Click here to read the introduction to my 12 Step Series and find links to all of my 12 Step posts in one place as they become available.
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Well…that sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? 😨
With words like “fearless” and “searching” and “moral” being tossed around, Step Four can sometimes sound like it’s describing a brave knight in shining armor way more than it’s describing someone like me or you.
All jokes aside, I know Step Four can sound scary at first but it’s actually very cool. And I’ve got good news for you, friend. If you’ve ever had a refrigerator, you can relate to Step Four. Why? Because Step Four is just cleaning out the fridge. You’ve cleaned out a fridge before, right? If you’ve worked Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 (and you “get” why you need to clean out your fridge every once in awhile), then you’re completely capable of working this Step. And, when you’re finished, you’re gonna be so glad that you did it!
So why do we clean out the fridge? To take inventory, of course! To see what leftovers have crept to the back and out of eyesight, what’s been hiding behind the mayo, and what sticky-something spilled all over the place awhile ago and continues to make a total mess! 😳
Taking inventory is a choice, of course. You get to decide whether or not to clean out your refrigerator just like you get to decide whether or not to take on Step Four. And I know this step can be a little nerve-wracking. Anyone who has skipped cleaning the fridge for awhile and then peeked inside knows what is waiting for them: gunk and junk and funk. But here’s the thing: if you continue to just let it sit there, that crap will just get gunkier and junkier and funkier! That’s gross. 🤢 Better to deal with it now.
How are you supposed to get anything done in the kitchen without cleaning out the fridge first? You can’t make a meal plan if you don’t even know what you’re working with inside the fridge, right? And you can’t make a real plan for your continued recovery if you don’t even know the deepest gunk inside of you. See what I’m saying here? You gotta take inventory and see what’s been funking up your fridge (a.k.a. your life!) and keeping you sick and sad and sorry. Then, once you’re aware of it, you can take positive steps to clean it up and get better. 😊
Enough fridge talk – let’s get down to some serious Step Four:
First of all, I know there are different ways of approaching Step Four (within Al-Anon and within other 12-Step programs.) This is just how I did my Step Four. If it’s helpful to you, awesome! If not, that’s cool too! 👍🏽 You get to work with your sponsor and find the way to complete Step Four that works best for you and your situation.
So what did Step Four look like for me? Well, it looked a lot like this:
This is the worksheet I used to complete my Step Four. Let’s break it down by column:
PERSON, PLACE, INSTITUTION
To start Step Four, I simply made a list of people I had resentment towards. And it can be anyone: Friends, Family, Neighbors, Exes, Co-Workers, etc. Whoever you feel that animosity towards goes on your list. You can also list places or institutions that you’re resentful towards. Examples of places or institutions would be:
- The Education System
- Institutional Racism, etc. etc. etc.
Your list is whatever you need it to be. And let me tell you, friend: my list was LONG. (I’ll spell it like this as well so you really understand what I’m trying to say: my list was LOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG!!!
I had lots of names on there and I even listed myself. Why? Because I’d been angry at myself and disappointed in myself for a long time. Have you ever heard that regret is just resentment towards yourself? I think that’s an interesting way of looking at it. And, if that’s true, I had a crazy amount of personal resentment!😲
“I AM RESENTFUL BECAUSE…”
The second column is where you really get down to work. I just started individually plugging people’s names into the worksheet and went to town listing all the reasons why I was mad as hell! at that person. This column was almost always the longest column in every worksheet I filled out. And you know what? That’s okay! Actually, it’s better than okay: I think it’s AWESOME! Want to know why?
Because many Adult Children of Alcoholics can spend a lot of time minimizing all the crap that has happened to them and taking on the blame. They say things like:
- “It wasn’t that bad.”
- “At least I always had x, y, and z! Some people had it way worse.”
- “My parent didn’t mean to hurt me but they had a really bad life themselves.”
- “If I just would’ve been better/smarter/braver/stronger/more, everything would’ve been better and I would’ve been okay.”
- “I shouldn’t have let it get to me like that.”
And the biggest minimizing line:
- “I’m fine. I’m an adult now. It’s all in the past and I’m not affected by it.” 😕
- You know that’s crap, right? Until you actively look at past emotions and experiences, they will continue to haunt you horror movie-style. Scary!)😱
In recovery, you get to give yourself permission and space to really let it all out. You have a right (and a desperate need, if you want to my opinion) to feel all the emotions stuck in you. You get to be pissed off, furious, heartbroken, mournful (or however you feel) for everything that happened to you and mattered to you as a kid and as an adult.
When I did my Step Four, I had to let go of my very Vulcan 🖖 (logical) brain which was playing this song on repeat:
🎤 “Hey, your alcoholic parents didn’t mean to hurt you. They were Adult Children of Alcoholics themselves. You’ve got a love of nerve to be all pissed off at them. Stop acting like your childhood was always a living hell!” 🎼 Catchy, right?
So yes, your alcoholic/addict parents suffer from the disease of addiction and have probably experienced a lot of trauma in their own lives. That’s true. And at some point, it will be important to look at that perspective. But for Step Four, I encourage you to take the chance to stand in truth, speak your experience, and get in touch with your anger and ultimately your sadness (because anger is a secondary emotion). Don’t start thinking too much about anyone else’s background or situation, feelings or diseases, etc. Step Four is about you and your experience – please don’t dilute it. (Besides, no one except your Sponsor needs to read your Step Four anyway. You can write whatever you need to write knowing that it’s only going to be seen by two pairs of eyeballs.) 👀
AFFECTS THIS HAD ON ME
After you’ve listed your resentments, you can write about the affects this person, place, or institution had on you. Dig deep here and ask your Higher Power to make clear to you what you need to see in order to heal. What changed in your heart and your life because of the events that occurred?
Did you become bitter, anxious, or paranoid because of this particular person? Did you lose faith in people? Were you afraid all the time? Lonely? Did you become angry and hateful towards others? Did you hide yourself away in books, food, video games, etc.? Did you feel worthless? What about shameful, did you feel that way? Did you develop compassion and a heart for service? Did you learn the value of honesty and become a truthful person? Basically – write down all the things that you became because of the affects of this person, place, or institution in your life. Whatever comes up, write it down – even if it seems odd to you at the moment. It might just be an important aspect of your recovery revealing itself.
EXACT NATURE OF MY WRONGS
Next, it’s on to examining the exact nature of your wrongs. Wait…say what?!? 😲 I know it’s easy to brush this part off and go “Well, I know I didn’t do anything wrong! Keep on moving to the next column!” This can be especially true if you’re an Adult Child of an Alcoholic because, as a child, you didn’t do anything “wrong” in a bad sense – you just learned what was being taught and tried to survive. You (obviously) didn’t know any better at the time because you were a little person in a tough spot. But some reactions were still “wrong” in a non-judgmental, in-no-way critical of you as an ACoA kind-of-way. (No shade here, friend.🕶️) And besides, if can find me one single human adult who hasn’t done some wrong things in their life, I’ll eat a whole bag of fish-flavored jelly beans! 🐟(Bertie Botts supposedly has every flavor, you know!)
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you start looking for your wrongs:
- Believe lies?
- Trust untrustworthy people?
- Give away my power, my choice, or my voice?
- Poorly communicate my needs, wants, and boundaries?
- Try to fix, change, and control other people?
- Play the victim?
When you start to look at all the different angles of the “exact nature of your wrongs,” you may be surprised with what you uncover.
WHAT CHOICES DO I HAVE TODAY?
Hallelujah! 😇 We’ve made it to the last column and it’s about choices. Ooooh…I love choices! This column is the perfect way to put the focus back on you and end on a high note. 🎵
When you reach this column, you get to decide what you’re going to do in your life today. Now that you are in recovery and getting better all the time, what do you choose to do about this person, place, or institution?
Here are some examples:
- Are you going to have a relationship at all with this person/people?
- If so, what will be your boundaries in the relationship
- Will you make the choice to learn how to communicate clearly?
- Will you forgive this person or the people involved in the institution?
- Do you choose to accept the past and live in the present?
When I came into Al-Anon, I felt like I had no choices. None. Everything was set in stone and I just had to go along with it. The truth is that I have TONS of choices in my life and you do too – you just have to open your eyes and see the truth.
I know that sometimes it’s hard to start your Step Four without seeing an example (at least it was for me). So because I care about you and want you to get well, I’m going out on a limb here by posting a few examples.
The first example is the Step Four worksheet I wrote about myself:
(pssst…want to know a secret? After completing my personal Step Four, I took all of my choices from the last column and turned them into affirmations (using first person language) so that I could repeat them to myself, write them on post-it notes, etc. to reaffirm that I was making better choices for me.) See them here.
The second example is a compilation of Step Four worksheets that I did just to give you an idea of what a Step Four worksheet about someone else could look like:
The third example is a completely normal thing to do…
I hope the examples I’ve provided have been helpful. If you’d like to use the same worksheet as I did, you can click here to get the blank Step 4 worksheet as a PDF. (Note: I didn’t create the format of this worksheet at all. It was shown to me by my Sponsor who was shown this format by her Sponsor, on and on back through the years since the beginning of time…or something like that.) 😉
So what about you?
Have you worked your Step Four? If not, do you feel ready to do it? Let me know in the comments how you feel about this Step.