Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

AA Big Book:

The AA 12 & 12 -- Step 4
OA 12 & 12, Step 4

Center yourself as we are able.

AA Big Book, Page 63

Next we launched on a course of vigorous action

We’ve decided to put our will and our lives in the care of a higher power or higher purpose, however you can conceive of that, that is not the self we have been in our disease. The next few steps - four through nine -- are the things we must do to allow that to happen; to remove what stands in our way. Step Four is the beginning -- just the start -- of removing what stands between us and our recovery.

Step 4 is the first of 6 steps (Steps 4 through 9) whose goal is to ...face and be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. Se we had to get down to causes and conditions. (AA BB P. 64)
Be sure to reread that using the words compulsive eating instead of liquor. Replace the pronouns.

These steps have the precise directions that, with open-mindedness and willingness, we follow to get where we want to go. If you don’t have a sponsor, I encourage you to get one now. The first full paragraph and a half on p. 64

Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory. This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he CANNOT fool himself about values.

We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

The word self sends us back to Step 3 -- that this is not about our compulsive eating; it is about ourselves -- our wills and our lives -- and it tells us that this is just an inventory. It will require some soul searching. It is scary for some, but pray for the willingness to get this done!

My own reflections on considerations for step 4:
About time:

    This step takes up a lot of pages in the BB, and here (sorry!). And I know that many of us have been in programs that require a very long time to do Step 4. We don’t have that kind of time. Our disease will put us back in the food before we know it! (AA BB page xxvi)

    Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the truth from the false.
About what we are doing during Step Four:
    Our goal for Step 4 is straightforward -- To disclose damaged or unsalable goods. (we’ll get rid of them in steps 6 through 9) We’re only trying to identify what parts of “self” have defeated us.

    AA BB page 64
    Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

    We are making a list of what has defeated us. We aren’t psychoanalyzing our lives. Keep it simple but as thorough as you can at whatever point of your journey you are on. List what’s on your mind as of now. Old things that don’t bother you today are gone.

What this step did for me:
With the decision of Step 3 behind me, I had the willingness to do this. I looked forward to it because I thought it would rip the bandaid off my disease a little bit, and let me start healing. My sponsor gave me about a week to get it done, and set up an appointment to do Step 5, so that I had to have completed Step 4 by that time. I’m not sure what came from Step 4 and what came from Step 5, but here’s what I can share. The promises of Step 4 are in the AA BB, p. 70

If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot… We have begun to learn tolerance, patience, and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people… we are willing to straighten out the past if we can.

The very next week, especially at my work, I noticed that I began to be more patient, certainly more tolerant (even though I thought I already was), especially with colleagues. I was calmer, and had much more good will towards others. Just like that. I was amazed, because I didn’t get why it happened, that writing down all the **** that had been swirling in my mind for so long didn’t seem to be such a roadblock. It gave me a promise (and a bucket full of hope) of what my life COULD look like. And with that change, came more willingness and more open mindedness. This is just my story. I hope we read more stories in the shares.

Work the Step
If you don’t have a sponsor, now is absolutely the time to get one. A sponsor will likely give you forms to complete to complete this as a list, and then set pen to paper-- write out this step. If you don’t have forms, make four columns on a piece of paper, and follow the directions in the AA BB, one column at a time. The last column is the most important, but we have to do the others first. You fill out the first three by yourself for sure, but your sponsor may ask you to work the last column with him/her.

The Book is pretty specific about what goes on the list, and it all falls into only three categories. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of this step, this should help -- just three categories is all we have to deal with!

Resentments (AA BB p 64-65)

    Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease… we listed people, institutions, or principles with whom we were angry.
Fear (AA BB p 67-68)
    This short word [fear] somehow touches everything aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread: the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune that we felt we didn’t deserve. …. We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them.
Our conduct around sex (AA BB p. 69)
    We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We’d hardly be human if we didn’t. What can we do about them? …. Whom had we hurt?

We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness?

Once we have the list of what our resentments, fears and concerns around sex conduct are, we will go back and annotate it in the second column. Next to each item in the first column write this in the second column:

AA BB p 64 -- about resentments

    We asked ourselves why were were angry. In most cases we found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. Se we were sore. We were “burned up.”

Write the briefest description you can about why you resent what you resent. This only needs to make it clear to yourself why you put whatever it was on your list. This is only for you. Go down the list and do this for each thing you wrote. When I wrote that I resented my mother in my first column, I wrote in my second column, I wrote that she loved booze more than me.

AA BB p. 68 -- about fears

    We asked ourselves why we had them. Wasn’t it because self-reliance failed us? Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn’t fully solve the fear problem, or any other.
Write the briefest reason you can about why your have the fears you have.

AA BB p. 69 About sex conduct. For each person on the list, we answer this question:
    We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate?

Likewise, we do a third column. Here we get into the language of the 1930s. We are asked how we are injured by these things we have. The BB talks about specific injuries, in the language of the 1930s:

AA BB p. 65
On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self - esteem, our security, our ambitions our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?

The Big Book authors asked us to take a look at which of our basic instincts had been hurt . These are pretty well defined in the AA 12 & 12, step 4. If you aren’t sure what each means, then all of Step 4. I think I want to point out that this is a check list -- just head your columns with those titles -- self esteem, security, ambitions, sex relationships and put a check in the column if you’ve been harmed in that area -- remember this in an inventory, not a long story of our lives. Just a check mark!

Self esteem is the obvious -- what do I think of myself, is that what was hurt by this resentment, fear, etc. Personal relationships -- expand that to include our relationships with other people, but also with the world in general. Ambitions-- were are plans for future harmed. I know I had to spend some time with that one; that’s where ‘shoulds’ entered in for me. (I should be able to have some particular sort of relationship with my mother, but her alcoholism kept it from being that way)

Consider both material security (things to do with money, etc.), and emotional security (your sense of well being). This was the big one for me -- I was able to take care of myself materially, but as I went through my step 4 inventory, I found that almost everything affected my sense well being-- and that’s still my “go to” hurt, for sure. Also consider ambitions here -- have your plans for your future for material or emotional security been harmed?

When I did my inventory and had to decide if my sex instincts were hurt, I judged this by asking myself if the hurt had involved my ability to form intimate relationships with others.

On our Fear inventory, see AA p 68
Perhaps there is a better way - we think so. For we are now on a different basis; the basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.

On your fear inventory, all you need to do is ask yourself if, when you experience, your fears, had you trusted your higher power, or purpose, or were you working with your own self will? Then note if your own self-will worked? I have been afraid of flying for years. On a recent, really turbulent and ultimately diverted flight, I sat in terror, but then I finally experienced a gut-level knowledge that there was absolutely nothing I could do in that moment but trust that it would be OK. My fear had me completely tense, cutting off the circulation in my husband’s hand, and so on -- as soon as I turned my will to my concept of a higher power -- the higher purpose of love and service -- and began to chat with the mom and her little girl behind us, hopefully distracting them, -- did my sense of terror simply leave me. My self will and selfishness didn’t work. My higher purpose did.

On your sex conduct inventory, see p.70
We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.

This changes a little bit; it isn’t asking us what was done to us, but to check off what we might have done to others. So in your third column, check of if you unjustifiably made others jealous, suspicious or bitter, Note next to your checks, what you might have done better?

The LAST Column -- It is here that we look to our own character defects… these are the the things that exist in us that block us from our higher powers and that created the space for the things that happened to us.

My thoughts on this are not to conflate these with blame or shame; they just are. Here’s my example… In my childhood, I had to be selfish, sometimes just to eat. I don’t think you can blame or shame a small child for being hungry and wanting to eat. I can attribute my selfishness to things like that, though , but then it just became part of my modus operandi -- selfishness became a way of being for me. No blame no shame, just being.

On our Resentments Inventory AA BB p. 67
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man's. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.
I want to break this down a little -- there’s a few things here:

  • Put the wrongs others have done out of your mind -- literally, now, cover up columns 2 and 3 --
  • We look for our own mistakes -- were we selfish, dishonest, self-seeking or frightened (we ignore what others had done-- this is JUST about us. The original authors of the BB include only these four qualities, The AA 12 &12 expands the list, and the OA 12 &12 has a lot of qualities like this. For me, it has been easier to stick to the four because it is way simpler for me. I was sponsored like that and I sponsor like that. Each person show work with his own sponsor on this.
    • Selfishness -- basically when things don’t go the way I want them to, when you didn’t behave the way the way I want you to. Resentment, guilt, anger, fear, remorse -- all those are forms of selfishness because something didn’t go my way.
    • Dishonesty --is it true or it is false? Remember that we, as compulsive overeaters, can’t tell the difference (p. xxviii), so this is a big one for us. Inaccuracy , exaggeration, wrong motives, hypocrisy, are all forms of dishonesty, and denial (Don’t Even Know I Am Lying) is especially problematic for us.
    • Self-Seeking -- trying to make yourself look better. Or trying to play god. Or trying to further your own interests.
    • Frightened -- this is about worrying that you won’t get what you want or keep what you have. The BB calls (p, 67) an evil and corroding thread.
  • Check that you are willing to set these things straight. I always notice a shift here -- in Column one we were talking about what happened to us, and now we are talking about what we may have done. Nothing to do now, but notice and be willing. We’ll pick this up in later steps.

Our Fear Inventory -- The last column is really a meditation. You can write down your answers.
AA p. 68:
We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be.

In my example of my fear of flying, during that flight, I spent some time what kind of love and service I could do, and I turned my attention to that.

Our Sex Conduct inventory, p. 69

Where were we at fault? What could we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.

In this way we tried to shape a sound ideal of our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test -- was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us live up to them.

For each item in our sex conduct inventory, write down if it was based in selfishness. Yes or No….then begin, with the help of your sponsor, to form an ideal of what you want your conduct around sex and intimacy to be like. And here we begin our meditation and prayer to live up to the ideal we have formed.

Reflections on Step 4

Here is the whole text of the Step 4 Promises -- AA BB p. 70 - 71:
If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot. We have listed and analyzed our resentments. We have begun to comprehend their futility and their fatality. We have commenced to see their terrible destructiveness. We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.
In this book you read again and again that faith did for us what we could not do for ourselves. We hope you are convinced now that God can remove whatever self-will has blocked you off from Him. If you have already made a decision, and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, you have made a good beginning. That being so you have swallowed and digested some big chunks of truth about yourself.

Did you hit any walls or stumbling blocks as you began to write?

Have you been as thorough as you can be? (we will always come back to things we didn’t find in our first step 4)

Can you reflect on ways in which you’ve begun to comprehend the futility and fatality, the destructiveness, of your character defects? That is, what discoveries did you make about yourself?

What do you think you’ve learned about tolerance? Patience? Goodwill?

Are you willing to straighten out your past if you can? (Yes or No -- future steps will tell us how to do this; we just need willingness now)

Can you begin to see that self-will is blocking you from the life you really want? In what ways?

Are you beginning to trust that a higher, better, bigger power or purpose might be there for you?

If you are willing to share, what are some big chunks of truth have you learned about yourself?


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