Step 4 is an inventory. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is also searching and fearless. But’s is also just an inventory.
There are references in the literature to problems that businesses face who do not take regular inventories. If we don’t know what we’re dealing with we don’t know what to do with it. By taking an honest look at ourselves and our behaviors with the help of a sponsor we can more effectively determine which of those behaviors are blocking us from being of the most service to God and to our fellows.
There are different ways that sponsors direct their sponsees to complete Step 4. However, there is only one way that is outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. That is the way we will be discussing in this blog post.
There are four sections. Harms, Resentments, Fears and Sexual Harms. Each section can essentially be completed by filling out various columns. Examples of the format are found in the Big Book.
The spirit of the exercise is to objectively look at negative feelings and behaviors and understand their components. Let’s take resentments for example.
The book instructs us to list out the people towards whom we feel resentful. Easy enough. If you’re like most of us, you could probably write down every person you’ve ever come into contact with.
Next we write down the nature of the resentment. Again, there are examples in the book. These could be things such as I am resentful at my boss because she makes me stay late after work. Or I’m resentful towards my wife for being cold towards me despite my newfound sobriety.
We then look at the areas of our lives that this resentment affects. Does it affect my pocketbook, pride, self-esteem, personal relations, sex relations? We list any and all that apply.
The last and probably most important column is that we list our part in the resentment. Where was I selfish? What could I have done differently? What should I have done instead? Again you will find the instructions in the book and the exact breakdown differs slightly for each of the four categories.
But remember this exercise is not about changing other people or playing tit for tat with I did this to you but you also did XYZ to me. It is about inventorying our behaviors so that we can have the spiritual experience and consequent personality change that relieves us of our addiction.
Give yourself some quiet time to really reflect on what you’d like to write. Don’t take too long with it. You want to get it done as quickly as possible without rushing. We recommend that you pray before and after writing. Ask God for his guidance, support and for the strength to be fearless and thorough.
One last note. As you are writing out your inventory you might find yourself questioning whether certain actions or people should go on the list. We highly suggest that you use this rule of thumb. When in doubt, write it down. We can speak from experience that, either from willful omission or lack of certainty to include, people and behaviors left off the inventory will only continue to haunt us. We also learned through this process that we weren’t as bad as we thought. The fire breathing dragon that was the memories of all our previous foibles and mishaps was much less daunting when written out on paper. Whatever has happened, there are other people who have experienced that too. You are not alone.