4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Perhaps nothing in OA’s program of action inspires more dread than writing a fourth step inventory. We’ve been eating over all the hurts we’ve accumulated, trying to avoid them. Now OA tells us that we have to allow them out of the cage inside that barely keeps them under control.
Well, we’re fooling ourselves, of course. We don’t control our fears, resentments, bad memories, and feelings. They control us! Truth is that until we look at them, all of them, they own us. Every time we feel any kind of feeling, we are driven back to the food because every feeling we have reminds us of the ones we are covering up with food. Yes, even happy feelings, because they remind us of how awful we generally feel.
When we write an honest and thorough inventory of ourselves, however, we discover that we have not been victims of others so much as victims of our own thinking. Our disease has taken control of our thoughts and used them as a weapon against our better judgment. We see through an inventory that we are human beings being human with all the same flaws that everyone else has. That we take personally what is not ours to take. That we have little ability to distinguish feelings from facts. That we have precious little accuracy in our self-reflections…if we’ve bothered to be self-reflective.
In some cases, we learn that we have been victimized by someone at one time, but that, even though it is not our fault, we have to claim what’s ours: we carried around that victim mentality for years; we are the ones replaying the past over and over again and using it as a reason to eat.
Anyone who has done a thorough fourth step will tell you a few things:
- It is simple, but not easy
- It is life changing
- It us utterly necessary for recovery.
The third point is the one that we must all pay attention to in OA. If we don’t do the work, we will not get the results our program promises. It’s like staring at the aspirin bottle in hopes a headache will go away. We’ve got to take our medicine. Hanging around in meetings and waiting for the “right” time to do an inventory just prolongs our agony. It gives our disease time to reassert itself inside our minds. Our window of willingness is only open for so long.
We may be afraid of digging too deep, of reliving past episodes we’d rather forget, and of seeing the worst of ourselves. But we aren’t writing to be published in The New York Times. Our inventory is ours and will only be shared with one other person (in our fifth step). We make it objective. We don’t lard every resentment with the whys and whatfors. We keep our writing concise so that our disease doesn’t have room to turn us toward excuse making. We only want to record those things that our illness uses against us. That way in Steps 6 and 7, we know exactly what it is we are asking God to remove from us.
The Big Book has very specific suggestions for structuring an inventory. They have proven over 80 years to be immensely powerful and helpful. There are other means as well. In the end, however, the most important things are honesty, fearlessness, and thoroughness.
Honesty: We must be wiling to be completely and utterly honest about our part in what we write about. No excuses, no stories, no bullshit.
Fearlessness: We must not shrink at writing about the most difficult aspects of our lives. For example, many, many survivors of physical, sexual, and mental abuse have written fourth steps about them and found the inventory transformative as a result.
Thoroughness: We must get it all out—everything that keeps our true selves at bay and allows our illness to run the show. If we hold onto something we may not recover. Like one rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel.
This is our course then. In Step 3, we’ve told our Higher Power that we’ll go to any length for recovery. Now we put pen to paper to start the process of getting rid of what separates us from God’s love. Then we’ll have it removed so we finally have the slate cleared and into the business of living a useful and productive life.