Competing the 12 Steps in Recovery

The aim of the 12 Steps is to not only help people to escape their addiction but also to allow them to build a good life in sobriety. Tackling the steps for the first time can feel like a daunting task. Steps four, five, and nine tend to be the ones that people dread the most. The benefits to be gained by completing the 12 Steps more than make up for any discomfort, and they include:

* A new kind of freedom and happiness
* Loss of regret about things that happened in the past
* Development of serenity and peace
* The ability to be of value to other people
* An end to feelings of self-pity and uselessness
* Less selfishness
* Less self seeking
* A better outlook on life
* No more financial fear or fear of other people
* Intuition to be able to handle any situation
* The ability to let go and let God

The Need for Step Four

New members to 12 Step groups will usually view step four as a tough assignment. The idea of completing a personal inventory does sound like a great deal of hard work. The good news is that this step is only as hard as people make it. Some people are able to complete their step four in a few hours.

The benefit of competing step four is that it can strengthen sobriety and allow the individual to grow spiritually. The philosophy of the 12 Steps views alcoholism as just a symptom of a spiritual disease. The real problem is not alcohol but character flaws that need to be faced and where possible overcome. In step four, the individual honestly faces their past behavior and actions. By completing this step, people gain more freedom.

Instructions for Step Four

Step four is described in the Alcoholics Anonymous program as:

made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

The Big Book offers further instructions about this step on page 63 of chapter 5, How it Works. It describes the work of this step as fact finding and fact facing. It likens the process to the type of inventory that people do in commercial enterprises, going on to state that a business that takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. The chapter offers further advice for those completing a step four including:

* This step involves taking stock in an honest way.
* It means hunting for the character flaws that led to problems in life.
* The instruction in the Big Book is for people to write down their inventory, but these days it can be simpler to use a computer. The important thing is that the information is there in black and white.
* To make things easier it is suggested that those completing step four make four columns to include resentments, fears, sexual conduct and harm caused to other people.
* In chapter 5, resentment is mentioned as the most serious of all character flaws for alcoholics. Therefore the individual completing this step needs to write down on paper all the people, places, and things they feel any anger towards. It is also necessary to consider and record the exact reason for the anger. For example, John may be angry with his wife because she nags him so much. This hurts his self-esteem, pride, and personal relationship with her.
* Once the list of resentments is complete, the individual can go back and figure out how they will be able to let go of these resentments. If they are unable to do so, they will continue to suffer and find it difficult to build a good life in recovery. It is easier to forgive other people by giving them the benefit of the doubt or understanding that other people can behave poorly because they too are spiritually unwell.
* Once the list of resentments is complete, the next step is for the individual to list all the harm that they have caused. This should include the exact nature of the wrongdoing and the motivation behind it. However, this list should exclude excuses attempting to justify it. It also involves examining every relationship to see where harm has been caused. It is usually best to have a separate column for sexual conduct.
* Fear can be a driving force behind many of the character flaws, so it is suggested that the individual lists all their fears.
* On page 69 of the Big Book, there are a number of questions that people can ask themselves when completing their lists including: where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead?

Completing Step Four as a Life Story

The Big Book does not instruct people to write a full life-story in order to complete step four. Instead it suggests making lists and using columns. There are no hard and fast rules, and some people do prefer to write a life story first of all. They can then use this when they go onto step five, or they can make their personal inventory lists after they have completed this memoir. The process of writing a life story may make it much easier to put together lists later on because the individual will have a much better understanding of their past.

There are different viewpoints in regards to the need to write a life story. Some would argue that it just complicates the process and may even be used as a delaying tactic by people who are trying to avoid completing the step. There are sponsors who advise their sponsees to take the time to write this memoir because it can be so beneficial. It is up to the individual member to decide how they wish to proceed.

Moving onto Step Five

One people have completed their step four they are encouraged to move right onto step five:

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

The way that most people complete this step is to share the information contained in the personal inventory with their sponsor. It is normal for members to feel a great deal of trepidation prior to sharing this list, but they will usually feel great afterwards, as if a great weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Those who have successfully completed step five often feel like they have been spiritually born again.

Step Four and Confidentiality

One of the concerns that people have when completing a step four is that this private information will fall into the wrong hands. This is a justifiable concern but the individual can [help ensure confidentiality by:

* Only share the information with somebody who can be completely trusted. Most people who are doing this step will disclose their inventory to their sponsor as part of step five. This further emphasizes the need to choose a sponsor carefully.
* This documentation should never be left lying around where anyone can pick it up to read it. Instead it needs to be hidden away somewhere safe and secure.
* In the Big Book example on page 65 it actually lists people’s names. This means that the information becomes even more sensitive. It may be appropriate to disguise the names of the individuals mentioned if there are any concerns over the security of this document. This is particularly the case in regards to those events that could have legal implications or become a major source of embarrassment.
* Those individuals who complete their step four on the computer will be able to password protect the document. This is probably the safest way to keep the personal inventory. The only downside to this is that computer files can become corrupted, so it is best to make backup copies.