The Fourth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous asks that we make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous lays out how we do this and there are online worksheets available for us to work from also. It is the first action step we take, and it comes with a lot of emotions. As a result, some alcoholics and addicts fear the Fourth Step and never do it. Let’s talk about that, because it takes courage to work a Fourth Step. Yet, doing so is critical to our recovery.
When we do a thorough Fourth Step in Alcoholics Anonymous, we make a list of the harms done to us and the harms we have done to others. We also list our fears and sexual behavior.
While working the Fourth Step, we look to see what our part was in every past relationship and situation. Sometimes we see how we played a role in our own circumstances, sometimes our sponsors will help us see our part when we work our Fifth Step, and sometimes we discover that we didn’t play a part in some of the things that have happened to us.
It takes a lot of emotional perseverance to walk through our lives. It can be painful, but it also reveals patterns in our relationships that open the door for change, and the healing that comes in Steps Five through Nine.
To inspire you, I’ll tell you a bit of what I learned through working my Fourth Step in Alcoholics Anonymous. As a child, I had a traumatic experience. I expected my father to rescue me from it. As I looked at my Fourth Step trying to determine what part I played in the distant relationship I had with my father, I saw nothing. I prayed before I went to sleep, and asked God (my Higher Power) to show me my part.
The next day, I opened my Fourth Step and like a lightning strike, I knew exactly what my part was. I never told my father about my trauma. He didn’t know I even needed saving. It was my dishonesty that perpetuated the rift between us. It was not easy to realize that I had caused harm to someone I love so dearly. But, as soon as I saw the truth, I had the opportunity to behave differently. Over the course of my recovery, my relationship with my father has completely changed. Many miracles have occurred between us, not the least of which being the fact that I now know that my father would do anything to protect me. All I need to do is ask for his help and I have it. The hard work I put into my Fourth Step was worth it. In fact, it was an answered prayer.
Incredible things happen when you work the steps. The only thing that can prevent the miracle of The Promises from coming true is to not work them.
Remember Step Three that States that We ” Made a Decision to Turn our Will and Our Lives Over to the Care of God as We Understood Him.”
Whether your Higher Power is God or the group, Step Three offers tremendous relief. We let go of self-will and trust that God or our Higher Power will take care of us. His will for us is sobriety, healing, recovery, a healthy sense of self, and more. Before starting your Fourth Step, remember that your Higher Power is with you. Trust that He can do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
Don’t Worry about Step Five
The steps are in order for a reason. If you aren’t at Step Five (“Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”), don’t think ahead. Just focus on the task at hand and work the Fourth Step. TRUST THE PROCESS!
Share your Feelings about Step Four
If you are worried about starting the step, share about it in a meeting. Let the people who have worked a Fourth Step tell you about their experience. Talk to your sponsor directly about writing about personal experiences that make you uncomfortable. If you are in the middle of the step and experiencing many emotions, reach out to your network and share your feelings. When we share, our fellows offer us comfort you through their own experience. Remember, if millions of AAs have worked through the Fourth Step and are happy, joyous, and free, there is no reason to believe you won’t be too.
Be Kind to Yourself
Step Four is work. As you go through it, be gentle with yourself. Take time to eat right, exercise, dance, and joke with your friends. Allow yourself the gift of experiencing many emotions in one day. I cried as I worked my Fourth Step. But, I did it while I was in residential treatment and there was always laughter at breakfast, in a meeting, or another time during the day. It’s healthy to feel joy and sadness in the same day. As you work through your step, make a conscious effort to do something you love every day.
Do Service Work
If ever there is a time to get out of our heads, it’s when we are doing serious step work. So, make coffee at meetings, plan to cook breakfast for your housemates (my group did this all the time and it was wonderful!), ask to be discussion leader at a meeting, help a newcomer. Every selfless thing you do will give your mind a break, make you feel worthwhile, and restore your spirit.
Pray or Meditate Before You Begin
If you believe in God or a Higher Power, pray or meditate before you start writing. Say a personal prayer if you wish or say the Third Step Prayer before you begin, which is:
God (Universe), I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Praying and meditating reminds us that we aren’t alone. It invites God or good orderly direction into our recovery journey. If you don’t believe in God, good orderly direction is an acronym for God and can be used if you are using Alcoholics Anonymous or the group as your Higher Power.
Working a fearless and thorough Fourth Step is the most important advice the program gives us. We must not leave a stone unturned. I was someone who always said I’d take one secret to the grave. The shame surrounding my secret was incredibly powerful. I had never, ever said it out loud to anyone. But it was THE MOST PAINFUL THING I CARRIED. To expel it, I had to bring it into the light. That meant adding it to my Fourth Step.
Over a decade later, I can tell you that I have shared that secret with more than one person. I no longer feel shame over it. It holds no power over me. And, I now realize that my secret can help others who have carried a similar secret. The Promises say we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it, and we’ll see how our experience can benefit others. Those statements pave the way to the freedom we all deserve.
So, be very thorough. Please, do not leave a demon in the dark. Too many people relapse and die because they don’t share their biggest secret when working the Fourth Step.
Celebrate When You Complete Your Fourth Step
If worked property, the first Fourth Step we do usually takes time. When you are finished, celebrate the accomplishment. It is a big deal. So, do something that calms your soul, and think about your progress. Actively visualize yourself stepping closer to healing…because that’s exactly a Fourth Step propels you toward.
When we work the Fourth Step, we are a world away from our using selves. We have some clean time under our belt. The sky starts to look bluer. Hope is in the here and now. Keep working the Steps, let that tree of life keep growing. Recovery is marvelous and miraculous. It’s yours if you choose it.