Step 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
The day nurse who was assigned to me in detox quickly picked up that I was a bit entitled. (Actually, I was prick.) The first morning she woke me up and passed me a folded-up piece of paper and told me to look up the definition of the word written inside. The word was grandiose. I played along and looked up the meaning. The next morning I expounded my precise definition only to be greeted with another folded slip of paper with another word hidden inside.
This word was narcissism. Still I had no clue why we were playing this silly game. I looked up the word and was ready for her when she came in the next day. She had another slip of paper in her hand. When I queried her as to the purpose of this game, her look was far more powerful than words – she was describing me.
Two years later when finally I started step 4, I remembered that nurse. It helped me to understand that my resentments and fears had been buried under my grandiosity and self-centeredness. Taking a thorough inventory of my past and present was a difficult task that I had put off for far too long.
On my quest for a spiritual awakening, the pain of not completing step 4 had become more burdensome than the pain of digging in deep to find the source of my character defects. My sponsor suggested using the format found in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in which I review, in-depth, the seven deadly sins for my inventory. He also suggested I write out all my resentments and define my role in each one.
Rigorous self-assessment allows us to veraciously align our perception with reality.
“Please allow me to know what I see, not just to see what I know.” ~Herb K., Twelve Steps to a Spiritual Awakening11
As our spirit evolves on our path to transformation, our resistant egos will persist; we hesitate at every juncture. The ego loves procrastination and stagnation – therefore we must terminate our egos as our teachers. Open our eyes and ears and hold our heads high during this period of personal growth. Our higher selves will comprehend the importance of this process. We will forever look at our brothers and sisters in a new light. Only those who are courageous enough to explore their souls will find true peace.
Taking our personal inventories is not about placing on blame, guilt or shame upon ourselves. A personal inventory is about understanding our flaws so that we may change our thoughts, perceptions and behaviors. This step is about unmasking who we truly are so we can clearly reveal our fears, denials and resentments. A fearless moral inventory empowers us to discover the reality of our souls.
There is no greater form of acceptance than to accept ourselves exactly as God created us, but first must arrive at an acute awareness of “Who am I”?
It is time to acknowledge the quiet spirit that lives within us. Our decision to have faith unleashes the strength we need to face our pasts and the courage to question our perception. Our past mistakes were merely lessons that brought us where we are now. Some of us are physically imprisoned as a consequence of our mistakes, while others have avoided this fate only to be imprisoned by guilt and shame. We must escape this torment to move forward in our transformation. In order to clear up the wreckage of our past, we must meet reality head-on.
This process creates an authentic awareness of our humanness and misled ego. Facing reality and letting go of resentments precipitates freedom and facilitates our awakening. We now live on a higher plane where our healing has just begun.
“Today I will recognize where my salvation is. It is in me because its Source is there. It has not left its Source, and so it cannot have left my mind. I will not look for it outside myself. It is not found outside and then brought in. But from within me it will reach beyond, and everything I see will but reflect the light that shines in me and in itself…” ~A Course in Miracles12
Fact-Finding and Fact-Facing
Full disclosure involves the good, the bad and the ugly. People in recovery seem to dread this step, and people not in recovery rarely feel the need to take such courageous actions. The internalized process of understanding and acknowledging, as well as the willingness to change, is the foundation needed on which to build the path to a spiritual awakening.
In Step 4, we investigate what makes us tick:
Why and how did we end up an alcoholic or an addict?
What character defects or shortcomings were involved that allowed us to stray so far from our core values?
Are our core values based on truth?
What perceptions about us are real and what perceptions and beliefs are false?
We are encouraged to be fearless when approaching step 4. Personally, I didn’t get around to step 4 until the pain of not doing it became more than the anticipated pain of actually doing it. There are many ways to structure step 4, but the most important thing is to just do it. Here are some tips.
Use the Books
Chapter five in Alcoholics Anonymous has many suggestions for completing this step, and step 4 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is extremely useful here too. If we get off track, refer to the books. Also, sponsors should be actively involved in step 4. There is no right or wrong way to walk through step 4 but I suggest using both books as guidelines. Here is the process I used with my inventory: Start with eight blank sheets of paper. On the top of the first page write the word resentments. On the top of the other seven pages, write each of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth. This serves as an outline for our complete and fearless inventory.
We begin by writing a list of our resentments, past and present. In almost every case, there will be an element of our own wrongdoing attached to each one. So consider the role we played in the resentment and write it down. Thoroughness is the key to being fearless with awareness about how our actions affected others – both are crucial to the healing process.
The two most common areas of life that harvest resentments are money and sex. In our quest for money and sex, we create many problems. We become people-pleasers or may exhibit intense forms of aggression to get our way. We numb our feelings with food, sex and mind-altering chemicals. By doing so, we lose sight of our core values. We cave into human desires, no longer looking within ourselves for solutions. Instead, we place blame on others for our uncomfortable feelings and distorted emotions.
The purpose of working through and experiencing each step is to have a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps. As our clarity about what is real and what is not real surfaces, our thoughts and behaviors consciously and unconsciously mature.
The Big Book sums it up: “We would note the power of resentment far exceeds any conception we had of negative thinking.” Are we aware that:
A life that includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness?
The hours in which we allow futility and unhappiness in our lives are not worthwhile? Resentments waste our lives.
Resentments shut us off from the sunlight of the Spirit, thereby preventing the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience?
When shadowed from the sunlight of the Spirit, the insanity of alcohol returns, we drink again and we die?
Harboring resentments is fatal?
Resentments do more than slow down our recovery; they create a physical poison in our bodies by creating ongoing stress and causing our bodies to release cortisol. Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is supposed to be released by the adrenal gland only in dire situations of high stress. Too much release of this hormone has been linked with increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other physical diseases, as well as a strong connection to mental illness. This is why we say that resentment kills.
A thorough step 4 reveals the truth about our pasts and our true natures. For years I harbored a deep resentment for my ex-wife and I made her the scapegoat for my failures. By dissecting my role in this relationship, it became clear that I was responsible for creating the mistrust and dishonesty that eventually destroyed our marriage. By placing myself in her situation, I was able to see that her actions were simply protective techniques to ensure her survival.
Soon I could also tie my personal insecurities to my actions. I recognized that my low self-esteem had created a belief that I did not possess the power to actually hurt people. Since I was not worthy of love to begin with, I minimized the fact that my words and actions could actually cause pain in others. When I would verbally attack another or be passive aggressive toward someone, and they naturally retaliated or became hurt, I came to resent them.
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions uses the seven deadly sins when working step 4. By the time we get to step 4, we may have already gone over a detailed list of our shortcomings. A thorough step 1 may have accomplished this, but if not, we can simply write out every negative consequence of our drinking that we can remember. More and more will pop into our memories over time. Missing a few consequences is not a problem – just don’t conveniently leave out the really significant ones.
I suggest using the 20/20: write 20 negative consequences of our addiction and 20 good things about ourselves. Then we take that list of negative consequences and go deeper to the source – hence the seven deadly sins. This mental exercise of tying character defects to behavior and identifying the underlying emotions assimilates in both our conscious and unconscious minds.
As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions points out, the seven deadly sins are universally recognized as common human failings. Since pride is the source of many of our shortcomings, it is a good place to begin step 4.
Tips for writing out step 4:
Go beyond just behavior: investigate motives, beliefs and values.
Write freely without concern of vocabulary, punctuation or spelling. Look for the following as we write:
What motives lie behind our behaviors?
Were our behaviors based on a belief?
Is that belief true?
I found that many of my actions were motivated by more than one of the seven deadly sins, so don’t limit yourself to just these – they are just a launching point.
Challenging our personal beliefs and attempting to live by the principles of the fellowship requires rigorous attention to our thoughts and actions.
Take off the mask and see what’s underneath. Recognize what defects were in the past. Recognize the defects that we have improved upon in early recovery.
Most importantly, note what defects we still cling to. Since step 6 is about removing all defects of character, at this stage take the opportunity to become acutely aware of the defects we want to hold onto – they will require the most effort. For me it was anger. I found comfort in the familiarity of my anger. Also, my anger gave me a false sense of control. I used anger to intimidate others in order to get my way.
This is the time to keep peeling the onion until we get to the core of what makes us tick. The more thorough the inventory, the more freedom we find by completing step 4.
Step 5 should be completed as soon as the inventory is complete.
Truly experiencing steps 4 and 5 are major accomplishments in the journey to having a spiritual awakening.
A Thought Before Step 5
I will accept atonement for myself.
“Here is the end of choice. For here we come to a decision to accept ourselves as God created us. And what is choice except uncertainty of what we are? There is no doubt that is not rooted here. There is no question but reflects this one. There is no conflict that does not entail the single, simple question, ‘What am I?’” ~A Course in Miracles13