12 Step Recovery  – Step Four

 “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

This post continues our series on the steps of the 12 step recovery program. When we arrive at step four, it is only after a great deal of soul searching. We know what has brought us to this point, but how do we get past all the damage we have caused? It would be easy to ignore the hurt and disappointment we have left in our wake—but for true recovery, that’s just not feasible. The fourth step asks us to go deep. In this step, we detail all the ways we have wronged ourselves and others. Most importantly, it asks us to identify our role in the situation: what did we do or say to get us here?

Moving Past Self-Justification and Taking Inventory

The behavior we are being asked to address in this part of the 12 step recovery program is part of the natural pursuit of what makes us human: sex, money, career goals, personal happiness, professional accolades. These things, in and of themselves, are not abnormal or bad. Instead, it’s the way we went about them under the influence of alcohol or drugs that has caused trouble: “Imposing our instincts unreasonably upon others” is how the Big Book puts it. When we don’t get our way, indignation and resentment may set in, and instead of directing blame at ourselves, we may assume it’s the fault of someone or something beyond ourselves. Self-justification is one of the biggest obstacles to recovery, and it is often rooted in self-pity and unwarranted pride.

Overcoming Obstacles: Your Sponsor to the Rescue

One of the greatest things about the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous is that you are never alone. Your sponsor, whether he or she has nine months, a year or double-digit years of sobriety, can be your touchstone through this stage. They are well-positioned to help you understand that your situation is not unusual. They have walked in your shoes. By sharing their own personal challenges in completing the fourth step, they can help you be more objective when you are taking stock of your own situation. By helping you to look without judgement at the events in your life that have created your most deeply held resentments, you may finally be able to see your own role in what created these circumstances. Even if the underlying issue was not your fault, it’s how you responded to it that caused the damage.

A Personal Journey of Self-Discovery

The ultimate goal of step four is to remove resentments and to free yourself from the anger, blame and feelings of humiliation that they cause. While disclosing certain behaviors and actions you’ve taken to justify them may be embarrassing and painful at first, any sober individual in the program can tell you that completing step four took a massive weight off their shoulders. In completing your inventory, you will have a much better idea of where you are blocked, and you will be able to proceed toward reparations.

Tips for Completing the 4th Step

There are four headings under which you should write your inventory, including: 1. Resentments, 2. Fears, 3. Sex and 4. Harm to others. The last is integral, as in the 8th step you will be asked to make amends. If you complete your 4th step inventory honestly, you will already have a solid list to work from.

Keep in mind this is not your life story. Keep it simple and to the point. You’ll know what it all means and can expand on what you need to in step 5 without referring back to a needlessly voluminous text. That’s the beauty of the 12 step recovery program. It allows you to take things, well, step by step. No need to get overwhelmed. Don’t get hung up on the details. Just stick to the facts.

Above all, this stage of 12 step recovery is about uncovering the truth within ourselves. It’s a fact-finding mission. Have fun with it, and don’t let any negative comments from others in the program stop you from getting it done. Once you’ve gotten through it, you’ll know yourself better, and it’s really amazing how much lighter you’ll feel for it, guaranteed.

Encouraging 12 Step Recovery in Charleston, SC

If you are struggling to stay sober and motivated to succeed, a sober living home may be right for you. The Sanctuary Recovery Foundation provides sober living residences in the beautiful coastal region of Charleston, SC. We would love to talk to you about how we can help.