“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
- Step Four, 12 step Programs such as AA, NA, CA etc.
The fourth step, in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Narcotics Anonymous, is one of those steps that can strike fear in a person if they are new to recovery. Some people feel they do not need to do an inventory at all, some feel they simply will not ever write down all of the “bad stuff”, and others are so excited to be in recovery that they cannot wait to get to this step and want to skip right to it without working the first three. More often than not, people in recovery are gun-shy when it comes to doing a moral inventory of themselves. It is a natural reaction to such a project but there is an important purpose to this step. Therefore it should not be overlooked or skipped for any reason.
The Twelve Steps are in order for a reason. It is very difficult to look at one’s behavior openly and honestly unless Steps One, Two, and Three have been taken. Step One is about getting honest regarding the problem at hand. Step Two is recognizing that the insanity can stop if one is able to connect with some sort of Higher Power in the Universe. Step Three is making the decision to follow through on the rest of the steps in order to have the spiritual awakening that is the ultimate reward in recovery. This decision acknowledges that faith is going to be put into a Higher Power in order to achieve the ultimate reward.
Now this is where some people get stuck or frozen in fear. As it is conveyed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, every business needs to take inventory from time to time in order to keep the good product(s) and eliminate the product(s) that are no longer able to be sold for whatever reason. Step Four is simply a personal inventory of one’s self, similar to a business inventory. Judgment of self can sometimes keep people from being willing to move onto this step but sharing and praying can help people in recovery move forward. This step is about casting the self-criticism aside and making a list of resentments and fears in order to review what you have to work with in your life.
If you are wondering what good can come from this step, here is one of the biggest benefits of all. As you work all of the steps and come to know yourself better, you will be able to help others who might be struggling in their own journey. After completing your inventory, you will be able to share your experience, strength, and hope with newcomers. You will be able to let them know that you have done some of the very same things they did while they were active in their addiction. You will be a living example to others that people can recover from a hopeless state of mind and body, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Obviously it is very difficult to look back on less-than-exemplary behavior and own up to the mistakes that were made in the past. However, working the steps in the order in which they were written promises to bring about great change in behavior and life as a whole. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes. I have always tried to remind those I coach to trust the process. It will work – it is just a matter of trusting that the results will happen. Many times friends and family will see the change in you before you do. Taking action by writing out a fourth step just brings you that much closer to the desired result of a spiritual awakening as it says in Step Twelve.
If you are thinking about doing Step Four but you have not started the actual work yet, I would encourage you to pick up the pen and paper and begin now. Get in touch with your sponsor and start writing as soon as possible. Sponsors help to reassure their sponsees that they are making progress. Sponsors will also help with explaining how to do it and what your timetable should be in order to get it done in a timely manner. As you move forward and start writing it out, you will learn about yourself. You will begin to see patterns that can be identified and then changed. You will be able to help another person just by sharing your experience without judgment or criticism of self. It takes courage to face up to past behaviors and the consequences that may have accumulated over time. With the help of a sponsor as a guide, someone who has actually worked the steps in the order in which they are written, the Fourth Step can be a useful and healing tool for all involved. Start yours today. The rewards will come if you trust in the process.