People approach Step 4 with either fear or hope; no one is on the fence about doing a personal inventory. That said, the step lays the foundation for a solid journey to recovery. Coming right after Step 3 that has us letting go of our recovery and turning it over to our higher power, it is the step that starts the healing process by examining ourselves to truly find out what’s going on inside and out.

Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves

Step 4 – Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book

SPOILER ALERT: Drinking and drugging were only a symptom. To find a cure, a person has to dig deeper to understand where the problem lies. Once we peel back the onion of our intellectual, emotional and social resentments and fears, it becomes clear: we are the problem.

We need to be fearless in our search for our Step 4 inventory
We Need to Be Fearless in Our Search

That’s the thing about solutions, they can only exist in terms of a problem. Through the step 4 inventory, our goal is not to beat ourselves up but to help define a path to walk towards recovery. Outlining our resentments and fears, we will use this list as a roadmap to work the steps.

Get It In Writing

One of the key aspects of the Step 4 inventory is that it is written. Plenty of newcomers believe that just thinking it through is enough to get a solid list of defects. The human psyche is geared toward the physical as well as the mental.

Going through the motions of writing something down on paper makes it ‘real’ to us. In addition, we can see with our eyes the results of our thinking through the process. Writing the fourth step inventory is critical to using it as an effective recovery guide.

In my sponsor life, I have had Step 5 ‘rituals’ of burning the paper our fourth step inventory was written on to symbolize our moving past it on the road to healing. It is very cathartic!


What does ‘searching” mean in terms of Step 4 inventory? The answer is different for everyone, and there are no ‘rules’ as to when you are done. That said, your inventory should be complete enough to help you and your sponsor work on some critical parts of your recovery.

Because you will constantly be learning about yourself as you work the steps, your inventory will continue to grow. This step is never a once-and-done event! You never stop searching; taking a hard look at yourself to better understand your mental, spiritual and emotional health.

Step 4 Inventory should be in writing to make it real
Get It In Writing


The first thing to get out of the way: “Fearless” does not mean we are not afraid of writing out a Step 4 inventory! It means that we work through the fear to get to the other side. We do not let fear stop us from being honest and open about ourselves, our drinking/addiction or our resentments.

Taking a fearless inventory means that you are not going to limit what comes out. When you start writing, you keep going to see where it takes you. This honesty can be terrifying – and very cleansing.

You may find things that you didn’t even know you felt! The inventory may cause you to have feelings for yourself or others that you may not fully understand or even be aware of!

The peace you find on the other end of the process is worth it. Hundreds of thousands of fellow travelers on the path to recovery know this to be true.

Resentment is Our Number One Offender

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.

Page 64 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

One of the main benefits of the Step 4 inventory is getting our resentments out into the light. Once we can see them, take the measure of how deep and ingrained in our lives they have become, we can begin to work through how to rid ourselves of their effects in our daily lives.

Do not kid yourself, as humans, we will always have resentments! The fourth step does not seek to remove all resentment in our lives, but it promises a new way to work through them so that they do not destroy us from within.

Step 4 Process

It is suggested – read HIGHLY ENCOURAGED – that a framework is used to work through the Step 4 inventory. This process has been proven countless times to work! This is not to make your inventory a ‘cookie-cutter’ version that is the same as everyone else’s; it just encourages a thorough and complete way to approach the task at hand.

We highly recommend following the process laid out in the Big Book. Take a look here for details.

The Fourth Column

There are plenty of online resources, templates and guides to help you work through the Big Book’s process. The fourth column is one that is hinted at in the step details, but not fully explored.

“What is my part in it?”. This column helps us directly identify how we participated in our own resentments and fears. In the serenity prayer, we understand that there is a difference between things we can and cannot change. While we cannot change many things, we can work on how we react to them. This column is the key to making that work!

Step 4 Results

One of the best things about taking a searching and fearless moral inventory is that you begin to build a concrete definition of your resentments, fear and part to play. Only once the problem is defined can you begin to work on the solution.

Step 4 can be the hardest (next to step 9) step of the 12 – and we never fully complete it. That said, it is one of the most important steps to helping build a healthy recovery.

Give it a try!

If it does not hurt, you are not doing it correctly. The promise is that we will grow in ways you can’t imagine. Miracles to happen and Step 4 is the springboard to make them a reality.

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