Step 4 — At Once

by Rob S.

My sponsor wisely did not allow me time to develop fear before writing my Fourth Step. He pointed out the Big Book indicates that we are to begin Step Four at once (p. 64). It seemed like only seconds after the Third Step that he laid out four sheets of paper with these headings:

  • Selfishness
  • Dishonesty
  • Resentment
  • Fear

Character defects slow us down as surely as the extra weights on horses in a Thoroughbred race

He said to write: “God help me I am writing my inventory” under each of these words. I was informed I was not capable of enough honesty to do this alone. I needed a higher power to help me. After all, a week or so before I had marched into a bar to say, “Gin and tonic, please.” (Thankfully I changed my mind and didn’t drink.) Obviously, my mind lied to me. 

The Oxford Group called the inventory process automatic writing. If the words did not come from deep within, I was not to write them. No “thinking” about it was allowed. More honesty landed on those pages in a few minutes than had come out of my keen-intellectual-alcoholic mind for many weeks. This was not exactly Step Four yet, but it brought about honest information for the upcoming inventory.

From the Big Book I learned how selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear had negatively affected me and others (p. 65). These were the very ingredients of the “bondage of self” I had asked to be removed in the Third Step. I needed to learn to face and be rid of these aspects of my personality. How could I do this if I didn’t even know what they were? I believe such understanding is a vital function of this step. The Big Book refers to the above four character defects as our “grosser handicaps”  (p. 71). These shortcomings slow us down as surely as the extra weights on horses in a Thoroughbred race.

Four character defects are “grosser handicaps” 

I was taught how to face and be rid of repeating thoughts of anger—resentments (p. 67). The same for irrational fears (p. 68). I came to realize how dishonest and selfish I had been with sexual conduct (pp. 69-70). This vitally important information was necessary to adequately do Step Five with my sponsor and to be willing to ask for God’s help in Steps Six and Seven (p. 76). Honest information from this step was even helpful in Steps Eight and Nine because I had listed my harms to others (p. 70). 

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Dealing with resentments in everyday life

The Fourth Step method of dealing with resentments is very useful in everyday life. There are two tools for this (p. 67):

  1. A logical tool: “Where were we to blame? Where have we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?” 
  2. A spiritual request: “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

If I really apply them, this duo sets me free from repeating anger spells. I have learned to remain continually aware of grosser handicaps because they crop up in Step Ten all through the day and in Step Eleven before going to bed at night. Step Four is a learning process to be used with maintenance Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve for the rest of my life. 

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