Step 4 – doing the inventory – Episode 18

Step 4 states “[We] took a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” What were our first impressions? What did we fear? What did we find? What was our experience of working Step 4? How has it enhanced our lives? Kelli, Erika, and Spencer talk about our experience, strength, and hope around Step 4.

Kelli and Spencer first saw the steps on a poster on the wall of a meeting room, and were terrified at the thought of doing such an inventory. Erika first heard about Step 4 in open AA meetings, where it was talked about as a necessary part of someone’s recovery, so she had a more positive impression of it, that it was a good thing to do. We weren’t sure why we needed to do it, even if it was clear why the alcoholics in our lives might need an inventory. Spencer remembers a friend talking about the angry person she became when her loved one was in recovery but before she found Al-Anon, as an example of why we need recovery, too.

We have heard others share that their recovery really started, or “went into high gear” when they did their inventory (and the following steps.) But even if we recognized that it might be a good idea, we still had fear of starting it, of looking deeply at ourselves and our faults. Some of us feared what might happen if we changed as a result of what we might find. We remark that the first section in the Al-Anon Blueprint for Progress is about honesty, which is both a hard place to start, but also reminds us that honesty is a key attribute that we must have in taking our inventory.

Kelli suggests that we often mentally group step 4 with the following steps, and that we start thinking about how we will have to tell someone else about what we find, that we will have to make amends, and that adds to the fear. Spencer’s sponsor reminded him of this, when he was worrying about making an amend for something he did as a child. His sponsor said “don’t worry about that now. Just write it down. We will think about whether you need to make amends when you get to Step 8.” That was helpful, and one that he had to remind himself of many times as he went through his inventory. Erika relates this to the “3 A’s”, awareness, acceptance, and action. When we want to jump straight from awareness to action, we can pause until we accept the situation and we may find a better plan of action than if we had just jumped in. Kelli tells a story on herself where jumping straight from awareness to action did not turn out well.

What does it mean when we say that the 4th step catapulted us into recovery? Spencer has said this, and he can’t really explain why that was true, only that he can look at his life before and after doing his inventory, and see that there were real changes in his serenity, and in the way he lived in the world. But, he thinks, part of it is that it really helped him to see how he contributed to the chaos and unmanageability of his life. That awareness then led him to be able to begin to make changes for the better. For Erika, there was pain, at times, in exploring the dark corners of her life, but that pain was worth it for the insights that she gained.

Kelli reminds us that our 4th step inventory should include our assets, too. When she was growing up, her family did not recognize each others successes, so her experience was only in “picking things apart.” It was a new and welcome experience for her to consider that there might be things right with her. Erika’s 4th step helped her to enhance her self-esteem and to start to love herself. A couple of us have difficulty “admitting” our assets, and that taking our inventory helped with accepting that we have good attributes, too.

We discuss the different ways we have worked Step 4. We already talked about Al-Anon’s Blueprint for Progress, a workbook for doing a thorough inventory. Another tool that most of us have used is the book Paths to Recovery, which has discussion about and questions for working all 12 steps, traditions, and concepts. Kelli has sponsored a couple of women who used the procedure laid out in the Alcoholics Anonymous “big book”. We agree that it’s not really important which tool you use, the most important thing is to do it. Kelli talks about a simple 4 column method for doing a “mini 4th step” inventory about a particular problem, where we look at what we did to cause a situation, how we might have tried to control or cure it, and what happened. Erika used a mini inventory to work on a problem that came up while she was doing her full inventory. Another part of doing an inventory is getting it done. Spencer says that he had to set aside a regular time during his week for doing the work. That helped him by keeping him going, but also by making it manageable because he only had to work on it one hour at a time.

What about doing the 4th step more than once? Both Kelli and Spencer have had the experience of recognizing things (particularly “defects”) that did not appear in their first inventory. Eventually, this led Spencer to do a complete inventory for a second time (9 years after the first one). He found a lot of new recovery from that step and the ones following. Without doing the full process, he would not have found the healing he got from steps 5, 6, and 7 this time. Erika says that she wants to keep on growing, and doing a new inventory could very well be part of that.

What difference has completing an inventory made in our lives? Kelli feels lighter in her spirit, as if she had been carrying a bag of rocks that she has now set down. She is more patient and understanding, and less reactive than she was previously. For her, a big part of Step 4 is trusting her higher power. She feels like a better human being. Erika agrees that she feels lighter. She could not have completed this step without having thoroughly worked the earlier steps, turning her will and her life over to her higher power. She remembers trying to figure out, with a friend, how she could love herself. They were stumped trying to find an answer. Now, she recognizes that the answer was in Steps 4 through 7, and she can love herself. Spencer reads a note from a friend, who says “Living an honest life is easier.” He also recalls that just doing his inventory gave him a more balanced view of himself, and helped raise his self-esteem a bit. Doing the inventory with a small group let him see that he was not a uniquely flawed person. It was good knowing that there were further steps that he could take to have his defects lessened or removed.

Our topic for next week is gratitude. Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email feedback@therecoveryshow.com with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.

Music from the show

By the Reins, by Brown Bird

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, by the Avett brothers

More Music

We had several good suggestions for music from a friend. We selected the two above for the podcast. Here are the others, along with her discussion of each one.

Clownin’ Around, by Deer Tick

“And the devil is living in my basement, I’m trying hard to hide him fro my wife. And I know some day I’m gonna have to face him, but for now I keep my secrets with the night.”

That quote pretty much sums it up, huh? The fourth step was a very powerful step for me in getting honest, with myself, which in turn led to a lot more honesty in other areas of my life. Living an honest life is easier. There is a lot less to keep track of, and a lot less to worry about. As my behaviors began to change, I found the need to lie or exaggerate greatly diminished. My life was lighter, and had a lot more room for genuine, meaningful experiences, both with myself and others.

Old Mythologies, by the Barr Brothers

“It’s probably now that I need you the most, when I’m one half child and the other ghost, and one of them wants to play it close and the other to let you go.”

When listening to this song I hear a lot about the contrast of old and new. The control and tug and pull of wanting to change but not wanting to give up the old parts of me that made made me “me”. It speaks to a misconception I had of the fourth step early on in my recovery. I felt like “I will do the 4th step and then I will be a different person.” In reality, it has been a lot more subtle and humanly if you will. My 4th step gave me perspective that I can now use in whichever situations I chose. I still fumble. Sometimes I catch myself acting in old ways that I am not proud of. Other times I am more capable of acknowledging my strengths or the changes I have made towards becoming a better version of me. That’s all it really is – a perspective. I’m still me.I also really like the word “mythologies”. I think that’s a good way to describe the ways in which I thought my old defects or behaviors were benefiting me-myths.

The Crow, by Dessa

“nobody fears the height, you all just fear the fall, go to the edge sometimes, and prove your body wrong.”

One of the most powerful lines from this, for me, is at the end, where Dessa says “nobody fears the height, you all just fear the fall, go to the edge sometimes, and prove your body wrong.” Working through my 4th step had a lot of fear involved – I was fearful of admitting my wrongs, sharing them, and in a lot of ways, fearful of the promise of moving beyond these faults at some point, since I had gotten along this far with them (albeit a midst a notable amount of chaos and pain). The message I hear in this song, is that great things can come when we work past our fears. The program softens the blow, reminding me that I can take my time with the steps, and that change does not have to be this huge impending force, or surmounting hurdle, or big scary fall. It can happen through my HPs loving plan- a plan better than what I had planned for myself, and a plan that will not place more on my shoulders than I am able to carry.

It Ain’t Me Babe by Bob Dylan. (Sung by Joan Baez.)


I find this song to be an interesting honest reflection about what one is/isn’t.

Here are all the songs in a Spotify playlist:

1 thought on “Step 4 – doing the inventory – Episode 18”

  1. Great episode, as are all! I already listened to this episode twice on sunday. Definitely will listen to it again 🙂

    Blessings to all of you

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