My Name is Paul and I’m an Alcoholic, Step 4

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 4. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 4.

We though “conditions” drove us to drink, and when we tried to correct these conditions and found that we couldn’t to our entire satisfaction, our drinking went out of hand and we became alcoholics. It never occurred to us that we needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever they were (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 47).

Though our decision (in Step 3) 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 (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64).

The fourth step is scary. Words like “searching” and “fearless” and “strenuous” and “effort” abound. For many in recovery, the reconnection with God through the first three steps is difficult enough. Once that connection is made, the addict is then told to be more self-reflective than they have ever been.

The fourth step is a difficult part of the journey. It is a time to remember a lot of the crap that exists in our lives. And not just the stuff we did when drunk or high, but all the things that have happened to us; all the things we have done to others even in the absence of substances.

When a recovering addict or alcoholic works on the fourth step inventory, he or she will ask many questions. They fall into four basic categories:

  1. What happened or who am I angry at or afraid of?
  2. What is the cause of the emotion?
  3. What instinct, or part of me, is affected (especially the social, security, and sexual instincts)?
  4. What was my role?

The first three questions are hard enough. First, I list all of the people and institutions and ideas that really bother me. This list includes my spouse, my children, my siblings, my parents, my friends, myself, and God. It also includes the church, the government, Walmart, etc. It may include items such as injustice, sexual abuse, racism, or other ideas that we experience. After listing these things, I need to ask what it is that is really causing the anger, fear, or whatever emotion. The instinct question is one that a sponsor really helps with. It was Bob Wilson’s contention that the three basic human instincts were: social—need for friends and relationships; security—home, employment, basic needs; and sexual—need for an intimate relationship. Sometimes, multiple instincts are affected by one person.

Then comes that pesky fourth question: what was my role? How did I play a part? Maybe those times I was upset with my wife were actually partially my fault because I was not being honest. Maybe the church is bothering me because they are calling me on my crap and I don’t like it. Maybe I was really angry with someone and if I had spoken with them the issue could have been resolved. Whatever the issue, quite often I played a role in it.*

The fourth step is the part of the process where the recovering addict will be the most open, the most vulnerable, and possibly the most susceptible to a relapse. This is scary. It is scary because (maybe for the first time) addicts are finally admitting that other people and things did not make us drink. We drank because we are alcoholics.

It is time for the addict to stop trying to change people and conditions. It is time for the addict to start changing themselves.

And it is hard.

In AA or NA or any 12 Step group, the addict has the benefit of a sponsor and other friends in recovery to walk alongside them during the process. This is so vitally important.

But what can the church community do to help?

First, do your own inventory. I don’t just mean jot down a list and be happy. I mean go through the process of a searching and fearless moral inventory. By doing so, you will better understand the emotional experience of writing an inventory. If you understand this through your own experience, you will be able to be more empathetic towards others when they go through the experience. However, do not do this on your own. Which leads me to:

Second, get to know people in your church who are in recovery. And by “get to know” I don’t mean find out who they are so you can send other addicts to them. Get to know them so that you can learn from their experience. Get to know them so you can learn how far they have come. Get to know them so you can learn how the steps they have walked can help you in your own spiritual journey. When you know them, you can ask them to help you in the process of doing your own inventory.

Third, read Psalm 139 and Romans 8. In the process of becoming more self-reflective, remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Which means nothing can separate the addict you know from the love of God. As they continue search and knowing more about themselves, find ways to gently remind recovering addicts that God loves them, that they are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves them, and that nothing in all creation can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


The following links are PDFs of a Fourth Step Inventory. They are from a website that has permission to share and distribute them freely. DO NOT fill one of these out online or in a PDF file. Print them off and write in them. This is a private matter for you to write about it; you do not want to leave any digital imprint of it.

Fourth Step Inventory: Resentments

Fourth Step Inventory: Fears

Fourth Step Invetory: Sex Conduct

Fourth Step Inventory: People We Have Harmed

*It is important for victims of abuse to not blame themselves. They were victimized and they played no role in that. Celebrate Recovery does a great job in speaking about this with victims of sexual and child abuse. When you are an innocent victim, do not look for ways to take on blame. Remember that you were a victim, but through recovery you can come to a place in life where you are no longer defined by your victimization, but you can be defined by God’s love in your life.

2 thoughts on “My Name is Paul and I’m an Alcoholic, Step 4

  1. My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 5 | a second time

  2. My Name Is Paul And I’m An Alcoholic, Step 6 | a second time

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