Why Do People Fear the Fourth Step?

Most of the time when people think of a 12-step fellowship, they think of Alcoholics Anonymous, however, there’s actually a 12-step group for just about any addiction out there, including:

  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Codependents Anonymous
  • Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, etc.
    • These fellowships are meant for the loved ones of addicts. Some people attend for different reasons. While some go because their loved one is in active addiction, others attend because of their own issues that stemmed from having an addict or alcoholic in their home when they were a child.   
  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Eating Disorders Anonymous
    • I’m a member of this fellowship and can confirm that it is a group for anyone struggling with abnormal eating habits. You don’t have to be “cured” or in remission to attend meetings, you can be at any point in your recovery journey. I used to introduce myself whenever I spoke as “struggling with bulimia”, but now I introduce myself as “a recovered bulimic”.
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Schizophrenics Anonymous
  • Self Mutilators Anonymous
  • Codependents Anonymous

…and many, many more. While we recognize that the 12-step approach isn’t right for everyone and believe there are many approaches to recovery, these programs have helped millions of people change their lives for the better. Keep in mind, the steps only mention the substance or behavior that you’re addicted to once in all of the steps: the first one.

The first step only asks you to admit that you have a problem that you cannot control and it’s affecting your life in a negative way. That’s it!

Many people breeze through steps one, two, and three and then get stuck. The fourth step is a big one, and it’s the same for each fellowship.

So What is the Fourth Step?

“We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Many people get writer’s block on their fourth step, as it takes a lot of courage to dig deep and take a hard look at your past. There are all also of these misconceptions out there about how much work it is, and many get complacent. On the other hand, there are many addicts and alcoholics that swear they would never be clean and sober if it weren’t for completing their fourth step.

To put it simply, Step Four is all about writing down everything you have ever done, no matter how insignificant you may find things to be, and to be as honest as you’ve ever been in your life. You will make a list of everyone you’ve ever done these things to, what they may have done to you, and how those experiences have affected you. You may wonder what the point is in doing all of this, but it actually gives you the opportunity to recognize your behavior patterns.

This is referred to as your personal inventory. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it into understandable terms,

“A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values.” Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous p.64

Why is the Fourth Step So Important in 12-Step Programs?

Staring at our problems on paper may not make sense at first. Why revisit the wreckage of our past? Because we can’t move past them if we don’t face them. Completing a fourth step is typically done with a sponsor, to guide you in all the areas that need to be addressed and give you some sort of outline to follow.

According to the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA (which can be interpreted for any fellowship), we need to find out how, when, and where, our natural desires have warped our minds. By completely a fourth step, we figure out our resentments and grudges, we start to discover some of our emotional ailments, what our triggers are, and what sends us down destructive paths over and over again. By recognizing these patterns, we can work to correct them. Alternatively, when we find ourselves struggling in these areas, we can turn to our Higher Power and to our support groups, such as AA, EDA, or CoDA.

The fifth step is where we examine the results of the fourth step. Again, your fourth step is typically started with your sponsor, or someone you trust with your deepest, darkest secrets and acts as objective party (basically, someone who isn’t too involved in your life and could possibly view things from a biased position), and it is also recommended to complete with the same person. They should be familiar with the steps so they can review your behavior patterns with you, as well as what triggers you to act out on negative behaviors.

When I finally completed my fourth step, after about 3 months of work (it was longer than most), and went over it with my “person”, I felt like a new woman.

It was like everything finally made sense — why I did the things that I did and what caused me to feel such terrible feelings in certain situations. Even if you’re not a part of a fellowship, and don’t plan on ever doing so — you can always still do the fourth step and discuss with a personal therapist. There are many resources online to guide you through it, and you can use that to work with your counselor to recognize your behavior patterns as well.

If you feel alone or confused and don’t know where to start, don’t worry. You are not alone. There are millions of people in your position right now. Call us today at 1-888-998-9998 to get started on rebuilding your life!