I have just finished yet another complete and formal 4th step (“Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves”). This is my second in DA H.O.W., and I cannot even remember how many I’ve done in the 27 years I’ve been in recovery in total.
Newcomers are especially terrified when it comes to this step, which can seem overwhelming.
But I am here to tell you that the 4th step gets easier the more times you do one. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a horrifying experience at all if you approach it as a “fact-finding” expedition and not an unwilling unearthing of hidden, dark emotions and memories. Seriously, attitude is an important part of getting through the 4th step in a timely manner. If you let emotions and fear bog you down, it becomes a far more quicksand-like experience. But you can change the way you look at this step so you realize it is a stepping stone toward relief and a better life … which will allow you to move through it in a timely way.
Further, if this is your first 4th step, you don’t have to suffer angst that you haven’t uncovered every single issue of resentment, fear, sexual conduct issues, and other harms because, if you stay in recovery, you will not only do additional formal 4th step inventories, but the 10th step is a daily mini-4th step that you will learn to do as well (“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”). Because of Step 10, each formal 4th step is much smaller and less gruesome than the one before.
A One-Column at a Time Approach
It is inevitable that emotions will come up while doing a thorough 4th step, but one of the methods to keep this from overwhelming us is to do one column at a time. So, for instance, instead of listing your ex-husband and going on to what the louse did to you, etc., you would list your ex-husband, then go to the next line and list the next person you resent.
Once you have listed them all (it is normal to have pages and pages of them), you go back and do column 2 from the top and list all the rotten stuff that each person did to you. Notice I said “list.” If you look at the Big Book on page 65, you see that it is not necessary to write a full-length book about each resentment. That is because what others have done to us is not the focus of our inventory.
All you have to do is jot a quick note containing the essence of the problem. That’s it! A quick removal of the bandaid is far less painful than slowly pulling it off. Then, you move down the list and if you keep moving, rather than stopping to ruminate on each harm, you will find that you can get through it rather quickly.
Taking Responsibility for Our Actions
Now, the next three columns are where the rubber meets the road, where I separate my blaming self from the person who wants to live in recovery and examine my flaws and foibles. It is often the first moment where I may experience a lifting of my anger and resentment. Oh, I may think, I guess I did criticize my husband a lot on this subject before he started yelling at me, comes to mind.
I have grown to love seeking my part in a problem. It is like a puzzle or detective story where I put in all the pieces. However, there are definitely some situations where I am clueless as to what I may have done to cause the problem or I have clearly done nothing (such as in sexual assault or child abuse). As long as I have looked into my heart for the truth, and am willing to take responsibility for my part if that is the case, that is all that matters.
Please understand that I’m not saying that I don’t feel emotions dredged up when doing a 4th step. Of course, I do. However, odd as this may sound, meditation has helped me see that I am not my emotions and I don’t have to drown in them. I can feel them and just move on.
The key is not to let emotions STOP you from moving forward and through this step. As you can see from the Big Book’s example on page 65, you can move quickly through this process and still be thorough!
Further, while the Big Book states that we do a fearless and thorough inventory, that doesn’t mean you can’t move on if you haven’t gotten every single thing down on paper. If you live a recovery life, you will not only have another opportunity to do a formal 4th step, but you will eventually get to Step 10 (“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”) where you may remember what you now forgot.
It may be a good idea to set a date with your sponsor for your 5th step to give you a deadline for completing the 4th step. Too many members become mired in this step and never move past it. It is not here to stop you, but to propel you forward into a deeper level of recovery.