What is Step 4 All About?

Table of Contents

Step 4

While active in our addictions, we stoop to levels we never thought we could. Becoming vacant shells of our former selves, all sense of morality and self-preservation flies out the window. We prioritize drinking and using drugs before all else — before our relationships with friends and family, before our career ambitions, before our personal health and well-being. We stop caring who we hurt, and we focus all of our limited energy on obtaining and using our substance of choice.

When we get sober and begin living a life of recovery, we are forced to take an honest look at the harm we have caused. Not only did we disregard the feelings of others, but we undeniably and severely neglected ourselves. Early recovery can be a somewhat overwhelming time. A flood of memories might come back, closely interwoven with crippling feelings of guilt and shame. “How could I have done those things,” we might think. “How could I have caused so much harm to the people that mean the most to me?”

If you have made the decision to enter into a 12 Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, you can rest assured that all of these concerns will be thoroughly addressed in time. Each one of the 12 Steps helps you clear the wreckage of your past while learning to live a more principled and selfless life. When it comes to addressing past mistakes, Step 4 is truly the meat and potatoes of the process. But what exactly is Step 4, and why is it such a fundamental component of the recovery process? Continue reading to find out — and reach out to us directly with any additional questions you might have.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are international mutual-aid fellowships, designed to help people of all ages and walks of life overcome substance use disorders and maintain abstinence long-term. Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly referred to as AA, was initially developed in Akron, Ohio in the mid-1930s by Bill Wilson, a stockbroker, and Dr. Bob, a licensed surgeon. Both men had suffered from severe cases of alcoholism, and were able to successfully stop drinking after acknowledging alcoholism as a malady of the body, mind, and spirit. They worked closely with other alcoholics, implementing a set of 12 distinct steps that began with an admission of powerlessness and unmanageability. Over the course of the past 90 years, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous has maintained its initial integrity and helped millions of men and women from all around the world overcome alcoholism and drug addiction.

What is Step 4?

Step 4 of AA is known as the inventory step — “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 4 centers around a fearless self-examination; taking an honest look at our past and acknowledging what we could have done differently. Step 4 concerns taking ownership of the fact that a lot of the resentments we developed and nurtured over the course of our lives originally stemmed from self-defeating thoughts and behavioral patterns — things we played an active role in creating and clinging too. As alcoholics, many of us have a subconscious tendency to blame others for our misfortunes in life. “I would have been more well-adjusted had my parents been able to sort out their marriage and avoid a tumultuous divorce.” “I wouldn’t have turned to drinking if my ex-husband hadn’t cheated on me,” or, “I wouldn’t have lost my career if my boss wasn’t so quick to fire me over a simple mistake.” When completing Step 4, we make a list of our resentments — people, places, and things. Who or what do we feel wronged by, and why? We also take an honest look at the role we played in these circumstances, relationships, and events. “Maybe I had no control over my parents divorce, but I held a grudge against them for years while refusing to seek professional help for any false beliefs I carried about romantic relationships.” “I cheated on my ex-husband as well, and I had been drinking long before he stepped out on me.” “I got fired because I kept showing up to work hungover; sometimes still drunk from the night before.”

A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

A searching and fearless inventory essentially means that we take an honest look at our past and share our findings honestly and in totality with our sponsor. In addition to looking at resentments, we conduct a fear inventory and a sex inventory. We take an honest look at our fears and consider where they might have stemmed from and how we can adequately address them moving forward. We take a look at our sexual encounters and romantic relationships, identifying personal patterns and eventually developing an “ideals” list for our ideal partner — and for ourselves. The specifics of Step 4 will vary slightly based on who your sponsor is and how they approach the steps. Step 5 is a fundamental part of the process as well; attempting to work through the Steps without the guidance and support of a sponsor is rarely effective.

Avoiding Relapse During the 4th Step

Unfortunately, a significant number of people will relapse before they make it through their 4th Step. This is not because of its difficulty, but usually because people tend to make the same few mistakes over and over again. Consider the following before diving into Step 4.

Don’t Take Your Sweet Time

Avoid stalling out! The amount of writing you are required to do might seem intimidating at first, but we recommend slowly chipping away at this step, dedicating at least an hour to fleshing out your resentments list on a nightly (or near-nightly) basis. If you stay committed and consistent you will get it done in a reasonable amount of time, and then it will be behind you!

Be Honest With Yourself

Try to avoid leaving any stone unturned. Remember that while we were active in our addictions we all did things we weren’t proud of. Find a sponsor you trust to share your deepest, darkest secrets with. It is very important to bring everything out into the open — even that one thing you swore you would take to your grave.

Acknowledge Your Growth

Rather than focusing all of your emotional and mental energy on the things you could have done differently, try acknowledging all of the things you are doing well. You are sober, you are committed to a personal journey of self-improvement, you are growing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis. Acknowledge your growth and consider the fact that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Contact Us to Learn More

If you or someone you love has been struggling with active addiction and is interested in learning more about the 12 Step model of addiction recovery, we are available to help. Navigating early recovery can be challenging, but developing a community of like-minded friends can make the process significantly easier. It is important to note that while 12 Step programs are a vital component of long-term sobriety, some people will require a higher level of initial care. If you are interested in learning more about accessible addiction treatment options in your area, contact us today. We look forward to speaking with you soon and answering any additional questions you may have.

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