Step Four

In the recovery process, whether from alcoholism or mental illness, we sometimes try to figure out what happened, where we are now, and what direction we want our lives to move in. In asking these questions, we need to look at out past behavior and determine which behaviors were perhaps ‘wrong’, what behaviors may have ‘wronged’ others, and what behaviors may have ‘wronged’ ourselves. Even in crazed states of alcoholism and mental illness, we need to own up to what we have done during our past and address areas that need mending and attention.

This is the purpose of a moral inventory. In A.A. parlance, it is a fearless and thorough moral inventory of ourselves. What actions or behaviors did I exhibit that may have harmed myself or others. Did I have a habit of lying, cheating, or stealing? Was I at times selfish, inconsiderate, or arrogant? The list of personal faults can go on and on, but categorizing them and realizing that these behaviors took place is one of the first steps to producing a solid, permanent recovery.

Usually, we take a moral inventory by putting pen to paper and making a list of all these wrongs. What did I do and who may I have hurt in the process? This self searching is supposed to be raw and real, deep and honest, thorough and complete. Only then, can a foundation be built in which a solid sobriety can be manifested for oneself.

This process can take a great deal of time. Some may accomplish it within a day, others may take a year or longer to vet this inventory process. The important thing is that 1) it is a thorough and complete document and 2) done at a pace which does not harm one’s recovery process. Doing a moral inventory too fast could potentially be overwhelming, whereas not doing one fast enough can leave for bad behaviors to linger into the present day. Both circumstances could lead one new to sobriety to drink, and for alcoholics to drink is literally to die.

Inventories are never perfect, but they are a start in cataloging improper behaviors that may have harmed ourselves or others. They are also never fully complete, and can be done repeatedly during and through the course of the recovery process for one’s lifetime. Compiling this inventory list is the start of a foundation to help ensure one does not relapse back into the drink, and freeing oneself from bonds that may have held individuals down during the recovery process.

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