AA Step 4: Make a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

Let’s talk about Step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous today which is “Make a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory” here with me an alcoholic Jerry Banfield. I have worked with sponsees on Step 4 and this is often where people bogged down and have the biggest opportunity to actually get through the rest of the steps and have a successful life. To me, the key thing you need to do in step 4 based on what I’ve done is to get into the things you’ve done that you feel make you a bad person. For me, this was the key to what I needed to start and then getting help with someone else. Once I started remembering its the things I had done while drinking and even sober then I started to feel like an awful person and that’s where often the desire to drink kicks in really strong.

For me, when I started working on Alcoholics Anonymous Step 4, I initially did it by just writing a really long like 50,000 words on my life’s story. I wrote the details at a level I’d never shared before. I originally published that on my website but then I took it down after seeing the ‘F’ word approximately 130 times. Then I started to remember these other things that I had blocked and suppressed. I would remember them in AA meetings while people were sharing.

One day I remembered something I had done, a crime that I’d never told anyone about. Thankfully no one was hurt as a result of it and yet I felt the fact that I had almost committed a bad crime. I made it something like I was unforgivable for doing it and I felt that I could never get past that. I had never told a soul about that before. That’s when I started needing to do the 1st step with my sponsor because I realized I was either going to talk about that or keep it secret and go drink.

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I had several more experiences. I did the initially written inventory, just writing an honest story of my life including the details that I usually would leave out like times I hadn’t wanted to live anymore and I actually went and put those in. Then I kept remembering so many things that I needed to do. It seems that where sponsees have gone wrong with this is not doing it deep enough and not immediately calling or talking to someone when these things come up. It also seems to me that people in AA consistently get off on a tangent of working it in the big book of writing down all these fears and writing down all these resentments at other people. The resentments and the fears can be helpful if they get back to something I’ve done.

Alcoholics Anonymous 4: Make a Searching & Fearless Moral Inventory

To me, Step 4 is all about getting to know myself and my life. Yes, it helps with the fears usually in my experience. There are very specific stories that I’ve kept secret and that I feel make me a bad person. I need to get those stories out, for example, I heard a lady speak recently. The first thing she needed to get out was that she was having an affair with her husband. Once she surfaced that in step 4, she was like, “Wow, this is something I’m doing”. She felt that she really had to talk about this with any other woman who would understand and that helped her a lot to work the program further.

The idea with Step 4 is, we surface these things about ourselves that we’ve been keeping secret and we also get to know some of the other good parts of ourselves as well. I am grateful I did this by writing my life story out because I saw a lot of good things about myself too. Some of us have low self-esteem and we think that we’re not worth anything and we’re no good. Yet we are and Step 4 can help us see that we’re not just totally worthless and useless but that we have a lot of good qualities as well and we need help with getting rid of the things that are bad about ourselves. All these changes we’ve burden ourselves with, these stories that we’ve carried around and to find ourselves with and we resent and hate. That’s what’s worked for me with Step 4.

The key with Step 4 is to surface things that need to get to Alcoholics Anonymous Step 5. If you’re not surfacing things that you don’t feel really uncomfortable or confused about, that’s an opportunity to just keep doing it, keep looking, get into those reasons that you’re drinking, and get into the reasons that you’re thinking constantly. Ultimately getting rid of these stories by having someone else we trust in Step 5 work with us, we get freed from the need to constantly think.

Alcoholics Anonymous 4: Make a Searching & Fearless Moral Inventory

A lot of us like to drink because it would reduce the thinking problem and a lot of us have so many of these racing thoughts because our minds are trying to keep us safe from these things we don’t want to look at about ourselves. And when we get these things out, our mind won’t keep racing all the time. I am grateful that it’s unusual for my mind to get to racing now. In fact, that encourages me to slow down and get back to Alcoholics Anonymous Step 4 and be like,

  • Whoa! What’s going on?
  • What are my thoughts trying to distract me from?
  • Why am I going so fast right now?
  • What do I need to look at?
  • What do I need to share with someone else?
  • What story am I telling that I’m uncomfortable with that my thoughts are trying to protect me from, that I need to get to the bottom of, talk about it with someone else and then be freed from it?

When we do Step 4 thoroughly, we often really need someone’s helping. When we talk with someone else about all of the things we’ve discovered about ourselves, we then get this willingness like, “Wow, I want to be the best I can be. I want to get into Step 6 and 7. I’m willing to be free from all these defects of character. God! Please remove these from me.” And then we are ready to go from there in Step 8 and say, “I need to list and start getting ready to make amends to people for these stories that I’ve carried around and all that I’ve done.” Thus, Step 4 is pivotal and we know we’re ready too. We know we’ve done Step 3 thoroughly when we really dig into Step 4. When we write that story about our lives that’s incredibly honest.

Alcoholics Anonymous 4: Make a Searching & Fearless Moral Inventory

I recommend that if you write things down that you’ve done, burn it, tear it up, and get rid of it for not to be shared with anyone or whoever you’re doing the Step 5 with, just have him/her look at it but don’t leave that stuff just laying around for anybody to find. I’ve heard stories of people not being very discreet with their 4th and 5th steps and even 8th and 9th steps and ending up in prison as a result of it. Thus, the idea is not to cause more unnecessary pain and suffering which I guess if some someone needed to go to prison to work through something, the idea is not to cause a bunch more pain and suffering and burden the crosses of others by just throwing out everything from our inventory all over the place on top of everyone until we’ve really processed it and work through it ourselves.

Thus, with Step 4, we don’t need anyone else to do Step 4. You don’t need a sponsor. In fact, you can do all the first 4 Steps completely by yourself but Step 5 is where you really need some help. You’ll know you’ve done Step 4 when you are ready and maybe even like I did, feel the urgent needs to complete Step 5 lest we relapse.

Alcoholics Anonymous 4: Make a Searching & Fearless Moral Inventory

Thank you very much for going through all of Step 4 with me in this quick post looking at what I’ve learned in Step 4 and what might be useful to you. If you’d like to see my videos on YouTube, I trust you hit that subscribe button and turn those notifications on so you actually see the videos. I’ve a Step 5 videos on my Youtube channel as well. If you’d like to make sure to see these on Facebook, will you please follow and turn those notifications on and hit see first in your newsfeed. On YouTube, you can also go look at the Alcoholics Anonymous Playlist for my videos about AA. You can also follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin.

Thank you very much for watching this. I love you. You’re awesome and I wish you a beautiful happy sober life.

You may like to read: AA for Beginners! What to Expect During an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting

Jerry Banfield