The 4th Step – Why it’s Important and What a ‘Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory’ Means

We did not end up with a serious addiction by living a perfect life and enjoying a flawless character.

In step 4 we look at our flaws and “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This starts by looking at the root causes of our addiction and the damage we have done as a result. But as we delve deeper, we can also see that we have many other imperfections and have made morally questionable choices unrelated or peripherally related to our addiction.

Step 4 involves a voyage of self-discovery requiring a great deal of humility and honesty.

There are two opposing but equally treacherous dangers when working on your moral inventory. One is to let ourselves off too easily and blame all of our flaws and behavior either on other people or on the circumstance. Many addicts think that they are morally blameless because of their addiction, but ultimately no matter what the circumstances are, we are all responsible for our behavior and all of its consequences.

If we do not take full responsibility for our behavior, we will not own our recovery either. The 12-step process is built on acknowledging our wrongs, making amends for them, and improving the world around us by giving back. The ability to understand and acknowledge our flaws and wrongs is an essential step down that road.

On the other hand, when recounting all of our flaws it is far too easy to get caught up in a spiral of shame and self-loathing. This is a dangerous process. Once we label ourselves as horrible and irredeemable people, it gives us an excuse to avoid the hard work required to maintain our sobriety and become better people.

We can’t label ourselves as inherently bad, because that ultimately means we cannot recover our sanity and improve our lives. This is a destructive and inaccurate attitude. The truth is, it is never too late to acknowledge your wrongs and begin a process of recovery.

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Confronting our Burdens

Addiction involves repressing and hiding parts of ourselves we feel uncomfortable with. Making a full moral inventory will require us to look at the elements in our personality that make us the most uncomfortable.

This can include a look at the resentment and anger we feel towards the people in our lives who hurt us, and how we feel about society as a result. It may require us to confront our fears, whether rational or irrational, and how we manifest them on to the people around us. It will require us to swallow our pride and realize that we are not as special as we once thought. To remind us that we must put principles before personalities.

Our inventory may remind us that our self-will was not enough to control our addiction or curb our self-destructive behavior.

It may force us to evaluate the complex dynamic between how we were hurt, possibly in childhood, and the way we have hurt others. We spend a great deal of time and effort blaming others for abandoning and hurting us. However, an honest and humble look at our actions will reveal a more complicated story. Have we hurt people as badly as they have hurt us? Perhaps we have done even worse.

Perhaps some of our scars are deep and come from abuse, sexual or otherwise? Have we also abused others as a result? These are simply not questions we ask ourselves regularly. We fear the process of digging and most of all we fear the answers.

When working this step, we will have to make a list of our worst resentments and failures. We will stare into the abyss of our ugliest moments. However, we will not blink because we are doing it for a reason.

A Fair Evaluation

The goal of this process is not to beat ourselves up or let ourselves off the hook. This searching and fearless inventory usually reveal that we are flawed people, who were hurt by life and hurt others in return. We will discover that alongside our flaws, there are beautiful sides to our personality which will help us on the road to recovery.

Remember that being fair and balanced towards ourselves at this point is almost impossible. This step must be worked with a sympathetic sponsor, who is also able to wield “tough love” when necessary. Only a good sponsor can keep us from falling into the twin pitfalls of self-justification and self-pity.

Ultimately, we are neither good nor bad. We are humans and we have the freedom to make choices. The inventory we commit to in step 4 allows us to act on this information of who we are.

Remember, we are not making this account for fun. We are doing it so that we can ask our Higher Power to remove our flaws. Therefore, the more thorough and honest we are, the better we will do in the long-run.

At the end of this step, the shame that had followed us our entire lives will lose its power over us. The simple realization that all people are flawed and make mistakes, and there is nothing special about our shame is liberating and will help us on the road to recovery.

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