step 4 aa

Alcoholics Anonymous (4th Step Inventory): Laying The Foundation

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Step Four of the Alcoholics Anonymous is the notorious bugaboo of newcomer superstition. 

It’s easy to understand the immense fear associated with this step.

Particularly its demand for vulnerability and exhibition of flaws and wrongdoings.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to assume this is what creates the frightening anticipation which surrounds Step Four.

However, more likely (in my opinion!), it’s because an inventory of the self is a key to opening the door to a contented, sustaining, and lasting recovery. 

This may sound silly to you if you’re not an addict, but it can feel like suicide, at least it did for me.

To finally let go of everything you know, your whole show, the entire act – it’s cringe-worthy. 

That’s why it’s essential the first three steps bring you to a place of hopelessness.

When you are finally at the end of your rope, you’re in the perfect position to pick up a new one. 


==> Click the following links if you need to return to step 1, step 2, or step 3 for a quick refresher.


Yes, the feeling of hopelessness is excruciating, even the prospect is an under the skin variety unnerving. Some members have rightly observed that its equivalent to a hole in the soul and I’m inclined to agree.

I recall hearing one gentleman describe is as a God-shaped hole that he has been attempting to fill with the bottle.

Reminiscent of Carl Jung’s helpful remedy to Bill Wilson: “Spiritus contra spiritum.”

Translated as “Spirit against the false spirits.”

Which is just a more sophisticated way of saying you’ll never get that round peg into that square hole. A God-shaped hole is designed for God – whatever that concept may mean to you. The bottle is unfit to perform the task.

This is why the overarching philosophy of A.A. is identifying alcoholism as just a symptom of a spiritual disease.

“When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”
Alcoholics Anonymous p. 64

In this manner, the fundamental problem becomes personal character flaws that need to be confronted and when possible converted to character assets.

Obviously what is demanded is a deep soul searching, balls to the wall choreographed mental waltz, or what Jason Wahler calls a “bare it all revelation-inducing inventory that will become the blueprint for your success.” 

It’s A Profitable Enterprise

“Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.” (p. 63)

Allow me to break this down into a few main points: 

  1. The Third Step decision is followed by a course of vigorous action “at once.” In other words, it is immediate.
  2.  If there is a failure to carry this out (Steps 4-9 i.e the action steps), the Third Step decision will likely have no lasting effect. 
  3. This course of vigorous action entails removing blockages – presumably relational obstructions that block us from God and others and are therefore spiritual in nature.
  4. As noted above, the actual drinking is but a symptom of a spiritual disease, therefore these blockages (character flaws) are the causes and conditions we unearth in Step Four. 

Alcoholics Anonymous consistently uses the analogy of a business to help explain the importance of this process,

aa step 4

This illustration is extraordinarily helpful. If a business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke how much more so should we be inventorying the business over our lives!

Let’s make this a bit more obvious:

Imagine I own a shoe shop. Like every good shoe shop, I originally marketed variety – need my consumers to be happy! However, one day I became convinced that these unattractive generic shoes (let’s call them Sal’s Shoes), were going to become so immensely popular that I would likely become rich in a short time. 

Personally, I love Sal’s Shoe’s, I even own 4 pairs of my own. So, without further investigation of the market and the importance of diversifying my income, I basically fill my entire store with solely Sal’s. Jettison the Nike’s. 

Unfortunately, the sneakers aren’t as hot as suspected. They’ve not been flying off the shelves as I projected they would. 

So, what do I do?

I become convinced the world is full of idiots, I blame whoever I can, and invest in more Sals. 

I run with this line of reasoning and piledrive my business right into the ground. Heck, I even climb the ropes and drop her down with a brainbuster. 

A lot of us live our lives like that. We have a pattern or patterns of thinking that are a lot like Sals Shoes. Personally, we think our investment is wise (or will at least bring some type of benefit) but in reality, it’s bankrupting our business! 

What the 4th Step is designed to do is identify which habits of thought and behavior are giving us the biggest return and have the strongest profit margins and then scale these. We also want to identify the Sal’s in our inventory and exchange them with the selling items. 

This analogy is brilliant – it communicates the simplicity of the Step. It’s certainly not easy, but as with every nuance of the 12-Step Program, it’s extraordinarily simple. 

Depositphotos 10835277 s 2019
“We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.” (p. 64)

The self is composed of security, social, and sexual drives. When these drives exceed their intending purpose i.e. using sex to fix loneliness or depression, they fall out of joint and become self-defeating. The fourth step is an analysis of:

>>Fear which corresponds to the drive for security.
>>Resentment which corresponds to the social drive.
>>Sexual and relational ideal which corresponds to the sexual drive.
character asset and defect checklist
This is identical to the “daily moral inventories” used in the early days of A.A.

Character & Moral Fiber

Character: the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

  • The store represents our character.
  • The items that sell are character assets (Nike).
  • The items that we cling to and are failing to provide a return are character defects (Sals).

Dishonesty – why is dishonesty defective?

I’ve commented elsewhere on what makes certain character traits defective – you can read them here and here. 

However, I’ve summed it up in this manner:

“One can conquer the world through dishonest gain; therefore, why would our predecessor’s mark this attribute as defective? Myriad answers could be proposed; the best, however, is simply because it fails to consider other people. If humankind’s essence is relational or tribal, then such an attitude would cut itself off from the group i.e. the only means of survival. This holds true for our physical survival but also our optimal spiritual, mental, and emotional survival.”

Seriously, think about it.

  • Honesty can produce relationships, open lines of communication, endless possibilities and opportunities, consistency, and it’s scalable i.e, a solid foundation provides the grounds for a beautiful structure.
  • Dishonesty severs relationships, closes lines of communication, limits possibilities and opportunities, is inconsistent, and produces deficits i.e. the gains a drug dealer makes will likely use all of it on a lawyer. 

The Big Book is clear that we may emotionally and spiritually grapple with this. And the very fact that the text brings in another set of eyes in Step Five is indicative of our inability to see where we falter.

For example, if you are an expert in the art of rationalization, which if you’re doing a Step Four I can only assume you are, then how do you know you won’t just rationalize and justify the entire inventory. The literature isn’t shy when pointing this out:

aa doctors opinion

Doesn’t that warm your little heart?

This is due to a lifestyle of maladaptive habits and the hallmarks of what I term the “addiction identity.”

In short, our lifestyle forges an identity that demands guilt and shame be resolved through minimization, egocentrism, accentuating the wrongs of others, placing blame, acts of violence and aggression, the need to dominate and control, psychological terrorism, and denial (just to name a few).

The outsider cannot see the addict compensating for guilt and shame, at least not in the sense they can see the behavior. This causes further discord because addicts normally evaluate themselves by their intentions, not their behaviors (been there, done that!).

Psychologists call this type of thinking and living maladaptive, and for good reason.

Maladaptive: not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation.

Emotional health is defined by our ability to adapt and adjust to the world around us. If our capacity to achieve this ideal rests almost entirely upon drug or alcohol use then we need a complete overhaul. 

Once we begin to trudge through our fourth step inventory we get a new and much broader perspective of our lives. It’s as if the scales fall from our eyes and we are seeing reality for the first time in a long time – if ever…

In this process, we identify the defective patterns of character, learn to take responsibility for our actions, and develop an accurate self-appraisal with true self-worth as the treasure at the end of the rainbow.

If you feel you’re ready click here to launch the bread and butter of the fourth step inventory (clear cut instructions available in this PDF)
==> This inventory was designed by Dallas B and drawn from the outline as presented in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. For further info check out Step12.com.

Also, for perhaps my favorite printable 4th Step worksheet, click here.4th Step AA Worksheet This was created by Chaplain Dan Thompson of Harbor Hall Treatment Center. Additionally, he uses what is called the PIES Philosophy for daily auditing purposes. It’s above and beyond brilliant. PIES stands for Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual.
==>click on each word above to access that particular audit.

For more information please email me and I can get you what you need!

aa step four inventory

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