The 12-step programs state that recovery is a process, not an event. The same goes for Step 4: “Take a searching and fearless moral inventory of us.”
Whether we come through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon Family Groups, we likely bring a lifetime of “smelly thinking” with us. In all honesty, it takes a while for the “fog” to begin to lift so that we can see ourselves and the world around us more clearly.
When we have sincerely completed the first three steps and made a real determination to surrender our will and our lives to the care of God as we understand it, then it is time to put that principle into practice. We have to find the courage to look at ourselves fearlessly and be ready to clean up the trash we find.
To continue, we need to identify the problems and get a clear picture of how our behavior has affected us and others around us. This image is not always in focus for newcomers at the beginning of recovery, but as we continue to hang around the rooms, listening to and learning from others and staying open, more layers of the “onion” are peeled off.
No closing services
We are not perfect and we will never be in this life. For this reason, there are no closing services at 12-step meetings! But if we continue to participate, convey the message to others, and hear what they have to share, we can continue to grow and make spiritual progress. That’s why they say: “Always come back!”
Tools are available in step 4. Instructions for step 4 are available online for all 12-level members.
The online guide for step 4 contains detailed instructions that explain how the guide works and a reminder that an inventory is just a list: “Please note that the fourth step is not about anything Change. An inventory doesn’t change anything. It just lists things. Your inventory is just a story of your feelings and actions from the beginning until now. ”
The online guide then contains questions and suggestions about taking stock of childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and a concluding section with the “Here and Now” sections.
Of course, the online guide for Step 4 is just a recommended guide that is meant to be helpful for those doing an inventory. It is not intended to be shared with anyone, it is for “your eyes only” as per instructions.
In addition to the online guide, Al-Anon Family Groups has its Blueprint for progress: Al-Anon’s inventory in the fourth step Workbook that can be ordered online.
The biggest help with Step 4, however, is a power greater than ourselves, as the bulletin board visitors have demonstrated in their shares on this step as our study of the 12 Traditions and 12 Steps continues:
Step 4: daily inventory
As many of you know from my exchange at the 12-step meeting on Thursday evening, it took me a long time to even work on the 12 steps.
My sponsor told me I just need to do the first step to the fullest, keep attending meetings, do what I was told, and the rest will come in time. That way, in a way, I was working on taking the 12 steps and it was well over a year before I ever missed a meeting.
There finally came a time when I realized that I had better get started with the 12 Steps by attending so many meetings that I knew who to help with the Steps. This very good friend of mine led many 12-level meetings (classes) that I attended. I went along well until I hit the 4th step and hit a wall.
I felt very bad about so many things I had done in my life that it seemed impossible to get all of this inventory right. Finally one day I shared this with my sponsor and he smiled and asked me where I was going. He told me to do the best I can at this point and I will have plenty of time to do the rest. He told me not to beat myself up (keep it simple) and that’s exactly what I did.
It made it a lot easier and over time I got a better view of how to take my moral inventory. Once we’ve taken these steps, it doesn’t mean we’re done, nor does it mean that we always have to do the 12 steps in the correct order. I have to take a moral inventory of myself every day of my life. I have to look back and make sure I like what Skip did.
Step 4: be honest
I’m still at step 4 here. I’ve been here for weeks and it will be weeks to complete. The only thing I can really say was getting the questions to step on the internet.
There must be 100 questions there and I’m still in the childhood part. It’s very difficult for me, but I have to do it. When I was 40 years old, I asked the questions, why dear God? Why back to the past, the painful past? The past is gone, today is here tomorrow is my hope.
I now see why I have to do this and keep doing it. My mother was an alcoholic and died at 49, my brother was an alcoholic and died at 48. Forty-seven is coming for me and I’m not going. Looking back into the past has made me understand more than ever why I married an alcoholic.
This step is difficult – this step can be painful – but I am only asking you to take it. An hour a day is not that much time and write down the answers and be honest with yourself and remember that God is with you when this pain goes straight to your heart. And remember, too, that we are all there for one another.
Step 4: a trip
Step 4 started out as a very scary thing for me. “Moral” inventory? I have struggled with moral issues for most of my life. I came from a religious background that was strict, conservative, and self-righteous. And the self-proclaimed leader in the family was a woman who was upset with men that nothing I said or did myself at the age of 12 came close to her moral limits. When I was told that at some point I would take a searching and fearless moral inventory, I was quite reluctant.
Now to step 4. My sponsor asked me to do a few things as a precursor to step 4. First, I had to list ten physical attributes about myself that I liked. Then I had to list ten personality traits about myself that I liked. Another list was at least ten people who loved me. I had to read these lists every morning and night for two weeks.
My sponsor continued: Take a piece of legal paper. Draw a line in the middle and mark it in the middle of the line. This was my lifeline, the center was the middle of my life (at the time I was 32 the brand indicated the age of 16). He told me to start making markers on the line that indicate important events in my life.
After doing all of that, I was ready for Step 4. My sponsor turned the Hazelden guides over to me, but I couldn’t do it that way. Then on a Friday night I attended a meeting that was mostly attended by people who were supposed to have graduated from Chicago AA Boot Camp (the dreaded residences). One woman stormed in, angry at an event that had just happened, and made her comment, which included, “If you are taking Step Four, the best way to do it is the way the Big Book did it explains. ” I don’t know why I stayed that way, but I decided to give it a try. And I found that this was actually the best way for me.
So I took the 4th step. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I made a lot of progress, but one day I just couldn’t write anymore. I knew I wasn’t done yet, but for some reason I had hit a wall and couldn’t continue. I’ve talked about it in meetings. I spoke to my sponsor but he couldn’t help me.
Then a friend in the program invited me to an ACOA meeting. I went to this meeting and after only 10 minutes the wall came down. I resumed my fourth step and completed it in just another week. ACOA had opened my eyes to many things that I had suppressed.
After my 4th step was complete, I was ready (or so I thought) for step 5.