AA STEP FOUR GUIDE
Many readers find the instructions for step 4 contained in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” confusing and complex. This paper is written to reflect the experience of certain members of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in analyzing these instructions and their experience in taking this step in accordance with the instructions given in this book. Those who have taken this step in the manner suggested in the “Big Book,” including the inventory, the analysis, the study, and the prayer suggested by the book have found it to be an exciting and rewarding experience. This experience is available to anyone who will complete each of the following steps to the best of their ability in the order in which they are given. Perfection is not required, but a good effort involving honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness is essential.
I. The Time and Purposes of Step Four
Perhaps the greatest promise by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is that God, as you understand Him, will do for you what you can not do for yourself. This promise carries with it the obvious condition that you must do what you can.
When you have made the decision required by step three, the “Big Book” warns us “Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and be rid of, the things in ourselves which have been blocking us (from God). Our Liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.”
The specific instructions for taking this step are contained in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” from page 64 to page 71. These instructions should be read carefully at this point.
II. What Do We Seek?
The inventory is described as being “a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth (about yourself),” and an effort to honestly take stock of our lives. We are to “search out the flaws in our makeup which caused our failure.” Throughout the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” it is stated that “self, selfishness, and self-centeredness were the root of our troubles.” “Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.” These common manifestations are grouped in the book in three categories: resentment, fear, and sexual relationships. Each of these is treated separately in the inventory.
III. Resentments – “The Number One Offender”
From resentments “stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.” This spiritual sickness must be dealt with because “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”
What is a resentment? Webster’s dictionary defines resentment as indignation or ill-will felt as a result of a real or imagined offense. Webster’s then refers the reader to the word anger and gives other examples of this thought or feeling, which includes rage, fury, ire, wrath, resentment, and indignation. These words denote varying degrees of displeasure, from anger (strong, intense, and explosive) to the longer lasting resentment (ill-will, suppressed or unexpressed anger) generated by a sense of being wronged or being wrong. In other words, we are dealing with a negative or unpleasant thought or feeling caused or generated by the real or imagined act or failure to act of a person, institution, or principle.
“Persons, institutions, or principles” may need some explanation. While “person” obviously refers to anger we feel towards others (whether justified or not is immaterial), remember that you are a “person”, and your action or failure to act may very well cause you to think or feel bad (guilt or low self-esteem). “Institutions” are any group of people, authorities, companies, governmental agencies, or other organizations. A “principle” is a basic law or truth. Many of these basic laws or truths have and do offend us, for example:
1. Alcoholism is an incurable, progressive disease.
2. Honesty is the best policy.
3. As you give, so you will receive. (Each of us suffers the consequences of his own actions. There are no free rides.)
4. When you are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with you. (It’s not him, it, them, or God, it’s you.)
5. A life lived without self-examination is not worth living. (Socrates)
6. He that is taught only by himself is taught by a fool. (Ben Jonson)
A. Preparing the “grudge list”
The first step in the inventory process is to simply make a list. “In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions, or principles with whom we were angry.” With the foregoing instructions in mind, and before proceeding any further with this inventory, a list should be prepared of the people, institutions, or principles with which we have had or presently do have a resentment, as defined previously. Certain points should be remembered:
If you can remember the resentment, you should list it, even though you think you are “over it.” Go back through your life as far as you can remember. “Nothing counts but thoroughness and honesty.”
A review of family albums, school annuals and the like may help you to be thorough. Some people write a short autobiography to assist them in this step.
Do not concern yourself with whether you should or should not have the resentment, simply make the list and go no further at this point.
Throughout the taking of Step 4, and at times thereafter, you will recall other resentments which will require dealing with. Don’t worry about how complete the list is, you can add it at any time, simply do the best you can do over a reasonable period of time (perhaps a week).
There is no such thing as the “perfect” 4th Step. Most people will eventually do several 4th Steps. If this is your first time through, don’t be obsessed with trying to get everything the first time. So far, nobody has succeeded yet. The important thing is to be thorough and honest, as thorough and honest as you can be right now. As you “grow” in the program, you will be able to become more thorough and more honest, and this is why there is no such thing as the “perfect” 4th Step.
B. Analysis of Resentments
When you have completed your list (and not before), each resentment must be analyzed. Step 4 will mean very little unless you come to understand each resentment and learn from it. The following procedure has proven helpful in this understanding and analysis:
1. Purchase a spiral notebook and open it so that you have a blank page on either side of the wire spiral. With a ruler or straightedge, divide each of these pages vertically so that when both pages are divided, you have a total of four columns. Turn the page and repeat this process until you have divided a number of pages in this manner.
2. The columns on each pair of pages should be labeled as follows:
a. Column 1: “Name”
b. Column 2: “Cause”
c. Column 3: “Affects My”
d. Column 4: leave blank for now.
3. Take the first name on your “grudge list” and write it in column 1 on the first page.
4. The second instruction in the “Big Book” regarding resentments is “We asked ourselves why we were angry.” In column 2, write a few words which describe each and every single event or circumstance you can recall which causes you to resent the person, place, or thing in column 1. This is a very important part of the analysis. We learn from specific events, not general complaints. For example, we learn little from the complaint that “he/she was always lying,” but we learn a great deal from a more specific “he/she told me he/she wasn’t married.”
5. The third instruction regarding resentments is “On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security (financial), our ambitions, our personal (relations), or sex relations, which had been interfered with?” Opposite each of the events you have listed in column 2, write down why this event or circumstance bothered you. Specifically, ask yourself the following:
a. Did it affect my self-esteem (the way I think of myself or want others to think of me)?
b. Did it affect or threaten my pocketbook?
c. Did it affect or threaten my ambition (what I wanted or needed)?
d. Was one of my personal relationships affected or threatened?
e. Was one of my sexual relationships affected or threatened?
f. If the effects described in a-e don’t accurately describe the effect the event had on you, write a few words to explain how you felt and how you were affected.
NOTE: If you subdivide column 3 into five columns and label them with the five ways in which resentments are affected (self-esteem, security, ambitions, personal, or sex relations), it will speed up the inventory process and also become easier to see “your” pattern.
COMPLETE THE ANALYSIS OF EACH OF THE EVENTS OF ALL OF YOUR RESENTMENTS BEFORE CONTINUING WITH THE INVENTORY.
C. Study and Prayer
Read and study the “Big Book” from the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 65 through the second paragraph on page 67. Ask yourself these questions about each resentment and each event causing it:
1. Having determined who was at fault, am I willing to go further in my study of this event?
2. Did I try to retaliated, fight back, or run? Did it help? Do I see that “the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived.”?
3. Is it clear to me that “a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness”?
4. Has the resentment ever benefited you in any way, or have you “squandered the hours that might have been worth while” thinking about these resentments? Do you realize and understand that these thoughts separate you from the “sunlight of the Spirit” (God)? Do you believe that these thoughts will lead you back to the insanity of the first drink? Do you believe that for us, “to drink is to die”?
5. Do you understand that through our thoughts and reactions to people, places, and things, “the world and its people really dominate us”? Do you understand that until we progress beyond the point of simply blaming ourselves or others, there can be no growth or solution? Can you see that you must try something different if you are to arrive at a different result?
6. Do you recognize that other people have the same problem with life that you have had and many of these are also spiritually sick?
7. Can you forgive?
8. Honestly pray the 4th step prayer: God, help me show ______________, the same tolerance, pity, and patience I would cheerfully grant a sick friend. How can I be helpful to him? Save me from being angry. Thy will be done, not mine.”
From this point forward, we should try to avoid retaliation or argument.
D. The Beginning of Growth
As noted earlier, it is a spiritual axiom that when I am disturbed, no matter the cause, there is something the matter with me. Now that you have listed and understood the resentment and how it affected you, have stopped blaming or “putting out of your mind the wrongs others have done,” you can now look for your own mistakes and learn from them. Take the following action:
1. At the top of column 4 on each page, insert the words “My Faults or Mistakes.”
2. For each name listed, and for each cause or event listed, ask yourself the following:
a. Where have I been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, frightened (fear), or been guilty of pride, ego, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, jealousy, criticism, self-pity, or intolerance?
b. Where was I to blame?
3. Write down your faults as revealed by the above questions in column 4 opposite each name and event.
Note: As in column 3, if you divide column 4 into subcolumns, the inventory process can be completed faster, and the results made easier to see.
WHEN YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL INSTRUCTIONS WITH RESPECT TO RESENTMENTS, AND NOT BEFORE, PROCEED TO “FEAR”
IV. – ‘Touches every aspect of our lives.”
Webster’s dictionary defines fear as a feeling of alarm or disquiet caused by the expectation of danger, pain, disaster, or the like (being found out, being known for what you are). It is said that the driving force in life for most alcoholics is the self-centered fear that we will lose something we have or that we will not get something we want or we think we need.
Read from the third paragraph appearing on page 67 through the third paragraph on page 68. Then take the following action: Make a list of all the fears which you have experienced. Remember, under the topic of resentments, you have already asked yourself about the impact of fear on your resentments. We now complete the times, places, and circumstances which evoke this feeling (bugs, snakes, heights, women, men, failure, rejection, ridicule, appearing imperfect, looking stupid, not being in control, sexuality, not being loved, darkness, loss of job, financial security, loss of family, death, future, change, other people, violence, etc.)
Having listed each of our fears, we should write a short analysis of these fears in our effort to understand them. It is said that each of these fears set in motion chains of circumstances which brought about or caused us misfortunes. Can you cite examples where this occurred? Why do you have each fear? Was it because self-reliance failed you? What should we now rely upon, if not ourselves?
When our fears have been listed and analyzed, the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” gives us the solution to fear in the second and third paragraphs on page 68. We are also given a short prayer in which we ask “Him to remove our fears and direct our attention to what He would have us be.” This solution and prayer should be directed toward each of your fears.
V. Sexual Relationships
This section of the inventory is covered in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” from the last paragraph on page 68 through the end of chapter five. This material should be read at this time.
This portion of the inventory begins by clearly discussing sexual relationships. However, in the last sentence of the last paragraph ending on page 70, it states “we have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.” This sentence indicates a broader view of our relationships is important, and it is therefore suggested that we review our relationship with each of the important people in our lives, as well as all sexual relationships.
Following fears in your inventory book, you should list the names of the persons to be studied. These should include both sexual and other relationships, including family, friends, business, etc.
With regard to each person named on your list of relationships, write a short paragraph which answers the following questions (remember, deal with specific events):
1. Was I selfish in this relationship?
2. Was I dishonest in this relationship?
3. Was I inconsiderate in this relationship?
4. Whom did I hurt?
5. Did I arouse jealousy?
6. Did I arouse suspicion?
7. Did I arouse bitterness?
8. Was I at fault?
9. What should I have done?
Through study and prayer, we seek to shape sane and sound ideals for our future relationships. Whatever our ideals turn out to be, we must be willing to grow toward them. We must be willing to make amends for past wrongs, providing we do not bring about still more harm in doing so. In prayer and meditation we ask God what we should do about each specific matter, and we are told the right answer will come if we want it.
On page 70, in the first paragraph, we are given instructions on how to proceed toward our new ideals. We are told to “pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing.” In these troublesome areas we are told to throw ourselves into helping others.
Read the last two paragraphs of chapter five. It is also helpful to read chapter four of the “Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions” at this point. Have you left anything out of your inventory? Have you failed to list any event or subject the memory of which causes you to be uncomfortable? If so, you should write it down now.