The Inventory – Finding out who and what you’re really not. – The 4th Step Process

A Continuing Series on the Recovery Process By Chris Freeman

With the firm warning from my sponsor and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous –

“Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.” –  BB How It Works, p.65

He handed me a notebook to write in and a couple pens. He asked if I had a quiet place I could spend the time I would need to get it done. Of course, I had the time and place. He had made it very clear to me that my very life was on the line.

Knowing how many times I had been face to face with the “Reaper”, I certainly did not have any doubts about that.  Guys like me don’t get to knock on death’s door as many as I had. I should have been dust years ago.

Now mind you, I had done what I thought was a fourth step years before, but as I now know and understand, the previous attempts were only a forgery, a fraud. Going through the motions of the steps without any real honest thought, or getting down to any of my deep-rooted defects.

Again I recall all those good people saying, “Fake it till you make it.” Please, if you are anything like me, I would recommend to never try “Fake it till you make it” because you might not live long enough to “Make it”.

As it was when the Big Book was published, there exists many different types of inventories forms and style sheets. Which inventory style or format may not be as important as some might believe?

In the early days of A.A. they did not have a set method to follow, however, they did utilize two common forms or 4th step styles.

The first type is the “Assets and Liabilities List- Resentment, Fear, and Harms.”

The second is the 4 Column Inventory of which many of us are familiar as it is the one described in the Big Book.

This is a link to a great resource for those doing the 4th step work.

Four Column 4th Step (print in landscape mode)

Either one is good. Some people choose to do both. In Alcoholics Anonymous everyone is free to do whatever kind of Step work they want. I would give fair warning to those doing a fourth step that whichever method you find as the one which works for you, just ask yourself a short question, – Am I willing to bet my life on this fourth step of mine?”

The text refers to our work with the 4th and 5th step as being a “life and death errand”.

The other piece of advice I would have for the person in the 4th step process, please do not do it without a competent guide, as in a “Sober Sherpa” or “Sponsor”.

One of the early members of AA was a man maned Earl T. His sponsor was Dr. Bob.

This is an excerpt from his story in the Big Book – He Sold Himself Short.

Wednesday and Dr. Bob’s afternoon off, he had me down to the office and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as it was at that time. The six steps were:

  1. Complete deflation.
  2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power.
  3. Moral inventory.
  4. Confession.
  5. Restitution.
  6. Continued work with other alcoholics. 

Dr. Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up some of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm, and resentments. We went over these at great length and then he finally asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed. When I said yes, we both knelt at his desk and prayed, each of us asking to have these defects taken away.

This picture is still vivid. If I live to be a hundred, it will always stand out in my mind. It was very impressive and I wish that every A.A. could have the benefit of this type of sponsorship today. “

It seems that the steps as taken from the book were not meant to take days, weeks or months to complete. The process was meant to get started and then not stop until we have finished the 7th step prayer. As well as develop an attitude of complete willingness to make amends to those whom we had harmed during our addiction.

Any attempts to shortcut or hide details of our life will be evident. One of our mottos in the recovery program, which is actually a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet’

”This above all: to thine ownself be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

– Shakespeare – Hamlet – 

As we take on the task at hand with pen and paper we will know if we are shortchanging ourselves. In my addiction, I was never one to shortchange myself. I always wanted as much as I could get from whoever I could get it from.

This time, as I started my 4th step, I felt like I had a great advantage from all my previous attempts. My sponsor had done something I had never seen before. He pointed out the in the directions from the book it states that –

“First we search the flaws in our make-up which cause our failure.”

  1. How It Works, p.64

He asked me if I knew what it meant by flaws? I kind of did, but not in the way he explained it. He defined the word as imperfections, often concealed, that impairs soundness. He stated that my character and personality was full of flaws and that these flaws or defects caused my downfall each and every time I tried to succeed in sobriety.  That I could understand.

So, we together got started to search out the flaws in my makeup which had caused my failure. I had to have my sponsors help and direction with this.

In my past, my problems were quite obvious to everyone that came across my path. I could change the people, place and things about me and try to continue to hide them but as my defect and character flaws could not be hidden very long, my true addicted self would emerge and start to show.

My list was going to be long. Again my sponsor assured me that whatever happened or whatever came to light as we travel this journey from the past, I could rest easy. He would not hold judgment or prejudice against me. I learned through him was real trust was.  As it turned out I was not as bad as I perceived myself to be. He kindly pointed out thought that I might be much sicker than I really thought…. We will see!

The 4th step process had begun. My next post will that of describing my efforts to face and be rid of the thing in myself that had been blocking me. I was about to stand in the sunlight at last!

Until next time, be safe and if you are in need of any help with the steps or just need to talk, reach out to someone like myself, someone like my sponsor who will take the time to pass on what was passed on to him.

Thank you for your time today. It’s extremely valuable.

Yours in service, Chris Freeman.


If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and are seeking treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you. PLEASE CALL (855) 430-9426. Our counselors are available to guide you through the process.

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