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?
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!