I’ve spent years trying to avoid this step. There have been so many times in my life that I’ve tried to do recovery and do a lot of change and look at all the reasons I am the way I am. Looking all the way back to childhood, I was raised by kids that had their own issues and dysfunction and addiction, had their own childhood issues. They weren’t able to give me what I needed and therefore I ended on the streets at age thirteen and had bonding disorders, attachment disorders, and my own addictions. I could look at all the reasons that I was the way I was. I could even start to feel what I thought was righteous indignation. I had the right to be angry at someone else. Look what you’ve done!
When I got on the streets as a kid, I was picked up immediately – within the first 24 hours – and funneled into industries that were pretty dark. And for the next ten years I hid and survived because of my addictions. Literally, I could just pour more drugs into my body and get high and survive. Stepping into denial was really helpful to me. Blaming other people saved me from having to look at my own stuff.
But when you step into a recovery you realize, “You know, I’m a mess and I can’t change this.” I am powerless to change this. But there is a God and I can turn it over to him. I can say to him, “I surrender and I want you to help me.” Step 4 gives us a framework. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says, “Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, the faith which really works in daily living is still out of our reach.” I need to honestly start looking at this tangible stuff that has developed in my own character and in my own life because of my anger and bitterness and all these addictions. Without looking at that I can’t honestly step out.
The framework of recovery is to honestly look at myself. To do a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. I don’t know about you, but for me the problem was that I would look inside myself and I wouldn’t find anything. I didn’t know if I had anything of substance to offer. I could be anything to anybody at any given time. I could lie and manipulate and adapt and be what you wanted me to be. But if you said just be myself, I would have no idea what that meant. So my fear was that I wouldn’t find anything and that would be so painful. I felt at times like I was just missed and if you walked by me too fast I would just kind of dissolve. I wouldn’t have anything there.
This is a really threatening place for a lot of people. Some people say, “You know what, I’ve done some pretty horrible things in my life and I am afraid of looking at that pain.” I’ve met people that have given up children or lost children because of their addictions. They’ve aborted children. They’ve broken up relationships because of bad choices and who they got involved with. They’ve seen divorce and addictions and arrest and all of that. So we start to look at that, to examine without blame.
Here’s something about the fourth step from one of my devotions:
There have probably been times when we have ignored our sins and problems and pointed the finger at someone else. We may be out of touch with our own internal affairs because we are still blaming others for our moral choices. Or perhaps we avoid self examination by making moral inventories of the people around us. In the Garden of Eden when God asked Adam, “What did you do?” Adam said, “It wasn’t me, it was the woman you made for me. She told me to eat this fruit and I ate it.” And so God turns to Eve and says, “Eve, what did you do?” And she says, “No, no, no. It wasn’t me. It was the snake who deceived me. God why did you make the snake? She literally turned around and blamed the snake and ultimately blamed God.
It seems to be human nature that blame is our first line of defense. We also may avoid our own problems by evaluating and criticizing others. Jesus tells us, “Why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when there’s a log in your own eye? First get rid of the log in your own eye and then worry about the speck in someone else’s eye.” So this step asks me to consider, Are there logs in my own eye? Am I in denial about my own responsibility for these issues?
A lot of us would like to say, “No, no, no. I think I’m spot on with how I’ve looked at my past.” I’ve talked to women who tell me about relationship after relationship that went horribly wrong where they were beat up and abused. They can’t believe they ended up in the same situation again. But when the same kind of thing happens two or three times you have to recognize that the only common denominator in any of it is you. You have to ask what you are doing to attract these men or these relationships. That’s really hard. It’s easy to look at what other people have done to you. But that’s not what this step is about. This step is about why it was so easy for them to do that to you. Why was it so easy to get you in that compromising situation or into that addiction? Why you? And why again?
With the fourth step you’re going to start looking at things that have caused you anger and bitterness. Things that have caused you to run back to your addictions, back to the same kind of relationship again. You’re going to ask what you did in order to make this happen. The Big Book says, “Addiction cripples our ability to reflect honestly about ourselves and our lives.” We hate to admit that. We don’t honestly look at things. We look at it through the lens of our addiction. We look at it through the lens of our pain, or our bitterness or hurt. We are really deceived a lot of times.
It’s hard to even imagine it at this stage of recovery, but this step helps to clear our vision. We can start looking more honestly at what is happening and why it’s happening. And when we get to what and why, then God can teach us how to stop it. What kind of things can I do in order to change my life so that I’m not a victim or a victimizer? So that I can literally change the outcome of what happens?
Again, the Big Book says, “It limited our ability to understand the damage and the habit, the liabilities it caused in all of our relationships. Before we could confidently rely on God we needed a framework from which he could help us sort out our past honestly.” There’s that word again. Step four provides that framework. It’s a vigorous and painstaking effort to discover what these liabilities have been and are in each of us.
This inventory – this being able to look at honestly what going on – can be painful. There are some painful places inside. That’s why you do this step with someone else. You really need to have a sponsor or a friend to walk with you through this step. You need a group that you can go to and say, “Man! I just had to back away for a minute. It hurts!” But doing a fearless moral inventory is not just about looking at the bad stuff. There’s a lot of good stuff about myself that I never saw. There was a lot of value in who I am that I never saw. In this step, you really look at all of that. Both the bad and the good.
The inventory is also a step in helping us align our lives with the will of God. Though this inventory we identify negative thoughts, emotions and actions that damage our lives. “By discovering those destructive elements in our lives we took a first step towards correcting them. Doing an inventory was difficult but this step opened the door to that additional faith and hope we needed to continue our recovery and overcome our addictions” (from the Big Book). It’s incredible to be able to look at yourself and honestly say, “This is who I am and this is what brought me to this day. This is who I am. This is what my inventory looks like. This is what my bitterness looks like. This is why I got the DUI. This is how I was in those relationships, this is how I lost my job, this is what I look like in my addictions.
This is a place where we come out of hiding with Go. In the Bible, one of the writers of the psalms said, “Search me and know my heart. Test me and if there’s anything in me that needs to be kind of brought out in the light, do that.” And this is the place where you do that. “I’m really done tripping up on my addictions. I’m really done lying to myself. I’m really done being in these crazy relationships. I’m done. And whatever I have to look at in order to allow you to change that I’ll look at it.”
It’s a fearless moral inventory. I want to know it all. I want to see it on paper. My hands were almost shaking when I had to put on paper the first time that I lie and I manipulate and I’m really good at getting what I want at any cost. I could easily write down why I am the way I am but it was hard to admit that my character was skewed. It was hard to recognize that I was able to do things I didn’t even see. I was in total denial that I played a role in how my life got the way it got. When I stopped lying to myself, when I started to look honestly at who I was and how I got into these situations and what my role was, I decided with the help of God and some friends that I’m done. I don’t want to be like that.
I think I started this process in 1979. Since then I’ve come back to this step a few times. Something comes up and I think “man! there that is again.” And I have to go back and think, “how did I get here again” And what kind of character things do I need to look at? I want to look at it again.”Every time, God has been faithful. He’s always been faithful. He can take me and show me how to clean house.
This step is about house cleaning. It’s about getting rid of what doesn’t work, cleaning up. For me it feels like walking into a filthy dirty room where the windows are smudged and dirty and they’re even painted shut. I really want to start chipping the paint away from the windows so I can open them up and get some fresh air. I want to clean the windows off so I can see outside. I want to dust and vacuum so I can live there. And that’s what we do with our very own soul. God says, “Let me help you clean that up.” You’re running from yourself and you can’t run fast enough to escape because you always bring yourself. So God says, “Let’s look at this. I want you to be fearless now. I’m right by your side. And we’ll clean it up.”
When you get done with this step, the next few steps are just amazing. Absolutely amazing. Don’t be afraid of this one. It’s actually a good step. It’s a good part of recovery.