A 12-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. I will share my experiences with each step as a resource for newcomers to the program. It is HIGHLY ADVISABLE that you work through the steps with a sponsor! Step 4 reads:
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Before I share my experience with the moral inventory, I must say something of great importance. If you are attempting to work through the 12 steps by yourself, I highly recommend you find a sponsor before you continue. A sponsor should be someone who has experience working through the 12 steps with another sponsor. If you are having difficulty finding someone, I encourage you to go to a variety of 12 step meetings and find someone that you feel you can connect with.
After you have identified someone in meetings, ask them to be your sponsor. 99% of people in the programs won’t bite. Most will be gracious and honored that you asked. A small minority may have some sort of negative reaction, but the worst thing that will happen is someone will say ‘no’. If this happens, just keep trying. You’ll find someone out there!
My Experience With the 4th Step
This step was the first homework assignment from my sponsor. It was not easy but it was one of the most profoundly helpful steps that I have taken thus far. It is a tough step for many people because it involves deep introspection. The inventories that we make here are all different and there is no ‘one right way’ to get it done.
My moral inventory was essentially a series of lists. Each list that I created was categorically different, but all were unified with a common purpose. There were four lists: fears, resentments, harm done to others and sexual conduct. I listed every fear, resentment, harm done and sexual relationship that I have, or have had in the past. After I completed the full list for each category, I listed the reason why I might have these fears, resentments, etc.
After this was completed, I listed which part of myself contributed to this problem and which part of myself was affected. Most times, various forms of selfishness and egotism were involved: self-pity, pride, selfishness, self-gain, etc. I also found that fear crossed over into the realm of resentments.
I completed each list in its entirety before moving on to the next list. Once I was done with all four lists, I found myself adding things that I forgot. The process of creating all of these lists took several weeks, but each person is different. The important thing is to get it done completely, not how quickly it gets done.
I had a long list of fears. Everything was on this list. It reminded me of the scene in Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special where Lucy suggests that Charlie may have panophobia, or the fear of everything. My most profound fear is a combination of the inevitability of my own mortal demise (it’s very selfish) and the permanence and oblivious nature of death (it lasts FOREVER). It wakes me up in the middle of the night occasionally and I’ve been know to jump out of bed. Sorry to be grim, but it does highlight one reality of the 4th step. It can be very uncomfortable to examine your fears but feel rest-assured; it is a beneficial process.
My list of resentments was also intensive and caused me to have another resentment: The resentment of listing out my resentments. I became hung up with the idea that I may have some fault in other people’s unforgivable actions. How is it MY fault that my former roommate stole things from me and sold them?
Hypothetically, let’s say I was hit by a car on the street, through no fault of my own, because someone was drinking and driving. In this situation, I would be a victim. If someone really screws me over like this, it’s hard to “find the exact nature of my wrong”, because there is nothing that I could have done to prevent being a victim.
What I can do, however, is take a look at my resentment towards this person and how I’ve chosen to cope with it. The resentment itself might manifest as self-pity (which is actually selfishness, fear, dishonesty with self) and perhaps I may have a lack of consideration towards the ‘victimizer’, who also has problems. There is a nuance and balance that can work in these situations. I might have a lot of negativity that I’m holding on to and I can do something about that. I can’t change what happened, but I can change how I hold on to it.
Sometimes it’s necessary to seek help outside of AA. Working with a sponsor and a 12 step group is not a legitimate replacement for psychological therapy. I sought out professional help in this process, because I felt strongly that I had serious issues to sort through. There is absolutely no conflict of interest or problem with this decision. In fact, it is encouraged to talk to doctors if you are fortunate enough to have means to do so. Having a licensed counselor really helped me to get through the 4th step, but it is not a requirement.
Harm Done to Others
The list of harms done to others was not small, but it was fairly painless. It was very helpful for me to take a look at my trespasses against others. In several instances, I had never really processed why I behaved the way that I did. Many times it was self-seeking behavior and lack of consideration for others that caused me problems.
For sexual conduct, I listed past relationships and whether or not there was anything that I did that was ‘not right’. This list was very similar to my harms list. I found that I was often only thinking of myself, being greedy and not showing consideration towards others.
Searching, Fearless and Moral Inventory
The 4th step guides us to consider our role in our negative emotions and behaviors. It is not about taking blame for everything. It’s about becoming aware of our instincts, so that we can better handle our emotions and tough situations. It is about dealing with the rage, fear, resentment and frustration involved with negative aspects of our lives. It can be exhausting and it takes effort, but there are dividends for the investment of time and energy.
The point is to examine our character defects and establish patterns in our behavior. It is a process of searching and discovering the root causes of our problems, so that we may be able to recognize them in our daily life. It also serves as a foundation for moving forward with the next step, which is sharing the exact nature of our wrongs with someone else, most likely a sponsor. Essentially, by filling out these lists we construct the skeleton of our life’s story, so that we may share it with another human being (and the HP).
It takes courage and you should be commended for working on this step. I hope to encourage anyone who may be struggling with this to just strap down and get it done. The temporary pain of dredging up memories and exposing our own weaknesses will lead to lasting freedom and happiness.