Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
This step scares most people. The language feels foreboding, heavy, daunting. It sounds really hard. And for many people it is really hard.
This step is all about getting honest with ourselves. Some of us have suffered grave consequences and some of us have not. But we all know in our hearts that our addiction has caused harm. And so we must get honest about what we’ve done in our lives. Honest about how we’ve hurt ourselves and others. Honest about how our addiction affected others in our lives.
If you read the big book, there is a description of how to approach this step. For many the book is the only source they need. Others find the book’s recommendations problematic for a variety of reasons. I didn’t know it at the time but there are many ways to do the fourth step. One can find several guides online.
Step 4 was scary for me because I felt that I had to get it right. I thought that this was a one shot deal and that I had to make sure I got into all the things that I’d ever done wrong in my life. If I stole a 5¢ candy from the corner store when I was 10, it better be in the inventory along side my admission that I had punched a boy in my class in eighth grade. I felt that I had to do it exactly as it was described in the book and I was terrified.
Additionally, I could see no reason why I needed to include a sex inventory in my fourth step. What I did in the privacy of my own bedroom with other consenting adults was (and is) my business. Bill Wilson, who wrote the chapters that describe the steps, had a problem with infidelity. It made sense that he would include a sex inventory in his fourth step. I have always been monogamous and so it made no sense to include this.
And so, I wrote the list and sat on it. And I’d pull it out and look at it, decide that there was nothing more to add but that sometime something would come to me, and put it away. I did this for eight months. My sponsor was going through some heavy life changes at the time and so he didn’t pester me about it. And so I kept it to myself.
I was firmly convinced that I would never get it done perfectly, and thus could never progress. Luckily, about a month before my first anniversary I opened up to a friend that I was struggling and that I’d been carrying around this step for months. I told him that I was nervous because I really wanted to ask another man to be my sponsor but I was afraid of hurting my current sponsor’s feelings. My friend told me that I shouldn’t worry about that, that it would be okay, and that I should ask the other man and move as quickly as possible to step 5 with him so I could get the weight off my shoulders.
And that’s what I did. When it came time to talk through step 4 we spent an afternoon at his house talking through it. And not only did we talk about all the bad things but we identified some assets as well. My sponsor shared some things that he’d done in his past and I saw that we are both human beings — neither innately good nor innately evil.
It was really valuable to me to look not only at my defects but also at my assets. I think this is something that is often overlooked in 12 Step rooms. We have a tendency toward self flagellation. We are quick to identify how we fail, but often slow to identify our successes. Part of this may be related to the sense that we need to keep our ego in check. But there’s a difference between grandiosity and acknowledging that we aren’t entirely rotten to the core.
Really, we are all human beings. People with addiction issues may make more mistakes that are driven by their addictions but the final analysis we are human. Humans make mistakes. We have moral and ethical lapses. It’s part of the human condition.
In my mind this is what step four is all about — Getting honest and recognize our own humanity.