Step Four of Alcoholics Anonymous states:
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”
The 12 Step Program is an incremental system through which people make the needed changes, in thoughts and behaviors, to overcome a substance use disorder. Each of the steps builds upon the last. Where the first three steps focused on becoming aware that your substance use was out of control, believing that you needed a Higher Power to help guide you to freedom, and then making the active decision to turn your life over to your Higher Power, Step Four helps to set the stage for the Higher Power to begin its work.
Step Four is the foundation upon which all the subsequent steps will stand. It is considered one of the most important and challenging steps of the 12 Step Program. It requires you to dig deep, to seek your most authentic self.
To place pride aside by resisting the temptation to make excuses or assign blame for past faults, Step Four requires humility. To humbly list any prior actions that caused harm to loved ones, and self, is more difficult than it seems. By nature, most of us resist accepting blame for our past deeds. But in order to move forward in a meaningful way, it is essential to explore our past actions and take responsibility for them.
When you reach Step Four, it is helpful to have the attitude of a businessperson that takes inventory each year to help ensure their company’s success. By identifying slow-selling items, they can remove those items from their inventory and invest in items that will sell better and improve the chances of success. Step Four is a purification process that, in the end, will help advance your recovery success.
About Step Four in Alcoholics Anonymous
While Step Four may seem daunting at first, many will tell you that through this process of taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” you emerge from it feeling lighter. Examining past faults, and admitting your role in the fallout, can free you from that past life and help you move ahead in recovery. As a welcome bonus, exploring these shortcomings can also have a positive effect on current relationships.
The more thorough your Step Four self-examination is, the more this process will enhance the impact of Steps Five. This increased efficacy for the upcoming steps results from having honestly evaluated the character weaknesses that might have contributed to the substance use disorder, which puts you on the path to make needed fundamental changes and amends.
Why Step Four is Challenging
There is a reason it is recommended that you work through Step Four with a sponsor or other trusted individual from your sober support network. First of all, it can be intimidating to note all of our character flaws. It may bring about some difficult emotions, such as guilt, remorse, or shame. However, even those uncomfortable emotions become part of the healing process that eventually put you in a stronger position in recovery.
When working through Step Four it is important to write down an accounting of your reflections. Keeping a list of the ways you may have let yourself and others down, including those actions that inflicted pain on others, provides a tangible tool to help you move forward in Step Five. Ashley Alumni Coordinator, Louis M., describes his Step Four experience this way:
“Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” sounds like a huge task when I read it aloud. The truth is, I knew what was going to be on this fourth step because I thought about it every day. When properly explained from a sponsor, it became a little less scary.
My sponsor told me to look at it like I’m doing inventory on a restaurant’s walk-in freezer (I had a cooking background at this time). You have your clipboard out and you’re going to see what the inventory is, what you have and what you need. You might have some old chicken in there; for example, fear, dishonesty, and wrongs against other people. You also have some crisp heads of lettuce; for example, compassion, motivation, and selflessness. Your job is to write down the good and the bad, every little bit of it.”
As Louis points out, in addition to sorting through the mistakes you might have made along the way, you will also become aware of certain character assets you possess. Recovery is a process of self-discovery, noting both the good and not-so-good aspects of oneself, and this process leads to personal growth and enlightenment. As you identify any areas of strength, make a point to leverage them in the future.
By overcoming fear and plunging head-first into the process of sorting through these uncomfortable truths, Step Four will set the stage for authentic and meaningful change moving forward. Use Step Four as a stepping stone toward becoming a better version of yourself as you work your way through the 12 Step Program.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.