Alcoholism is a disease. Because people with this disease do not chose this illness, utilizing coping mechanisms for recovery are essential to ensure lasting sobriety. The most proven, successful tools offered to addicts/alcoholics comes in the form of the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Through AA, those struggling with problematic drinking can find recovery through community support from others who share their own experiences, strengths, and hope with recovery in group meeting environments.
Because the program has been so widely successful, there are countless AA-affiliated groups around the world, in almost every city and throughout 175 countries as well as other groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and other drug-related or addiction-related (shopping, eating, etc.) that have adopted these principles themselves.
What are the 12 Steps of AA, including Step 4 of AA.
The 12 Steps of AA are a set of principles outlined for people struggling with compulsive, out-of-control behaviors that desire to seek recovery and lasting sobriety from alcoholism or drug addiction. The 12 Steps of AA are as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Importance of Step 4 in the 12 Steps of AA
The purpose of Step 4, “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”, is to begin to determine the root cause of one’s drinking, identify any weaknesses that may have contributed to alcoholism, and understand personal strengths that can help support the person with their self-discovery and recovery in the 12-step program. Through this moral inventory, the alcoholic will uncover negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that have contributed to the spiraling of their addiction, as well as direct their attention from blaming others to seeing their part in problems created. This step requires humility and rigorous honesty, as being truthful with oneself will be the blueprint for success with sobriety.
This moral inventory will examine tendencies toward:
- Guilt and shame
- Personal weaknesses and strengths (assets)
Because this step is so thorough in its quest to discover underlying secrets that have kept the addict/alcoholic bounded in shame, regret, anger/resentment, etc. (therefore, increasing the chance of the user staying in a vicious cycle of drinking/using drugs to cope), it is essential that the user be willing to expose all secrets they may have been holding onto through this step. While this may seem daunting, the process of releasing these secrets have proven to be quite healing for the user. Keeping secrets to ourselves, however, proves to destroy a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That is why taking a thorough moral inventory in Step 4 can be one of the most essential ways to produce lasting sobriety.
How to do Step 4 in the 12 Steps of AA and our favorite 4th step inventory worksheet.
Different sponsors may approach the 4th step differently with their sponsees, depending on what they believe will be most beneficial for the person whom they are sponsoring. However, the three main categories that most elaborate on are: resentments, fears, and sex conduct. As such, one way to approach the 4th step is to list memories of people; institutions or organizations; principles, ideas, or beliefs; and events, situations or circumstances that have produced negative feelings (anger, bitterness, resentment, etc.). It is important that while taking this inventory, one does not try to judge or analyze their writing abilities or hold back from writing certain resentments out of fear of being judged (e.g., feeling that the resentment is unwarranted and they shouldn’t feel the way they do so they try to ignore the person or situation instead).
One just needs to be as thorough as possible with this step if they wish to benefit from the internal freedom that can be produced by working a 12-step program. Furthermore, it is important to understand that taking a “fearless” moral inventory does not imply that there has to be no “fear” when taking this step. It simply means that although one may feel fear, they are willing to search their innermost thoughts and feelings through the process, regardless of the fear. Lastly, while one may be afraid to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with another (most likely their sponsor), the truth is, one’s sponsor has probably heard “worse” things before. Rest assured that your story is not all that unique and there is personal healing and freedom if you choose to accept it.
For more resources – check our our personal favorite 4th step inventory worksheet based upon the Big Book Awakening.
How to Find Help with Doing the 4th Step Inventory of the 12 Steps of AA
In order to complete the fourth step, it is imperative that one finish the first three steps of the 12-step program of AA. Each step builds on each other and are needed in order to have the “vital spiritual experience” that one needs in order to maintain lasting sobriety. As such, a good first step action prior to completing the first three steps is to find a sponsor who is willing to take you through all twelve steps. This person needs to be someone that you will confide in and can help guide you on your journey to recovery. Sponsors are typically found in AA meetings or referred by alcohol or drug rehabs. Once you find a sponsor and work through the first three steps, your will be directed on how to complete the fourth step inventory.
Completing the fourth step does not need to be a daunting task if you can understand that every human has flaws and has made mistakes. It is what we do with those mistakes, however, that can define spiritual growth and harmony within ourselves, and most importantly, lasting sobriety. Move through the fear and do a moral thorough inventory of yourself anyways. Your future self will thank you for taking the courageous steps toward emotional well-being.