While every step in the 12-step program presents a unique set of challenges for participants, Step Four has gained notoriety as being the “scary” step. It’s the Step that requires you to take a long, hard, honest look at your character flaws. It can feel overwhelming and frightening but can also serve as a powerful tool you can use to maintain your sobriety.
At this stage in your recovery, you have already worked through Steps One through Three. In the process, you have accepted that you are powerless over alcohol or drugs, that God or your personal higher power could help you achieve sanity, and that you have put your faith in your God or your higher power. The idea is that you’ve been sober long enough to find the humility you need to really examine how you came to be an addict, what kept you addicted, and what needs to change in your life moving forward.
What Does “Make a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory” Mean?
Working Step Four means examining how your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors have made you an active participant in your own addiction. Taking personal responsibility is difficult for anyone, but for addicts, it’s especially tough.
One of the common traits of all addicts is a tendency to see themselves as victims. They are stuck in a vicious cycle of “stinkin’ thinking” that justifies their substance abuse and addictive behavior. This can mean anything from feeling the need to drink to deal with a stressful workplace, using to numb the pain of a dysfunctional marriage, or getting high to cope with memories of an abusive childhood.
Step Four requires you to break down your thoughts and life experiences, looking at critical issues, including feelings of resentment, harm you’ve caused others, your fears, and your sexual conduct. This includes listing all of the ways you’ve avoided taking personal responsibility, misdirected your anger, felt ashamed by things you have done or failed to do, and let fear rule your life.
Creating a comprehensive inventory of all the situations, thoughts, and feelings that fuel your addiction and perpetuate unhealthy behaviors gives you the perspective you need to take ownership of your problems and stop blaming others.
Once you’ve made that list, you then need to look at every single item and ask yourself what your role was in the situation. What did you do to contribute to your addiction? What were you thinking and feeling?
Remember, Step Four isn’t about finding solutions. It’s about self-reflection, honesty and taking responsibility for yourself.
How to Complete Step Four
Like all the other steps in a 12-step program, there’s no right or wrong way to complete Step Four, and that can be frustrating for program participants. In fact, the actual process used to work Step Four is one of the most debated issues among fellowship participants. The bottom line is that you are free to use whatever process works best for you, as long as you are completely truthful with yourself and trust in the Steps.
There are a number of suggested methods, guidelines and even digital templates you can use for reference. Your sponsor may have a particular way they recommend, and your recovery community is a good source for finding a way to work Step Four that fits for you.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you’re creating a written record that serves as a cornerstone for your entire recovery journey. Many addicts keep their journal from Step Four for their entire lives, using it as a tool to keep themselves grounded when they find themselves reverting to old, negative thought patterns and destructive behaviors.
Honesty is Critical in Step Four
Regardless of how you choose to complete Step Four, always remember that you need to be thorough when writing down your inventory. The more time and effort you put into this, the more likely you won’t find yourself falling into old patterns of destructive thoughts and actions.
It’s not uncommon for addicts to take weeks or even months to complete their work on Step Four. That’s okay. After all, this isn’t a race.
There’s no reward for plowing through your steps. Given the fact that work on Step Four can be emotionally draining, bring up painful memories and even trigger problems with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s critical that you take the time to work at your own pace.
Make sure that you have the support you need in your life, lean on your sponsor and be aware of yourself while working Step Four.
And don’t hold back. Failing to be fully honest about your shortcomings is another form of self-sabotage, and it only serves to undermine your success in your 12-step program.
Why Is Step Four Important for Recovery?
Step Four is important for recovery because once completed, it’s virtually impossible for an addict to revert back to blaming other people for their addiction, destructive behaviors and everything that’s gone wrong in their lives.
Success in recovery depends on taking full ownership for one’s actions, and completing a moral inventory is a critical part of this process of accepting personal responsibility. Step Four isn’t about feeling bad. It’s about learning what led you to where you are and understanding what changes you have the power to make in your life.
Begin Your Recovery Journey at FHE Health
When you’re ready to take control of your life and get the help you need to deal with your alcohol, drug or behavioral addiction, call us here at FHE Health. Our team of compassionate, experienced addiction experts is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide you with information about our fully accredited and licensed life-saving treatment programs.
Our 12-Step Series:
- Why the 12-step Program Still Works
- Step 1: Why the 12-step Journey Begins with Powerlessness
- Step 2: What is a Higher Power?
- Step 3: God as you Understand Him
- Step 4: Your Moral Inventory
- Step 5: Admitting Your Wrongs
- Step 6: Addressing Character Defects
- Step 7: Removing our Defects
- Step 8
- Step 9: Making Amends, How to Approach Step 9
- Step 10: Ongoing Inventory
- Step 11
- Step 12
- Understanding AA Lingo