Step Four

"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

The first time I did a 4th step (in AA) I hated everything about it. Just the mere act of writing down the names of the people in my life was painful. I didn’t even have to write anything else to feel bad.


I didn’t feel like I was doing it “right”. Using the example in the Big Book seemed awkward. I decided it was out-of-date and, therefore, wasn’t relevant. That meant I needed to find a better, more modern (i.e., easier, softer) way of doing it. Of course, my Sponsor thought differently and told me to quit putting it off. So I fumbled through it. But I sure didn’t like it.

The Big Book frames the inventory this way:

“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”

“In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were sore. We were ‘burned up.'”

“On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our ambitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?”.

So the Big Book suggests a simple three column format:

I’m resentful at:         The Cause           Affects my:
____________          ________        __________

This format is very much geared toward the alcoholic (note the emphasis on resentments). But why couldn’t it also be effective through the lens of our Al-Anonism? Who among us living with alcoholism (active or not) hasn’t had a resentment or two?  Of course, our resentment list may be short because we tend to blame the alcoholic (along with their cohorts) for our misery.  I mean, it’s obvious that if the alcoholic would just quit drinking all our problems would be cleared up, right? So if they don’t quit, it’s their fault and grounds for resentment on our part. Makes sense. We would soon learn differently, to our amazement.

One thing I often hear is to be sure to put ourselves on this list. Yes, self-condemnation (revealed in my self-talk) is how resentment toward myself would look.

The Big Book continues on to say,

“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.”

So this format is a great start for those of us who are “double winners”.  Short and sweet. Straight and to the point. Hits on all sides. We’ve had the worst of both worlds, now it’s time for the best and the Big Book’s Fourth Step is a great way to start.

Next we’ll take a look at another way of doing a 4th Step.  In the meantime, let us know what you think of this 4th Step format or share the one  you prefer by leaving a Comment here.