Step 4 of AA is intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Up to this point in the 12 steps, we’ve done nothing more than answer 3 questions and make a decision.
In step 1, we admitted that we were powerless over drugs and alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
Those are a couple of simple questions—are you powerless over dope and drink? Is your life unmanageable as a result of your drinking and drugging?
It’s either yes or no. If you’re not sure, you haven’t done step 1.
In step 2, we decide if we believe in a higher power or not, or if we’re at least willing to believe in a power greater than ourselves.
Again, pretty simple. Do you believe? If you don’t, are you willing to believe? Yes or no.
In step 3, we make a decision to work the steps. Working the 12 steps is the process by which we turn our will and our lives over to our higher power.
Can you make that decision? Yes or no.
Finally, we make it to step 4 of AA. This is where the magic starts to happen. I’ve seen hundreds of guys make the decision to work the 12 steps and then not actually do it.
They tend not to stay sober. Some of them die.
They don’t want to do the work for one reason or another.
That can be a fatal mistake.
Step 4—AA doesn’t give you leeway on this. You don’t have options here. You do the work, or you go back to the way you’re living. Steps 1–3 just aren’t enough.
Think of it like this. You make a decision, right? A decision to do something.
If you don’t actually do it, the decision means nothing.
Step 1—admit the problem.
Step 2—admit the solution.
Step 3—decide to enact the solution.
Step 4—enact the solution.
But just saying that we have to do it doesn’t make it easy.
Far from it.
Step 4 AA | Dealing With Resentment Is Harder Than It Sounds
Step 4 can be broken down into 3 lists—a resentment list, a fear list, and a sex inventory.
Step 4 is all writing. That’s it—you’re just writing down a bunch of shit that’s been screwing you up mentally for years or decades.
Resentment—anger—is critical for the alcoholic to purge. When I got sober, I was filled with anger. I was convinced that I was a victim—of the world, of society, of my friends and family, of everyone I’d ever met.
I had a lot of anger toward a lot of people.
I needed that gone if I wanted a chance to stay sober for a simple reason—I for sure turn to dope when I’m angry. It’s one of my biggest triggers.
Thinking back on old anger that I can’t get rid of is another trigger. If I don’t deal with it, I’m sure to use again sooner or later.
But getting that anger onto paper is hard because I have to relive that anger, that situation that made me angry in the first place.
It’s important though. I think if it like gangrene. You have two options with gangrene—let it eat you alive, or cut it out, both of which are painful.
But if you cut it out, you have a better chance of survival.
When I did my 4th step, AA was by my side. My sponsor helped me to get through it with encouragement and reminders that this, for me, was the only way to stay sober.
Once the anger is described and inspected, we then look at our side of each situation. How did I cause or worsen each thing that I’m resentful about? Not all situations were my fault, but I played a part in many of them.
This turned the tables on my anger and made me realize that I was wrong too. It helped me to let go of some of the anger (but not all—that came in step 5).
Letting Go of Fear in Step 4 of AA
The fear list comes next, and just like the other lists in the 4th step and the other steps generally, it’s simple.
All you’re doing is writing down your fears. That’s really it.
There’s a prayer that comes after, but there’s no need to complicate this step.
If you can’t come up with many fears, try again—I’ve never met anyone who’s actually fearless.
The Sex Inventory—It’s Really Just About Your Behavior
I think of the sex inventory more as a relationship inventory. Here are the questions you have to answer:
Where was I selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate?
Who did I hurt?
How did I unjustly cause jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness?
Where was I at fault?
What should I have done instead?
See anything about sex in there? I sure don’t. This is all about how you treat the people in your life you either had sex with or had a relationship with. That’s it.
Just like it says in the Big Book, this is simple—which means there’s nothing tricky about it—but it’s not easy.
Who wants to do these things? Who wants to write all that down?
Only people who are serious about staying sober.
Staying Sober Requires Work
Step 4 taught me that it was going to take a lot of hard work to stay sober.
Step 5 taught me even more.
If you’re struggling with sobriety, check out my 11 tips to stay sober. It’s all about the 11 things I do every week for my program.
I’ve been sober for over 9 years, so something’s working.