone else was right, I was always wrong, and to learn to take responsibility for how wrong I truly was. And, mind you, I thought this for years in recovery! I no longer think that, thank goodness. What I now understand is that people are going to continue to misbehave and tick me off. I am going to get angry - and my anger is valid because all feelings are valid, all the time. But then what? So I'm angry - so what? MY way was to hold onto my anger, let it fester and become a resentment, nurse it, tend it, water it, until it bloomed - and it used to bloom into a glorious binge or at the least a temper tantrum. Now, not so much. Now, I acknowledge my anger, validate it (tell myself it makes sense) and get on with my life. The AABB says, "when the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically" (p. 64). So if I stop hanging onto resentments, can turn these people over to HP and let them be as annoying as they are (and they ARE!!!) and take care of my own business, then I can be square physically (with my food and my weight) and mentally (in my thinking and emotions).

When writing Step Four, don't forget to include your assets; inventories are not judgments. They are a non-judgmental enumeration of the facts at hand.

Here are this week's questions; remember, you'll write this week, and then next week you'll be spending 10 minutes a day writing Step Four.

1. Are you ready to be searching and fearless?

2. How do you know (or how will you know) you are ready? What thoughts or behaviors (will) tell you so?

3. If you are not ready, what will have to change in order to be ready?

4. What image does the word "searching" call to mind for you? For instance, I think of a searchlight beaming from a lighthouse on the shore of the ocean. What's your image? (You might be able to apply this image to the writing of Step Four).

5. What fears do you still have about taking this step?

6 Have you ever taken an inventory in another area of your life? Perhaps you inventoried your closet, or your refrigerator, or you did one at the office?

7. Do you take other peoples' inventories?

8. Have you chosen how you will do your inventory? How will you make that choice?

9. Name one resentment, one fear, and one defect of character. (See? You've started Step Four. Good job!)

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Step 4 Part 2

Dear WTSers,

This week you will be spending 10 minutes per day writing your Fourth Step. Ten minutes a day - you can do that, right? The time it takes to wash your face and brush your teeth? Unload the dishwasher? Clean the catboxes? Get gas in your car? Remember that, as I wrote last week, you may have to act in a way that is opposite to the way your emotions are urging you to act, in order to take this step.

This past week I was at a face-to-face meeting where we read and discussed Step Four. When the leader announced that Step Four was the topic, several members groaned. Would that have been you?

A couple of observations: It has been my experience that while writing my Fourth Step my defects of character are right there in my face. Be gentle with yourself this week. Please don't forget to list some assets along with the liabilities - the unsaleable goods in your inventory.

Also, try not to think at all about whom you'll be giving this away to. You don't want to self-censor as you go.

Don't wait for perfection: the perfect format, the perfect conditions, perfect readiness. If you do, it is more likely you'll never complete the Fourth Step. Perfectionism is a character defect - don't let it swamp you now.

Step Four is one place where we must be willing, but also remember that being willing is not the same thing as wanting to do take the Step. Pray for the willingness, then act. Assume you have been given the willingness you asked for, put one foot in front of the next, and move forward.

I will send this reminder on Thursday, as always, as another nudge to move you along. If you need my foot on your backside, please let me know and I will oblige.

Don't eat no matter what!


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