Step Four

Made a searching and fearless
moral inventory of ourselves.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Hi, friends. I'm Penny K, compulsive eater and leader for this quarter's WTS step study. Thank you for your patience and letting me send this out a day late.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Please read Step 4 in the OA 12 & 12 and the Chapter “How It Works” in the Big Book, specifically focusing on Step 4.

Step 4 is where OA’s most definitely need the support and guidance of a sponsor. If you do not have a sponsor, please find one.

I had learned from the first three steps that for whatever reason I had this “thing” that caused me to eat compulsively, that my attempts to control it and the rest of my life had caused me to go out of whack, and that I could turn my will and my life over to my Higher Power’s care.

And now I was being asked to take a moral inventory of myself. I didn’t understand what a “moral” inventory was or why taking an inventory was necessary. I'll circle back to the "moral" issue at the end of my thoughts.

As I read about Step 4, however, it began to make sense. The Big Book is clear about why we need to take an inventory:

“Though our decision was vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our food (liquor) was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1253-1254). . Kindle Edition.

I spent years thinking I knew what was best for me, and sometimes I was actually right. That said, most of my decisions and beliefs about what I wanted were based on ego, pride, fear, and resentment. I wanted things because they would make other people praise me, and I demanded things because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t get what I wanted. I knew best – dammit – and no one (certainly no deity) was going to tell me otherwise.

Honestly, I didn’t understand how this would help. All I knew was that others had done this thing and they had found it essential and liberating, and I figured what the heck.

While I had no idea what to expect, I had heard from enough people that Step 4 could be a deal breaker. I heard that there were people who had started 4th Steps and left OA, never to return. There was a lot of mystery about it, and it simultaneously thrilled and terrified me.

Two things gave me courage.

One is directly from the Big Book: Four: “A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking 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.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous Kindle Edition.

That made sense. If I don’t know what I have, I don’t know what I either need or don’t need.

One of my sponsors said that Step 4 is simply a list of resentments, fears & sexual conduct which have harmed others or where I have been harmed. We do not do this step to beat ourselves up or to dwell on past pain. We do it to find a positive constructive way to deal with the past and move forward one day at a time. That also made sense.

I jumped in, following the format in the Big Book.

I started with a list of my resentments. The list reminded me of the one-time proverbial Manhattan telephone book; I had a lot of resentments, starting from about age 3 until that present moment. There were resentments I had nurtured, nourished, babied, diapered, and lovingly fed, and there were ones that were relatively minor. And I loved writing them out.

At least I loved it until I read this in the Big Book: “It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feeling 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. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1308-1314).

In other words, I couldn’t afford to hang on to my lifelong resentments. And in fact, I was instructed to begin the process of where I had been responsible in the situations that had created the resentments: “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." Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1326-1329).

I had thought that this turnaround would be painful, but it wasn’t. It was enormously liberating and empowering. Paradoxically, I was no longer a victim because I had had a part in the relationships. I had thought this would be humiliating, but it wasn’t. It was freeing. And for the first time in my life I began to feel that a spiritual burden had removed from my soul.

The same thing happened with my fear and sex inventories. I began to open my heart and soul to my Higher Power.

Back to the "moral" issue thing. I'm still not fond of the word "moral" because it connotes "sin" and "transgression" and the like. What I came to understand is that the things that caused me to behave the way I did were the things that were blocking me from my Higher Power, things that were damaging my soul and the souls of everyone around me. Please don't let the word "moral" discourage you!

And so I offer you the opportunity to work Step 4. Make sure you are staying in touch with your sponsor. Share your experiences with each other. Use the tools. Stay in daily contact with your Higher Power.

You got this. Better put, we got this together.

Just one question: what are your thoughts on Step 4? What's it like for you to work Step 4?

Penny K

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