When working the 12 steps of recovery, many people will admit to hitting a wall when it comes to the fourth step. Admitting to powerlessness, recognizing that a power greater than oneself can restore one’s sanity, and turning one’s life over to a higher power is certainly no walk in the park; however, the thought of searching within oneself to perform a moral inventory can seem daunting to anyone, whether they are in recovery or not. Far too often, it is more convenient to blame anything or anyone but ourselves for our problems. Blaming other people, situations, or circumstances unburdens us to the point that we can almost shrug off our troubles enough to make a half-hearted attempt at moving forward. This course of action, however, can only serve to stagnate the process of recovery. The most emotionally mature and brave thing a person can do is to turn the mirror on themselves, look inward, and let their own personal introspection be the beginning of enlightenment and positive change.
Doing the Work
Step 4 of the 12 steps is unique in that it becomes the first tangible evidence of the work being done on one’s recovery journey. When you create a searching and fearless moral inventory, performing the mental task of delving into your deepest — and sometimes darkest — memories whilst simultaneously performing the physical task of writing it all down is nothing short of taxing on the mind and body. It is a step that requires a great deal of work in order to continue moving forward. As the saying goes, “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”
Being Open and Honest
The work for step 4 begins in the mind and continues on paper. When you collect your thoughts and memories, expressing them honestly can be difficult, especially from an organizational standpoint. The following breakdown of some common parts of the 4th step inventory will help guide you through this process:
The first part of completing one’s list of resentments entails composing a list made up of all the people, places, and things that you resent. This is important as it informs the rest of the activity, which deals with gaining an understanding of why you feel these feelings of anger. Doing so will allow you to look at the respective situations from a pragmatic standpoint and encourage letting go of such negative emotions. Remember this quote from Buddha:
Next, you must ask yourself why you are angry and that which you resent. It may be something small. In fact, seeing it written down on paper might make it even seem trivial or insignificant. Nevertheless, it is important to identify the reasoning behind your feelings. Even if they are irrational, recognizing this will ultimately prove helpful to your process of self-improvement.
After identifying the reasons behind your feelings, you are then asked to identify what part of you felt hurt, be it your pride, self-esteem, ambitions, or otherwise.
Finally, you are asked to identify your respective role within the situation. In essence, where were you to blame in all of this? This is, understandably, one of the harder parts of this exercise, but in the long run, it is definitely worthwhile.
Similar to the exercise of listing one’s resentments, when searching to identify your fears, you are first asked what is it that you are afraid of and then why you have the fear. After this, you must ask yourself what part of yourself have you been relying on to face this fear that has failed you. Basically, what is it that has been holding you back from contending with your fears. Finally, identify which part of you is affected by your fears. Once this has all been completed, you ask for the fear to be removed through reflection and prayer. Again, it’s all difficult work, but it all pays off in the end.
For this step, you are asked to identify with whom you engaged in sexual conduct, what was involved in the conduct, and the exact nature of the mistake associated with having engaged in this conduct. Then, you are prompted to ask yourself what harm you caused and to whom, and what you should have done instead. It is a reasonable expectation that this step will be emotionally draining, but it is necessary in order to continue your step work.
The final portion of this inventory deals with any harm you have caused to others. In identifying whom you harmed, how you harmed them, what part of yourself was responsible for causing the harm, the nature of your wrongs, and, finally, what you should have done instead, you will thus have completed your searching and fearless moral inventory.
Keep in mind that the operative word here is “fearless”. In the words of John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Yes, this is a particularly scary step. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult of the twelve. Your recovery journey is all yours and only you can reach within yourself to expose memories that, while of an understandably unflattering nature, will help you grow and improve on your journey to sobriety. With the help of a sponsor and your recovery community, though you are looking only within yourself, take comfort in knowing that you are never truly alone and that you have a strong system of support around you.
And remember these words of the great John Wayne:
For more information about Step 4, check out this video with Jorge, one of our Discovery Transitions counselors.