Step of the Month: 10 Suggestions for Completing Our Inventory

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Oftentimes when members contemplate Step 4, the moral inventory, they think Uh-oh. Who wants to face the past? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget it. Who wants to know the bad stuff about themselves? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget that too. Who wants to stare down their fears? We’ve also been eating compulsively to forget them. But compulsive eating never solves the problem. It’s only delaying the inevitable confrontation with ourselves or hastening our demise so we won’t ever have to look ourselves in the eyes.

Are we really that awful? We’re not, but we may not be able to understand that until we actually write our inventory. So for those wary of the inventory or approaching it in their step work, here are several suggestions for completing Step 4 that we hear frequently from those that have worked through it.

  1. It’s not as scary as we thought. In fact, for many of us, we realized that we’d built it up into some kind of monster, yet it turns out to be very gentle.
  2. Just get going. If we wait until we’re ready, we may never start at all. Our window of willingness is only open for so long before we’re again drowning in self-pity and sugar-coated sugar bombs (or whatever our favorite kind of binge foods are).
  3. Write every day. Look, if we’re going to do this thing, let’s get it the heck done! Why delay receiving the gifts of recovery! Even if we only write one page or one entry on a given day, it’s better than nothing at all.
  4. Use a timer. Commit to a certain amount of time each day, and use a kitchen timer to ensure to reach that goal. Because otherwise, our sickened minds will tell us that five minutes is thirty minutes.
  5. Say the Third Step Prayer every time you write. If we’re writing our inventory, then we ought to have completed Step 3. The prayer associated with it (on page 63 of The Big Book) is, in essence, a contract with God. If our HP helps us recover, then we’ll pass it on and be of service to others. It’s helpful to be reminded of that goal while we write. We’re not there to recover so that we can merely feel better. We’re writing inventory so that by our surviving this disease, we can be a beacon to others with our affliction. By helping them, we further insure ourselves against recidivism. So we say the prayer to remember Who’s in charge, and how the program will transform selfish us.
  6. Let God do the writing. By saying the Third Step Prayer, we’re acknowledging that HP is in charge. So then, as we write, we can take care to listen for God’s voice. We may think we know all about ourselves, but in reality, much is buried deep inside us, and we need more power than we have to dig it all out. When we let God push our pen and run the show, we are assured of success.
  7. Perfect is the enemy of recovery. Seeking perfection is self-centeredness running amok, and the Steps are helping to deflate that very kind of attitude. Instead of asking if it’s a perfect job of inventorying, we trust that God will help us see what we need to see. Getting stuck in perfection is a great way to just get stuck.
  8. Use visual aids. The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough. So as we make our grudge list, before we declare it done, we might consult yearbooks, photographs, directories, old address books, Facebook, any place where we might get a visual reminder of someone we resent. If we feel anger toward a person, or if we feel some gnawing but unnamable feeling, it’s worth adding them to the list.
  9. Lean on a sponsor. To write an inventory, we must be sure our sponsor has written one, and talk to them frequently about it. We check in with them often, showing them our writing. We can’t be too careful because our minds love to sabotage our efforts to get better. A sponsor can gently show us where our brains are trying to take over and BS us.
  10. The BIG SECRET is that we’re not so bad after all. Yup, if we do this inventory well, trusting God along the way, and working closely with our sponsor, we’re going to discover that while we may have done some bad things, we are not bad people. In fact, we’re good people who have been stuck in a rut thanks to a disease that controls our minds and actions. We see how we’ve been trapped and now we start to see the path ahead of us. A path that’s cleared of choking debris and that leads in  purposeful direction. All those defects of character and experiences we’d rather forget are about to be turned into assets by which we will help others and lead a happy, joyous, and free life.

GET WRITING! KEEP WRITING! FIND FREEDOM!

Why the resistance?

Bad guys in bad movies often say to the hero, “Resistance is futile.” Whereupon the hero promptly escapes whatever torture is in store, vanquishes the villain, and lives happily ever after.

It’s kinda different in OA. Our illness is the bad guy, and it uses our brain to tell us that resistance is vital. That we must maintain the illusion of self-sufficiency as long as we possibly can. Most of us will maintain that desperate idea until the very moment that the pain of our addiction becomes more unbearable than the insult to our pride that we suppose the 12 Steps must be. We cling and cling to the long-held notion that we can eat like other people and lead normal lives…if only we tried harder.

In OA, resistance is, indeed, futile. The longer we deny the truth of our situation, the longer we will be in pain. The sooner we acknowledge the truth and the sooner we take OA’s suggested actions, the sooner will find freedom from our disease. Even while we resist the program, we know we’re staying stuck in the problem. We sure do have a lot of excuses. “Work’s too busy.” “The kids.” “I’m buying a house/car.” “My child/spouse/parent/friend is sick and needs my help.” “We’re renovating our home.” There’s truth in all of them, of course. These things do keep us busy, but if we don’t make time for OA, we may no longer have a family, a job, a home, or even our life.

  • If we resist abstinence, we can ask ourselves why. Is it only that we have tremendous cravings? Maybe. But other people in OA have gotten past them. What fear lurks behind this resistance to giving up our misery-inducing way of eating?
  • If we resist Steps two and three, we can ask ourselves why we find it so difficult to identify a Higher Power then ask It for help. Atheists, agnostics, and unrepentant religious iconoclasts do very well in OA by defining an HP on their terms. What fear keeps us from unlocking the door to a source of power that helps us get better?
  • If we resist writing our fourth-step inventory, we can ask ourselves why it seems so long and daunting. Many others of all walks of life have completed it by writing a little bit at a time each day. What truth do we fear God will show us in this inventory?

These are just a few examples of common points of resistance that all of us have felt, said, or heard during a meeting. We are all human beings with flaws and with our own ideas of what the good life ought to look like. Each of us encounters many junctures in our OA journey where we just don’t want to take that next action. But we must, and we must remember that the longer we resist, the longer we’ll hurt and the closer compulsive eating may bring us to our death. Because in OA resistance is futile, but it may also be fatal.

Step of the Month: Step 4

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:

  1. It is simple, but not easy
  2. It is life changing
  3. 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.

KEEP WRITING!

What’s a Turn-Around?

At our workshop earlier this month on steps 4 through 9, our speaker mentioned “turn-arounds” as being crucial to unlocking the power of step 4. She and others during meetings in our area have mentioned that this piece of the inventory has differed from other inventories they’ve done and ushered in a massive positive change for them. So what is this turn-around business? Why does it make such a big shift in our thinking? Let’s get some answers!

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous never mentions anything called a “turn-around,” but as our workshop leader explained, the concept is on page 67.

Referring to our list again [of resentments]. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.

This paragraph comes after the famous three columns on page 65 where we list who we were resentful at, the cause of that resentment, and that which it affected in our psyches. Page 67 tells us that we should go back to what we’ve already written in those first three columns and write about our part in each situation where we felt resentment. Even if we don’t think it’s our fault!

Now if it’s not our fault, how can we possibly have a part in it? Here’s how. A trick our addict minds play on us is to continually re-feel pains from long ago. When we re-feel that pain, we are more vulnerable to the suggestion of our disease to eat again. After all, the other person involved in the resentment isn’t thinking about it for us. We’re eating the poison we intend for the other person. We’re the ones letting the situation fester inside of us, aren’t we? That’s why the Big Book tells us on page 62 that “Our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves.”

So what exactly do we write about? We can keep it simple by using the four questions in the middle of that paragraph from page 67. We ask ourselves:

  • Where was I selfish?: What did want in the situation?
  • Where was I dishonest?: What’s the lie I told myself about this situation?
  • Where was I self-seeking?: What did I do to get what I want or to feel better?
  • Where was I afraid?: What fear was driving my thinking and conduct in this situation?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and deepest honesty about our real motivations and actions makes all the difference.

Let’s take an example from one of our member’s own inventories, with the names and circumstances changed to protect the identities of all involved. First we see the three columns as described on page 65:

 
I'm resentful at:     The Cause:         Affects My:
----------------      ---------          ----------
Bobby                 Made fun of me     Self-Esteem
                      during childhood   Personal Relations
                                         Security
                                         (Fear)

Now here are the four turn-around questions.

Where was I...?
Selfish: I wanted to be accepted as I was.
Dishonest: I told myself a lie that I wasn't good enough.
Self-Seeking: I resented Bobby; later I made fun of him; I ate.
Afraid: I was afraid he was right about me, and that I wasn't good enough.

We might ask ourselves whether wanting to be accepted by others is selfish, and oddly enough, it can be. When we turn to the last question, we see that the motivation underlying this impulse for acceptance is fear! If Bobby had only been accepting, then I would have been good enough. The fear of our not being good enough motivates us to seek acceptance and then we feel pain when we don’t get what we want. So the lie about being not good enough is perpetuated, and it, in turn, gives license to eat and also to make fun of Bobby later as a way to feel better about the situation.

That’s the kind of mind bender our disease pulls on us all the time. We’re just so used to it that we can’t see the lies for what they are. That’s the power of the turn-around. That’s why it makes a huge difference. Once we can combine the recognition of this broken thinking with a sincere attempt to do our HP’s will via the rest of the steps, we can make progress by leaps and bounds. We no longer have to react to our worst thinking with self-loathing and self-destructive action. We can instead pause and ask our God for help as well as trusted OA friends. We can finally see that we are OK just like we are, and that we always were.

Notice also how short these answers are. The Big Book asks us to stick to facts, to make an objective inventory. Anything more than the barest facts allows our addict mind to start justifying our actions, telling us again the old stories that have led us to the food for so long.

And this is just a single example. We will have many, many situations to examine and, therefore, many opportunities for aha moments like these to be revealed to us through the steps. That is an important part of how our minds become untangled and restored to sanity.

So if you’ve wondered what a turn-around is, now you know. It may be known as the “fourth column,” by other phrases, or by no name at all. No matter what, however, it’s just examining our conduct the way the Big Book recommends: attentively, without self-judgment, and with our HP’s help.

Announcing two exciting Seacoast OA events!

Seacoast OA is excited to announce events in May and June that can help us all make progress with our programs. Everyone is welcome!

Sponsor training

First on Saturday, May 16th, we’ll be offering our first ever sponsor training workshop. This one-hour session will cover the basics of sponsoring. You’ll hear from two local members with experience sponsoring, receive official OA literature on sponsoring, get time time for  questions and answers, and more. The session is free and does not require advanced registration.

Who should attend:

  • People who want to start sponsoring
  • People whose sponsors have suggested they begin sponsoring
  • Sponsors and their sponsees
  • Anyone who wants to sharpen their sponsoring skills

Details:
Saturday, May 16th
10:30 to 11:30 AM, immediately following the 9:00 York meeting
York Hospital Medical Office Building, 16 Hospital Drive
Basement conference room
Please share this flyer with your groups

Workshop on Steps 4 through 9

Following up on our popular March workshop on Steps 1 through 3, this afternoon workshop takes us through the “action Steps.” Learn about what the 4th Step inventory is and how to give it away in Step 5; why the 6th and 7th Step are crucial to our recovery; and how to make amends to repair the relationships in your life. Bring a pen, a notebook, and your copy of The Big Book because we’ll be doing this important work together!

This workshop is free, but we ask that you register ahead of time so that we have a headcount for the room and any materials.

Details:
Saturday, June 13th
1:00 to 4:00 PM
Portsmouth Community Campus
100 Campus Drive, Portsmouth, NH
Directions are on this flyer, which we encourage you to share with your groups
Register by email

We’ll see you in May and June!!!