Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.

Part 1
Part 2

Leader's Share and Step Questions

4—Step 4—Paperwork Part 1

Welcome to Week 4 of the Working the Steps study for the first quarter of 2015. I am Cindy M., a compulsive overeater in recovery, thankful to share with you in this study. If you have just joined us, I encourage you to go back to Week 1 and start there.

Now we start in on Step 4, taking appropriate time, but not as much time as you might have heard. The Back to Basics people have a particular method whereby the sponsor actually does the writing in a meeting of a matter of hours, but most in 12-step recovery do their own inventories, as we call them, and then share those with sponsors or others in Step 5. Try to set aside either some long sessions of undivided attention, or a half hour at the beginning or end of the day for as many days as it takes. If you get a bit behind our schedule for this study, that’s okay, but I do hope you’ll catch up again.

Made a searching and fearless
Moral inventory
Of ourselves.

I would like to note especially that you must be abstinent in order for this step to work well—your mind cannot be clouded by the food and toxic eating behaviors. Yes, you can make a start while still finding abstinence, but you cannot declare yourself done until you are abstinent and have gone over it all again. You cannot see clear through to freedom while you’re full of food. Note, too, that if you’re worried about writing down details that others will see, don’t worry. You won’t necessarily be sharing those details with anyone in Step 5—just the names of resentments and the areas of your own life affected by difficulties with that person (or institution or principle).

Inventory Options

Many ways of doing Step 4 are offered by those who want to make the suggestions in the Big Book more systematic and explicit. I offer some options in the resources linked at the bottom of the Week 1 page of the study and at the bottom of this one. I have used The Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous for my own first inventory and then included principles of some of these others in later passes through the steps, and I’ve received several different versions from my sponsees. You’re welcome to try a few of these Step 4 items and then run your list by me or your sponsor if you like. I may be able to help if you’re not sure you’re “doing it right.” But remember, as they told me, “There’s no wrong way to do it—just do it!”

  • What kind of inventory system will you use or have you used in the past? What do you like about it?

Moral Inventory--Let’s look back at the words of the step again—“made a . . . moral inventory.” What in the world is that? It’s a systematic trip through our emotions and attitudes and a catalogue of our relations with others. Most of the systems I’ve seen agree that we start with listing our resentments against others who have harmed us in some way, just getting out of our system all those we have resentments against. The simplest versions of the inventory have us focus on what is bothering us right now. If we have an old grudge against a fifth-grade classmate and had forgotten about it but for taking the inventory, we don’t have to list that. But if having thought of it makes it really stick in our craw still, it ought to go on the paper. Once we have listed all those who have offended us, we go back through the list and tell why for each one, then look at what that offense “gets to” in ourselves. In a final pass we consider what our own part is in the conflict, and what harm we might have done that person or institution. This process of getting it down on paper is sometimes all it takes to remove it from our lives—isn’t that wonderful?

  • Can you share an example of one of your resentments in all the aspects of the inventory—who (anonymous, of course), what he/she did, why that bothers you, what that affects in you, and what your part is in it?

Of Ourselves--Did you see the part of the step that says we made this moral inventory “of ourselves?” That means we’re not listing resentments to make a hit list or to have some kind of rage therapy, but to get out there the things that bug us so that we can FIND OUR PART and figure out how to deal with it. A sponsor can help with that, and should.

  • Do you find it difficult to find your own part in some resentments you have against those who hurt you as a child or when you were otherwise helpless? How do you deal with that? Did you finally find your part?

Sex Relations--Another part of the inventory has to do with our “sex relations,” which sounds a little terrifying, but it’s both significant romantic attachments and sexual activities. The closer we get in a relationship, the more chance we have to hurt and to be hurt, and the more complex a resentment can be. That’s why we deal with this category on its own, again trying to find our own part in the difficulties of a relationship so we will be able to make things right as far as we are able, from our own side.

I have an old high school boyfriend who I think really loved me, but I was too damaged at the time to be able to love. I did not treat him well, and I have over the years tried a few times to contact him just to say I was sorry and to acknowledge what he gave me that I could not give him. But that’s a sticky kind of situation, and when I had an opportunity to contact him a few months ago my sponsor agreed it was best not to. See how valuable a sponsor can be?!

  • If you are currently in a committed relationship, what is one way you can be a better partner to your significant other? Or if you have had that kind of relationship in the past or hope it for the future, what is one of your most significant weaknesses that you want to improve on for that person?

Fears--Finally we come to fears—things we’re afraid of on any level. Fear has to do with the future, not the past, so it’s different from resentments, though certainly if we resent a boss right now, we might be fearing what he will do in the future. As we analyze things in this category (depending on the inventory form we’re using, if any), we will be looking for antidotes to fear, and ultimately only our Higher Power has any help for us here. We certainly can’t control the future except in actions we take in the present, as each moment passes.

  • Do you have a “silly fear” that nevertheless says something about you and reveals an opportunity for you to trust your Higher Power? I have a fear of heights and get kind of giddy at the railing of a bridge or even at a window in a tall building. I respect my innate physical fear, but I also know to take it lightly and not worry that it’s a premonition of how I’ll die. With the perspective of my Higher Power being in charge of my life, I can trust in my future.

Searching and Fearless--This step has another modifier—“a searching and fearless” moral inventory of ourselves. As we start listing things we need to come back and come back and come back until we’re sure we’ve searched it all and faced it fearlessly. Even our fears we can face fearlessly, because we’re handing this all over to our Higher Power to deal with, or to show us how to deal with.

  • When you looked at your inventory again, with the idea of being searching and fearless, did something else come up?
  • Please share anything else you can think of about your experience doing Step 4.

Congratulations! You’ve started Step 4! Next week we begin Step 4—Paperwork Part 2. Next week’s work has very little for you to respond to, so if you’d like to respond to a portion of this lesson this week and a portion next week, that’s a great idea!

Please write me privately at if I can answer any questions as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!

For Those Who Have Time: Reading and Step 4 Resources

Read about Step 4 in the Big Book, second half of Chapter 5, and in the 12-and-12, “Step Four.” Note that pages 68-71 in the Big Book particularly address the sex relations issue.

To understand your options for Step 4 inventory, explore these sites, from simplest to most complex. I find that using different approaches each time helps expand my idea of what should be in my inventory and what I need still to work on.,,,


5—Step 4—Paperwork Part 2

Welcome to Week 5 of the Working the Steps study for the first quarter of 2015. I am Cindy M., a compulsive overeater in recovery, thankful to share with you in this study. If you have just joined us, I encourage you to go back to Week 1 and start there.

We continue this week from the Week 4 readings, if you want to check back to those from last week. And I expect you’re still working on your Step 4 inventory, so feel free to send things from last week’s lesson as you are able.

I really like the way Lawrie C., in his leading of this study several years ago, boils things down to simple concepts. In this case, he says all our troubles come down to the fact that in our lives things just haven’t gone our way, and we don’t like it. Of course it seems ridiculous to say that out loud—if everything went each person’s way, well, it would be a mess!

I really identify with the point he makes about how our minds can’t keep up with the reality of what the food is doing to us. How many times I’ve “woken up” from an eating spree and wondered how many of those things I’d had, or why there was so little in the bag—good thing I got two, so I could switch the bags out and no one would know! Sick!

It seems difficult to consider that the people who’ve done me the most wrong in my life are worthy of my pity. They’ve done wrong, and they ought to pay! But I’ve done my own share of wrongs and am in myself helpless to overcome it. It helps to know the Big Book doesn’t call for forgiveness outright but for tolerance, pity, and patience. (p. 67) Those attitudes come from a place of strength, not from fear, not from a lack of security, and we get that strength in recovery, so that we will be able to see those people that healthy way.

As the mother of adult children, I have learned in recent years how important tolerance, pity, and patience can be as I apply those things to those I love most in the world. That helps me apply them to those I consider my enemies. If you are still worried that you won’t be able to muster the strength to do this, try mustering the strength to be willing to be willing, if willingness will come to you. I have prayed that in several areas, and it has come.

  • Have you been able to look at those who have harmed you or others as persons who have to be looked at with tolerance, pity, and patience?
  • Have you been able to pray for those people that you can be helpful to them, and not angry against them? (p. 67) How is that going?

    Going back to ourselves, and the rich treasures of p. 67 in the Big Book, we come to the suggestion that in our inventory OF OURSELVES we should be able to identify our moral defects as springing from selfishness, dishonesty, self-seeking, and fear. The first and third seem pretty much the same, but many efforts to read up on the differences have given me this distinction:

      Selfishness is wanting things for ourselves, especially those things that will diminish another person somehow.
      Dishonesty is either outright falsehood, ignoring truth, or standing silent when we ought to speak up. It’s allowing things to seem to be that which they are not.
      Self-seeking is wanting things to go our way, even if they’re things we want for other people—like elections, or our own child winning a scholarship. Yes, there’s an element of selfishness in it, but it’s not quite as rawly “for ourselves.”
      Being frightened is allowing ourselves to become subject to our fears, allowing them to dwell in us, and it often involves our acting quickly, perhaps self-seekingly and dishonestly, to avoid that which frightens us.

  • Does the inventory you are using have you identify, for each resentment, where you have been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened? Or does it have an analogous examination?
    • As Lawrie C. asks in his study, do you see how those defects reappear in the inventory and now realize how those four character defects are keeping you from connecting with your deepest values, your Higher Power, and thus from being sane? This is the “blocking” many talk about in recovery. Don’t you want to get past it? Don’t you want to remove the hindrances?

  • Finally, we pray that God would remove from us these hindrances to our highest values, our best selves, our relationship with our Higher Power. Have you done this?
    • Do you have any thoughts to add to share your experience of working Step 4?

    Congratulations! You’ve completed Step 4! Next week we begin Step Five—Unburdening to Another.

    Please write me privately at if I can answer any questions for you as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!

    Blessings in Recovery,

    Cindy M.

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