Step 4. Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory.

After taking step 3, we commence to take the step each morning. We make the step 3 declaration or say a step 3 prayer each morning for the rest of our lives…

The developments that occur during the inventory process have become my favourite “get out of jail free card”. After proper fulfilment, the writer will see there is no longer any excuse for staying in resettlement or discomfort. As the step suggests, the process must be written after step 3 when you have both handed your will and life over to the care of God – when fear has begun to leave you. The book dedicates several pages, in fact, the second part of an entire chapter to this step. That should inform us of its importance and remind us that nothing can be achieved in our lives unless we proceed fearlessly.

The process is spiritual. It is not a confession. Neither is it an opportunity to berate or judge yourself. We are merely trying to ascertain the parts of self that have caused us to act and think in ways that are neither conducive to a happy nor successful life.

How is this spiritual? When we write inventory –it must be handwritten otherwise we do not fully engage in the process – we are providing an opportunity for God to facilitate “light bulb moments” of awareness. No human is in control of when complete realisation of all the aspects of a matter occur – when “the penny drops”. Increasing awareness is always provided through inspiration. Awareness/consciousness is a God given thing.

What will we gain? If we properly engage and God is with us, we will begin to see a pattern to our behaviour pertaining to others and circumstances. We will see what we did to initiate peoples’ reaction and where we had been dishonest; selfish; self-seeking; frightened, and inconsiderate.

None of the inventory process includes how and where we used/drank.

Inventory explores what we did when we were reacting/judging others and taking their inventory. This may of course be during using and/or drinking. However, if you were in blackout, those images and memories may not be forthcoming. Nevertheless, we must have faith that we will gain the necessary awareness to progress along our spiritual path. Additionally, we will become aware of the parts of self that drove us to conduct ourselves in self-defeating and nonbeneficial ways – a pattern of such behaviour will emerge.       

What does the book say?

At the bottom of page 63 the book states: “ Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning… (Anonymous 1939, p 63). At the top the next page, the book suggests we identify, face and be rid of the things “that have been blocking us” from God (Anonymous 1939 p 64).  It continues, “our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions” (Anonymous 1939 p 64).

What exactly does that mean?

We know that alcoholism is not caused. We also know that alcoholism is unconditional. The book must therefore be stating that we identify the causes and conditions of the things that are blocking us.

It is suggested that we now read from “Therefore…” on pages 64 to “interfered with?” at the top of page 65 (Anonymous 1939 p 64; p65).

At this juncture I would like to introduce you to the best thing that has occurred in the program since 1939. The formalising of inventory sheets which makes inventory more probing, ergonomic, and thorough.

Fig 1. A modern resentment inventory sheet.

Prior to commencing, we must meditate for at least five minutes and then ask God to help us set aside any preconceived ideas/prejudices. The set aside prayer is ideal for this purpose (Fig 2.). If we are inexperienced at meditation, just breathe deeply, become still/silent for a time.

Fig 2. The set aside prayer. Between the words “about…” and “…terms,” the phrasing is optional. That way you can ask God to remove a particular prejudice you think may interfere with your ability to see the truth. This prayer can be said anytime, anywhere.

Above is a modern inventory sheet designed for exploring resentments (Fig 1.). The first column is the person or institution that you hold responsible. When writing inventory, it is crucial that we begin by listing down the page. Otherwise we are in danger of doing what we do in our heads by taking the other people’s inventory and getting mad at them on paper. That is not our aim. “The inventory was ours, not the other man’s” (Anonymous 1939 p 67). It is wise to leave a page for each because we will learn that we require plenty of space to make our inquiries.

Having written many names and institutions on individual sheets we then list on each page what we “think” is the cause. What the institution or person “has done”. Once again, we do not write across the page, we write downward. This takes us to the third column which permits us to identify which parts of “us” has been threatened by the person or institution in column one and their actions in column two. What parts of our psyche are scared?

When taking inventory, the author has learned to write sentences, not just tick boxes. He may write an entire paragraph just on one part of self. For example, if my self-esteem is threatened, why is it threatened, why is this person’s or institution’s actions causing me fear, discomfort, anger?  We will learn that even anger is fear…

Let us use Bill’s example in the book to work through the above sheet. So as directed, Bill on page 65 has written Mr Brown in the first column. Unlike what we do in our heads, he has kept Mr Brown’s part, “the cause” to a factual minimum. No doubt reluctantly, Bill has not character assassinated Mr Brown on paper in that column. That is the beauty of writing down the sheet. The second column starts with “his attention to my wife”. So, Bill is understandably threatened by Mr Brown’s attention to his wife.  Due to Bill’s alcoholism, it may be that Lois Wilson quite enjoyed some interaction with someone who was behaving differently to Bill and someone who was male. No doubt Bill will have picked up on this. Or, he might have imagined the whole thing.

Bill has indicated that the above has threatened his self-esteem and sex relations. The word fear is bracketed. By acting as Bill in this scenario, from the modern sheet we can go deeper. We may consider that Brown’s actions have caused us fear in areas of our self-esteem; pride; emotional security; ambitions; personal relationships – including that with Mr Brown – and our sex relations. If this were our inventory, we would be wise to write at least a sentence on how each part of self was threatened. During that process, the resentment will begin to subside.

The fourth column and the least favourite identifies our part. We are advised to maximise our part. We should be writing at least a sentence. We attempt to do on paper, the opposite of what we do in our heads.

This is the only justified example of taking another man’s inventory. If this were the author’s inventory he would write.

Dishonest: Lois is a faithful wife and has given me no cause to suspect that anything is going on. Brown may be simply passing the time of day with her and being pleasant as a good neighbour should. He may see that I am ill and may wish to offer some form of support to help us both. The truth is I have no idea what Mr Brown’s motive is for communicating with my wife. That is what normal people do it is not? I have been so unreasonable and unsupportive. Therefore, I am scared that she may “runaway” with Brown. 

Selfish: My wife needs friends. Why is it a bad thing that she can derive some pleasure from interacting with someone who is not drunk unconscious. I have done nothing to support her financially or otherwise. I am selfishly drinking away any money she manages to acquire by working her fingers to the bone. How awful that circumstance must be that her husband neither appreciates, helps or supports her. What about her reputation and her self-worth? She is not afforded any pride nor any other parts of self that I am so selfishly defending to her detriment. What must others think of her?

Remember this is not a self-berating process, we are merely trying to see the truth of the matter and what we have done. We are not trying to harshly judge ourselves nor metaphorically hit ourselves over the head with a large stick. “Put the stick down!” we are simply on a factfinding mission to ascertain what parts self that have driven us to act out.  

Self-seeking: I am trying to prevent my reputation from becoming damaged by what appears to be a man’s attention to my wife? However, what damage have I done to my reputation? What is my current reputation? Am I driven to act out in ways to preserve what I perceive as my stature? Am I running around frantically trying to prevent all those parts of self from becoming diminished in other’s eyes? Have I not already done that to myself? Have I a reputation worth having? Is this about what others think of me rather than what my wife and I think? 

Frightened: Yes, I am scared. What if Lois does “runaway” with Brown? How will I afford my drink? What reputation will I have then? Have I not given her plenty of reasons to leave me and no reasons to stay? I have been aggressive toward Brown. Have I not shunned him in public? I have acted in ways that are not loving or kind? I have given both of them no reason to respect me, consider what I think or how anything they do will affect me? After I have treated both so appallingly, why would they have any reason to be kind and loving toward me? Did I not start by being aggressive and dismissive towards Brown? Did I not threaten and scream at my wife to intimidate her and make her feel worthless so she would not “runaway” – so, she would not feel attractive? Have I not punctured Browns tyre’s and scratched his car whilst he slept then blamed it on the neighbour’s children? Have I not spent hours and hours drinking and plotting to kill Brown? My fear has driven me to behave in ways that I would rather not.   

Inconsiderate: I have done nothing but drink all our money away. I have given Lois no money so she can look and feel attractive. I have not given her a Christmas, birthday or anniversary present for nearly a decade. I have done nothing nice for her or attended to any of the things usually expected of a husband. She has no money for herself or even to pay the bills. We might lose the house again and she has stood by me all this time despite my extramarital affairs. She has never looked at another man or at least permitted any advances. Why should she not wish to leave and have a better life. I would not stay with me if I were her.  

Now we can see that if Bill had a resentment at the beginning of this process, it would have been severely diminished by the end of his first sheet. In the rest of the inventory, the book goes on the unearth Bill’s other indiscretions and double standards. He is resenting Brown for telling his wife of his affairs. How can Bill in full awareness hold a resentment toward someone who may be about to behave in identical ways? Double standards, compartmentalisation. Very narcissistic behaviour…. It also turns out that Bill is scared that Brown will get his job. Bill is terrified by Brown as he may take from him his wife, his home, and his job.

Note what has materialised is not completely focused or correctly ranked in each category. That is an artefact of inventory writing. We are not in control of what emerges.

Reading on and evaluating down page 65.

Mrs Jones had her husband, Bills’ friend, committed to a mental institution for his drinking. She openly snubbed Bill and is a gossip. Once again Bill’s reputation is a stake. He is also scared that Mrs Jones’ behaviour will persuade Lois to act in the same way…

Bill’s considers his employer, unjust, overbearing, and unreasonable. Bill turns up to work drunk. His employer has put-up with it, time-and-time-again albeit he has made clear his objections. Bill has stolen money from this man by making up items on his expense account that he has no doubt spent on booze. So, this patient man that Bill has stolen from, that he has behaved appallingly towards, appearing drunk in front of his clients, is now being berated by Bill? Double standards and psychosis. Bill in his resentment is unable to see his part and the truth. Also, Bill is scared he will lose his job and the ability to cheat on his expenses so he can afford his alcohol.

Bill has a resentment towards Lois. He thinks she nags him and misunderstands. Who but an alcoholic can understand an alcoholic? It is normal for Lois to be concerned about her husband and to try and stop him drinking himself to death. It is not unreasonable for a wife in those circumstances to openly express discouragement. His wife wants the house to be put in her name. Most probably because she makes all the money, and he drinks the majority away. She probably wants some form of security. That is part of her security instincts. Bill is preventing Lois from satisfying her basic needs. Bill thinks Lois likes Brown. He does not actually know she likes him in that way. He is most likely scared to ask. He might be making the whole thing up in his head after seeing some harmless flirting. Understandably Bill is scared that Brown will get everything, and he will end up locked away in a mental institution. FEAR!

Now that is taking someone else’s inventory…

What does that mean?

Man walks up to a bar. Why? There could be a hundred reasons why. To ask for something, yes, however, it may be to use the phone, it maybe to inform the staff that a glass has been broken, it may be to ask for medical attention… ad infinitum. We have no idea what motive the man has for walking up to the bar.

Pardon the biblical reference, the program is neither spiritual, nor religious, albeit we do have to practice it religiously. In the New Testament, take the example of Jesus acting violently towards temple traders (Mathew 12:12). His motive was selfless, he was behaving that way to prevent those people unscrupulously taking advantage of others and defrauding them. However, people judged him as a subversive which ultimately lead to his crucifixion. Those people took Jesus’s inventory. They judged his motive. Only Jesus knew his true motive, albeit the passage elucidates.

There are very important messages we have learnt from the above. No one can judge us because no one knows why we have done something. All sorts of actions can be justified as selfless. The ten commandments are therefore redundant. Only we know what our true reason for acting. Judging someone else’s motive is something to which we became accustomed. We invariably got it wrong. Even in recovery we can get it wrong. Therefore, during the inventory process, we are simply trying to discover our motive for doing the things we did. It would be helpful if we see the futility and detriment of fabricating someone else’s motive.

Another example that will help you deal with resentments and I must apologise, it also comes from the New Testament. However, my motive is selfless. When Jesus was being crucified, he said to God, “forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We have learnt that awareness is God given. We have also learnt like us, others can be unaware of the reasons why they are doing something and the real impact that has on others. The ego prevents us from “seeing”, metaphorically pointing the finger and blaming others to “hide” from us the truth – we become resentful. We can also appreciate that if we do not know the true reason why we are doing something and how it will affect others, then we are not fully responsible for our actions. We are unaware and unable to see the true nature of our acts and how they impact others. This is exactly why the inventory process is non-judgemental. However, to get resentful, first we must take others inventory, we must have guessed at others motive and the reasons for doing what they did.

Excluding psychopaths, 1 percent of the population or higher, there are consequences to our actions. We hurt others, our ego intervenes and blinds us to the harm we have caused by creating a resentment. This blocks us from God. Throughout our active addiction, we acted in ways that hurt others. These are the causes and conditions of the things that have been blocking us. I am dismayed when someone sits at top table sharing in an AA meeting and declares they didn’t harm others because they did their drinking at home.

Most people are not malicious. If they really knew how their actions touched others’ lives, they would not act in those ways. They like us are unaware. So they, like us, are not responsible for their actions. Everyone to some extent is unaware and spiritually sick. In these circumstances, how can we possibly stay resentful?

The word I am about to use has negative connotations. Ignorance is a strong driving force. Ignorance essentially means, unaware. We and others are ignorant.

However, there is a large adjunct. We make sure from now on we improve our awareness which in turn prevents us from doing harm – harm that could block us from God. We are on a life and death errand.

Whenever I find myself with uncomfortable feelings, I get out a resentment sheet and identify the parts of self that are threatened. Then I look at my part to identify the truth. I do this before I call anyone, this is the first thing we must do. It is selfish to just call someone to try and offload our problems or indeed selfishly off load them in a meeting. We must begin to rely on God and help God help us through increasing awareness. After you have written inventory, please call your sponsor to share it, or if it is a late hour, do not be selfish and wake them, call the Samaritans on their toll-free UK national number 116123. 

Now it is suggested you read the big book from the bottom of page 65 “we went back…” to the top of page 68, “…cause more trouble” (Anonymous 1939 pp 65-68).

This brings us the fear inventory.

Fig ? A fear inventory sheet.

Personally, I found the fear inventory very unprofitable. I would much rather identify parts of self that are threatened using a resentment sheet, then work through the columns on this sheet. It has taken me years to get to the point that God removes from me the things I ask. I did not find nor have ever found fear inventory effective. However, you must execute it as you would any other part of the program. It may work better for you.

The book suggests that we have been relying on self rather than trusting God. It says we need to identify the parts of self on which we have relied. Remember, “the first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success” (Anonymous 1939 p 60). “We had to quit playing God. It didn’t work” (Anonymous 1939 p 62).

Please read from the first paragraph on page 68 “we reviewed our” to the “commence to outgrow fear” (Anonymous 1939 p 68).

That brings us the sex inventory/harms done to others. No doubt we will have identified harms done to others on the resentment sheet. Now we can review them fully. Do not burn or destroy the inventory sheets until you have made your amends list in 8.

Fig ? Sex conduct and harms done to others inventory sheet.

This sheet is self-explanatory. Now read from page 68 “now about sex” to the end of the chapter. The “in joke” in fellowship is sex conduct is discussed on page 69 (Anonymous 1939 p 69). Droll. You are now ready to handwrite the sheet. Remembering to write at least sentence on each category. Do not just tick boxes.

The above inventory should take you a week, no more. If you are a sponsor, make a firm appointment for step 5, a “week’s” hence and tell the prospect they must have it done and share it on the arranged date.  A delay may prove fatal. Next time we will explore Step 5. The fundamental necessity of step 5 is the step must be taken with not only another person, but ideally with someone who is aware and has been through this process many times. In my experience, an understanding friend will be insufficient. 

A full PDF inventory Sheet Pack can be downloaded here:


Anonymous (1939) The “Big Book”. Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (first printing 2001). Alcoholics Anonymous World Service inc. [last accessed 1 May 2020].

The New Testament

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