The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Four

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

I just went back in my past posts to read what I wrote about this step as I was undertaking of it, and here’s what I concluded:  I am a whiner!  But here’s why:  nothing scared me more about the steps than trying to complete this one, and with good reason.  It’s the first where more than a decision has to be made, you have to take pen to paper and do actual work.  My fear prior to actually completing this step is that I would never be able to do it perfectly.  And, good alcoholic that I am, if I can’t do something perfectly, then I don’t want to do it at all.

On the other hand, my desire to complete the steps outweighed my fear of doing them imperfectly, so onward I went.  The most basic explanation of step four is this:  get out a pen and paper (lots of paper), and look backwards through your life.  There are categories, which may vary somewhat depending on who is “taking you through” the steps.  My categories were:  resentments, fear, sex conduct, and people I harmed.  With each category, I listed everyone and everything that I could remember that would fit into each category, and write a short description of each.  So, for example, if I had a strong memory from childhood that came up when I considered resentments, I would write down the person, and a brief explanation as to why I held the resentment.  Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road:  in the last section of each category, I needed to list my part in each resentment (or fear, or sex conduct, or people I had harmed).

As you might surmise, this was no small feat, and it takes a serious time and emotional commitment to complete this step.  In terms of recovery, step four was illuminating.  I discovered quite a few patterns of behavior that have been ongoing from as far back as I can remember.  Even things that I knew about myself in a vague way, such as my tendency to be passive aggressive, was spotlighted throughout my entire life, in ways I did not even realize.

So from a recovery standpoint, step four allows the alcoholic/addict to see very clearly how the addictive substance is nothing more than a symptom, and that the true nature of our malady, the real cause, is in our minds.

Step four, while time-consuming, would be a fantastic tool for anyone to use in their lives.  Here are some everyday analogies:  did you ever attempt a diet that asks you first to not change your eating habits, but to simply record them?  And when you do this, and look back over the log of your eating, you have a much clearer picture of what you are doing right and wrong?

Or how about any basic budgeting tool… isn’t the first step to take an accurate and honest survey of how you actually spend your money on a daily basis, and only then can you make the proper decisions on how best you can save your money?

Well, it’s the same basic premise.  If you are looking to make changes in your life, if you are unhappy and can’t quite pinpoint the cause, then before you can make any meaningful change, you need to figure out what you have been doing, both right and wrong.  The word inventory in this step is apt:  you need to take stock of what is good, and not so good, before you can figure out what to keep, and what to throw away.

Feedback from my friends in recovery is requested:  how has step four helped you?

Today’s Miracle:

My sponsee was in the hospital with a serious health condition, and she was discharged yesterday afternoon.  Her first request:  could I please come over this morning so we can continue our work on the steps?  What a miracle!

Posted on May 3, 2013, in Twelve Steps in Everyday Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. You have explained this step so clearly that it allows anyone to examine themselves and get a clear and honest picture of any problem that overwhelms you. Awesome! Kudos to you!


  2. Great post, J! I loved the analogy to the weight loss journal or the budget. I will have to steal those for when I walk someone through the steps again 🙂 But yes, it took considerable time and energy for me to complete my 4th. Probably too much time (straggled too much, in my opinion). But it got done, and like you said, it wasn’t perfect. But we can always go back, can’t we? I know that on my second 4th (I did it this year), I found some things that I completely forgot about (or was blocked off about). More fears, but a few resentments and a harm or two. Nothing an amend can’t help with.

    Funny, I was explaining the fourth step to a non alcoholic, and she said something alone the lines of what you did – that this is something that anyone could benefit from. And I think you are correct in saying that. People are frightened of doing this step, and frankly, a lot of it comes from other alcoholics who haven’t done the step, ya know? It’s the old “Whoa! You’re gonna do your fourth…wow, good luck, partner…you’re gonna need it” etc. It’s not difficult at all, and is the most illuminating spiritual exercise you can do, frankly. Made a huge difference in my life. I was surprised my my own passive-aggressive behaviours too, and my willingness to play victim, and my co-dependency on others to make me feel good about myself. Plus…(Oh I will stop…or I will go on forever!) but man, was I able to look at myself properly for the first time in my life – honestly.

    Step four has shown me the blueprint for the wreckage of my past – what made it hum, what wheels and gears were behind all my drinking and the unmanageability in my life. It showed me where I propagated and allowed things to go on. It allowed me to see me in it’s ugly entirety. And with that, I was able to move on and heal. It was a true breakthrough for me.

    Lovely post, very educational.



    • Paul, thank you, as always, for the validation you give me. I’d also like you to know I am enjoying a prepandial diet pepsi right now.

      That word is not even recognized by spell check, which makes it even more awesome! My husband is away right now, but I CANNOT WAIT for him to come home so I can offer him some prepandial beverages (non-alcoholic, of course). I will do this just to watch him roll his eyes…


      • Ha ha…glad to hear. I had a word swimming in my head today and I was laughing thinking about you – seeing if you wanted to add another one to your dictionary…lol.


  3. Just completed my 4th and 5th steps and your explanation is so spot-on!


  4. Step 4 was a big help in that i was forced to recognize my specific defaults and name them. In doing so, i was pushed out of my vague cloud of “Oh yes, i have many defaults, more than most probably” into a place where i had to recognize them.

    In my day to day, this has been a huge help because, now that i’ve identified these defaults, it’s easy to recognize them as they come over me. Even before they come over me sometimes! All the better to avoid them.

    Thanks for another spot on post, my friend!


    • And thank you, Al, for adding that part, I really meant to write about the idea of now being able to identify (and hopefully avert) those character defects. Certainly a case of progress and not perfection, but at least we’re trying!


  5. Great post, love the analogy. I do often refer to the inventory making as the first step towards change. For me step 4 was a good way to see the patterns in my life, the things that I kept doing over and over – the insanity. It also made me realize how I lived in a victim role, and believed that the world had done me wrong! It was quite an eye opener to find out that I was at fault may times. And the other great thing is, that although my first few 4th were horribly tough, and they took a long time and brought up some really bad memories, my most resent one was short and sweet. And that is the miracle of sobriety and a true gift of the program!


  1. Pingback: M(3), 5/18/15: Confession May Be Good for the Soul, But It’s Brutal for the Ego | themiracleisaroundthecorner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

losing anonymously

Learning to balance healthy and happy while living a full and busy life!

Oh for the love

Just another 50+ woman trying to get her shit together.

Guitars and Life

Blog about life by a music obsessed middle aged recovering alcoholic from South East England


I got sober. Life got big.


From daily wine drinker to alcohol free living...this is my journey.

The emotional messy stuff...

Vodka Goggles

No longer seeing the world through vodka colored glasses..


An Irish Mindfulness Meditation Blog: Practicing calm, wellness, meaning and a happier life.


Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Starting today I am on my way.


Trying to ace sober living

Emotional Sobriety And Food

"... to be able to Twelfth Step ourselves and others into emotional sobriety" -- living, loving & letting go.

girl gone sober.

a blog about living sober. i didn't always drink beer but when i did i drank a lot of it. stay sober my friends.

The Sober Garden

Jettisoning the heavy stuff...

The Six Year Hangover


Process Not An Event

Adventures in Addiction Recovery & Cancer Survival

And Everything Afterwards

How I quit alcohol and discovered the beauty of a sober life

%d bloggers like this: