Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

STEP FOUR: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

ACTION: Inventory



~ Finish the earlier reading if you haven't as yet

~ Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) - Chapter5 "How It Works," from the bottom of p. 63, beginning with "Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning..." to the end of the chapter

~ The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous - Step Four

~ Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Alcoholics Anonymous) - Step Four


Deep breath.
Let it out.
Connect with Higher Power.

Most of us approach Step Four with trepidation - I know I did. But for me it's true what it says in the reading - this is a cleansing step, a relief. It did not, as I feared, drop me even lower into the pit of misery and self-loathing that I was living in. I found that I was SO relieved to learn some ways to sort out my jumbled and uncomfortable feelings and actions. "Once we have a complete willingness to take inventory, and exert ourselves to do the job thoroughly, a wonderful light falls upon this foggy scene." AA 12 & 12. The worst part of my uncomfortable inner life was that it was a big unexamined scary mountain of debris. The best part of Step Four is that it gives me ways to sort through the debris and figure out what the heck are all those things in that mess? As we tell children when they are upset to "use your words," I now get the courage to use words to name the things in that mountain.

The Big Book says this is a fact-finding and fact-facing process. We write down the flaws in our makeup which caused our failure to live without harming ourselves. The AA 12 & 12 says our normal human instincts have exceeded their proper functions, coming to "drive us, dominate us, and insist upon ruling our lives . . . .we want to find exactly how, when and where our natural desires have warped us." The OA 12 & 12 says "As we took an honest look at the past and who we'd been and what we'd done, we begin to understand ourselves better. That understanding was the beginning of emotional healing."

What inventory method should we use? The recommendation is that the inventory be written, but we can use whatever method works for us. There is no one right way. The best way is just to pick one and get started. We can make adjustments or change the format as we go. We are provided with a number of tools in the literature. If we are procrastinating, we can say a simple prayer for willingness, followed by action.

The Big Book gives us the Resentment list, the Fear list and the Sex list. The Resentment list ". . . held the key to the future . . . . We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us . . . .The wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill." We look for our own mistakes in these situations. It gives us three resentment columns: (1) Who/what, (2) Why (3) Affects My (self-esteem, security, ambitions, relationships). It points out that "Resentment is the 'number one' offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. . . .When harboring such feelings, we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die . . . . If we were to live, we had to be free of anger . . . . for alcoholics these things are poison." About Fear it says "It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it." With each of the three lists, there is a simple prayer.

The AA 12 & 12 gives us the 3 basic instincts, for sex, security and society, which get warped in us and come to dominate us and cut us off from our best selves, from our Higher Power, and from others. It gives us the "Seven Deadlies" Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy Sloth, and says "It is not by accident that Pride leads the procession." points out that Pride leads to self-justification, Pride is spurred by fear, and it is the chief block to true progress. It warns us that these "instincts on rampage balk at investigation," and there is a tendency to fall into extremes of the "Depressive" on the one hand, and the "Power-driven" on the other. Guilt and self-loathing are a "messy bog," "pride in reverse," and I am NOT uniquely horrible. On the other hand, self-righteousness and grandiosity are ways to justify my actions, thinking that outside conditions drove me to compulsive eating.

The OA 12 & 12 points out that "We carried deep in our hearts the feeling that we were worthless or insignificant. Often this shame stemmed from unresolved guilt over mistakes never fully dealt with. We had never faced our wrongs honestly and acknowledged them, so we are left feeling ashamed . . . . As we face the problems, they lose their power to overwhelm and control us." It goes through a thoughtful list of questions dealing with how we interact with others involving Pride, Fear, Anger and Resentment, Sex, Taking money, food or other things that didn't belong to us, Negative thinking, Thankfulness, Self-pity. It says to list everything we can think of about ourselves, constructive as well as destructive . . . . characteristics, tendencies, feelings, prejudices, and the actions we have taken as a result." "When we face the guilt that truthfully tells us, "You made a mistake," we're freed of shame that falsely tells us, "You are a mistake."

If you're feeling overwhelmed, just try something simple. My own fall-back approach is to identify:
1. WHAT: People, places, things, situations, events
2. THREATENING: self-esteem, security, ambitions, relationships
3. PROVOKING: selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, self-seeking, and fear
4. WHAT I DID - how I have acted
These are causes and conditions of my compulsive eating.

When I sort through my unproductive ways of dealing with life honestly and thoroughly in Step Four, as it says in the OA 12 & 12, "The chains of self-obsession drop from us one by one, and we are able to know and do our Higher Power's will more easily, without the need to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings by eating compulsively."


    1. What concerns or difficulties do you have as you work Step Four?

    2. What approach to Step Four is working for you?

    3. Please share any experience you've had in working Step Four.

    4. Any other thoughts or reactions to the reading or Step Four?

Best wishes


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