Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

How It Works: 12 Steps

Step Four

"We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

Embarking on the Fourth Step with a spirit of willingness was the first glimpse that many of us had of the possibility of a personal major change. Our reluctance towards change overcame the strong fear of using again. For the very first time, self-examination became a reasonable possibility. The pain of living in our old patterns was no longer feasible. Just before the Fourth Step, many have found it helpful to stand in front of a mirror and realize that we are looking at our shell. We may have some difficulty in looking ourselves in the eyes. We may have become a non-entity - a person who has lost touch with their inner selves. We felt like we were poised on the edge with our feelings entrapped. We were at a turning point in our recovery: to take the leap of faith and change or return to hell. We may have felt as though our spirit wanted to emerge, but we didn't know how to let it. The Fourth Step provides a release and gives us the potential to change. Taking a fearless moral inventory of a bankrupt spirit is a miracle in progress. For many of us, it was at once a demolition as well as a construction zone. The inspection and removal of the way we used to be was the demolition of the creature I was and the construction is the emergence of the person I am to become.

The courage to go ahead on faith is something that we need to write a Fourth Step. Without courage, we will never pick up the pen. It takes some of us a long time to gather enough courage to even sit down and pray to gain the willingness to do this Step. When we start writing this step, courage means putting aside our fears and writing about what we feel is moral and immoral in our personal character. Some of the things that we have shared in Fourth Steps are things that we would have sworn we would take to our graves. Through prayer and a lot of guidance, some of us feel a suspension of our inhibitions the majority of the time that we are writing our inventory. Our tendencies toward certain behaviors don't always go away but we learn to find different, less damaging ways to right our wrongs and meet our needs. This means that there will probably be much less confrontation or need to contend. Some say that the good sense to go forward with our recovery at this stage is much more than good sense. Many of us believe that there is a courageous feeling that results from stepping-out on our newly found faith for the first time.

We try to bear in mind that our Fourth Step will help us gain freedom in recovery - not our sponsor, our loved ones or anyone else can do this for us. We must remember the pain and miserable feelings that made us want to write in the first place. If we're not honest at this point, we're only creating future pain! When we have written honestly, we've surrendered for that moment. For many of us, that brings an incredible feeling of peace and healthy self-satisfaction. Feeling the repercussions of dishonesty is very painful and is uncomfortably similar to active addiction. The disease goes so deep inside almost any thought of complacency can destroy years of hard work. So many times in active addiction, we as addicts copped-out on our actions with much dishonesty. Copping-out is getting someone else to do what only we can do. Now, in recovery, being responsible for our actions is something we must learn. The struggle of continuing to be dishonest in recovery can cause great pain. When we are in pain, giving up seems to be the easy way out, but it only complicates our growth in recovery. One truth stays the same whether we are in pain or not we are addicts. We make mistakes and we must accept the consequences and learn to change. When we practice honesty, we can have the courage to change.

If courage seems to be ‘the key’ to this Step for you and you define courage as risking failure in an uncertain enterprise, it may be a sign that you need more surrender. Feeling you are risking failure may indicate that you don’t really feel comfortable with your decision to turn your life and will over to the care of a loving Ultimate Authority. A closer examination should reveal that once we have made the decision to have God take care of us, we can look at life from the standpoint of someone who has new resources. No longer do we have to cling to our desperate ways and the brutalities that have helped us ‘get our way’ in the past. Today, we look at life differently. We find that the need for animosity and personal abrasiveness is unnecessary within the security of our new lives. Deceit and trickery are not honest tools of recovery. Some people associate the word ‘courage’ with going places they haven’t been before. This kind of courage is a key part of each of the Twelve Steps. It is a lack of fear and a result of our faith.

Some have said, "E-G-O means Easing God Out." Experience indicates that perhaps, ‘ego’ in recovery may simply be our personal sense of self, nothing more or less. It is healthy to develop and enjoy a positive sense of self. We also find a basis of identification with a greater sense of ‘being a part of’ that might have to do with our experience of having a relationship with God. This larger sense of self should help us be in accord with our personal selves rather than leading to the conflicts of our pasts. It might be an interesting exercise to consider how we could possibly function without an ego. With no ego, we would have no personal focal point. It should be fine with God and the universe if we like cottage cheese. If, on the other hand, we despise cottage cheese, that is fine also. Why should all people have the same tastes and preferences? So, in many ways, our differences develop our individual programs and breathe life into the general statements about what we have found in recovery. It would be a shame to have come so far on what we believed to be the path of spiritual progress only to find ourselves in the position of being the means to the ends of others.

Like any process, once we reach a point of decision it is best to go forward in the manner prescribed, attempting to follow the road map left by others to the destination. Ours is a path where we don’t need to take detours or to explore side passages. Working the Steps to the best of our human ability is enough with the help of a loving God to keep us on this pathway. Only when we have fully turned our life and will over to the care of the God of our understanding, can we expect to feel free enough to examine ourselves totally and without concern for finding fault within us. We know that the faults are there - we've always known. It just seemed easier for us to throw our lives away because we couldn't distinguish among all the contradictory things that seemed to be us. The last obstacle that addiction can throw in the path of the recovery process is that it may hurt or embarrass us! Today we move forward fearlessly while looking at our lives with joyous personal improvement in mind! Imagine that! Today, we know that we can survive being hurt or embarrassed.

The truth is that we'll continue to retain the parts of our personality that hurt and embarrasses us, in other words, our defects. Recalling our admission of pain from the First Step, the joy we felt from the Second Step, and the faith that we discovered in the Third Step, we’re ready to let go of those defects! They must go if we are to be happy. Taking stock of our personal characteristics is the beginning of the end for the idea that we cannot recover. Even when we find that we have started repeating things that we have on our list, we realize that our defects cannot go on forever. We have to be patient and continue doing something right by working the Steps. Writing it all down in black and white seems like a potential threat but actuality confirms what we may have suspected for a while: that our defects are absolutely limited and definitely changeable. We discover that our defects are merely the results of our best efforts to live without conscious contact. Most began at a period of our lives when we were at our worst. Clean and seeking of spiritual growth, we want to be free of all things that would hold us back, in spite of how familiar some pain can seem.

Moving through a series of growth experiences, we begin to feel our accomplishments. We have all experienced a real feeling of being finished with certain things. Many have experienced the sensation of movement in recovery. We have gone from feeling like a newcomer and sick, to feeling not so new and still sick, and finally being an oldtimer and knowing that we are still sick. What we learn from this process is to be there for one another and that not one of us has all the answers except the God of our understanding. That's why we work the Steps. It was a turning point for many of us to accept that the word ‘moral’ even could or did apply to us. We thought ourselves permanently immoral. We feel that we have to guard against wounds of the heart because they are amongst the hardest to heal. These wounds have to do with our addiction distorted sense of right and wrong. If we feel that an un_righted wrong exists in our life, we experience the wildest urges to ‘correct the error’. If we can’t avenge ourselves, we risk going into depression and other self-destructive behavior. We must remain vigilant lest we begin to excuse the most basic lapses in our recovery because that quickly leads to a general breakdown. We addicts tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves and would do well to walk with a little more dignity, especially if we want others to take us seriously.

An addict recalls, "While riding in my car to an NA meeting Saturday night, a thought hit me: ‘I have no reason to go on living.’ With two years clean, I had reached a state of complete spiritual bankruptcy. I needed help desperately. My actions resembled those of a dying person. And the Fellowship of NA, upon whom my life depended, knew nothing of this. All they knew was the Greg, who dressed nice, always came to meetings, had a good job and always had a smile on his face. I was a lie.

"Honesty is necessary for my survival. The truth is that I am powerless and I am very scared. I do not know how to live and I need a lot of help. I need to learn how to be a human being, how to live life on life's terms.

"My latest realization about honesty is that I do it for myself. It is no longer okay for me to jerk myself around. It is not okay just because no one else knows. Taking an action that is not okay with me, that does not jibe with my spiritual beliefs, is blatant self-manipulation. I use myself when I do this. I do not practice these spiritual principles so others will look upon me as a glowing example of humanity.

"I have lived that way. Presenting myself as the model of successful recovery and then going home to gorge on food, purge myself, kick the cats, beat myself up, isolate, dwell on the negative and basically mentally masturbate. This used to be satisfactory as long as no one but me knew but I work and practice these spiritual principles so that I do not have to live this way. Although I love and need you all as long as I am only within myself, I do not really care what others think. What a change!"

The word 'moral' describes a sense of correctness or completeness that allows us to perceive beauty. The way we keep score is the least of our problems. Morality has to do with balance and fairness, things about which most addicts claim to care. Nevertheless, we have some trouble living up to the standards we set when we are safely criticizing another person. Sometimes it can help to work on our inventory or at least look at it during some point in our day when we feel especially awake. Our attention can be sharp or poorly focused. WE want to evaluate our own moral character, not our parents or our sponsors. How well we are doing with living is based on standards in terms of the God of our understanding. We set aside our fear of acceptance by our fellows and honestly look at our moral worth. The need to nurture ourselves may be the last feeling to hit us before we sit down and write out our Fourth Step. This need can surmount the terror that always held us back. Desperation kept us coming back but we needed more at this point to fuel our efforts to recover. If we delay too long, it will come down to a life and death struggle again. When we look at this Step as nurturing, surrendering to the Fourth Step can feel safe and warm.

One addict’s reflection on wants: "I want what has been showing itself in the lives of others. I feel as there is a freedom from my fears that cannot be obtained by doing the necessary footwork. Peace of mind and serenity that I long for is available by examining all of my assets and deficits. I have tried to avoid this Step and for a while, I was able to maintain but I have reached a point where I know in my heart it is time to continue my journey of recovery. Some confusion exists in the English language between what is a need and what is a want. Americans regard needs as essentials and therefore non-negotiable. Wants involve non-essentials that might be nice but never necessary. So in America we say, ‘You may not always get what you want, but you get what your need.’ In Canada, these words mean just the reverse. And in Canada, recovering people say, ‘You may not always get what you need but you get what you want.’ Still, addicts get them mixed up wherever they find themselves. As a key point in recovery, we find ourselves squandering our gifts on useless pursuits. Recovery is knowing what to do next. We can get this information from others and it may work for us. Setting goals is one way we can benefit from healthy interaction with others. Some people believe it is more important to have a plan than to reach the goals. It may be the beginning of personal responsibility."

Honesty takes effort on our part. Years of conditioning make us fear discovery and judgment when we commit to paper the exact nature of our wrongs. This paper should be hidden and guarded against someone finding things written down that could go against us in a courtroom, or in certain personal issues. Anyone working this Step should take care to guard their inventory if it contains anything that could be upsetting or harmful to others. Another reason may be to assure ourselves privacy. We generally will not give ourselves permission to express these things without holding back if we have concerns over who will read it. Fear of honesty places many reservations in our program. Not knowing ‘how to be honest’ was easier than ‘wanting to learn how to be honest’. Running from ourselves and our pain placed a great barrier between us and being honest. Despite many years of clean time, we may find ourselves being dishonest on a daily basis and wanting desperately to run again. At the same time, we may desperately want to practice rigorous honesty. The basics are the starting point. Admission of dishonesty is the pressure release valve. Actual practice of honesty is the freedom.

The fear we have of the truth is similar to the fear many of us have of our Higher Power. It's important to save our written Fourth Step materials even if we don't think it is good, helpful or honest at the time. Even if it is just another dry layer, it still helps us peel back our shells and peek inside. Most of us agree that the disease of addiction tries everything it can to get us to continue or resume our self-destructive behaviors. Our disease rears its head in many ways that confuse or frustrate us when we need or want to write the Fourth Step. We fight back by praying often for the clarity and direction to write. If we remain open-minded, the honesty is revealed to us. One other way we can keep ourselves honest when we write is to review what we wrote on other days. Another way is to pray to have strength to be honest every time we sit down to write.

Not using drugs and no longer having that crutch is a major change for most of us. How many times in the past have we rationalized away our behavior with the reply, "Oh well, I was stoned. I really didn't mean that." Without drugs, we still find ourselves doing things we don't want to, but now the crutch is gone. Now, recovery must begin. The desire to try new ideas and change the things we do is real. We can't be perfect, but as long as we honestly try, a change in personality is bound to happen. Major change is something we feel when we start working the Steps. Change is the key ingredient to living an honest and better life. Without the fearfulness to hold us back, we can see where some of our defects can become assets when toned down and brought into balance with the rest of our lives. Getting real about ourselves is necessary to find out what we would like to change and what we would like to keep. Our blindness and deafness allowed us to survive the part of our lives where we had no way to change or get better in terms that mattered to us. This is a crucial part of the paradox of spiritual growth: that we give over our will only to receive what we really wanted all along. It is how we find ourselves. Thinking that it was different for us only kept us sick. Thinking that God’s will was an unattainable or impractical goal only glued us more tightly to our pain. Truthfully, almost all of us were afraid to take a closer look at ourselves. We already felt really bad inside and closer examination only threatened to bring out more pain, shame and guilt. Now, with our desire to be free, we discover just what it is that had bothered us in this Step and begin to move toward being free of it.

Instinctual needs are part of our humanity. Yet, humanity has always had a hard time coming to terms with instincts as if they were unnecessarily animalistic or embarrassing. Instincts are a problem only if they conflict with other important needs. In a way, all of our needs are instinctual. Our thirst for knowledge is at times, as strong as our need for food or rest. Balancing and becoming adept in meeting our needs without creating conflicts either with others or within ourselves is the basic idea. As our addiction subsides, our freedom to be with others increases. Freedom involves responsibility and this includes being considerate of the other people in our lives. We are each obliged to meet our instinctive needs. Defects of character make this obligation difficult and most of the time, we go lacking. Our behavior is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. It is a sign of just how well we are working our program. By working a Fourth Step, we are getting rid of all of the negative feelings that have kept us living in the wreckage of our past that are reflected in our negative behavior towards ourselves and others. If we don't go ahead and work a Fourth Step after working the Third Step, we can easily fall back into the negative behavior patterns that our disease dictates to us. When we fall back into that self-centered type of behavior, we can once again begin to blame everyone and everything else for our misery.

Actions that we take without thought or consideration should be workable, otherwise we should try to eliminate of reflexive responses. If we are prone to anger whenever someone disagrees with us, even if the area of disagreement is trivial, we may make the mistake of viewing this anger as something inconsequential in our inventory. It may stem from something in our childhood or during our active addiction. Because of our seemingly inability to focus our minds easily, it became easier to hide behind anger or hostility that put others off balance and seems to get us what we need at the time. Today, clean and without that level of desperation in our lives, we find these once somewhat functional angers merely irritating. We learn that anger is no threat without the capacity to carry through on our threats. Most of us are unwilling today to do the things we would have done to other people during our active addiction. We might have a reflexive instinct to give in to the demands of others that is an equally inappropriate behavior in our new lives. That's why inventory is between us and our Higher Power. We each have to find our own areas of balance. Meeting our real needs leads to fulfilling ourselves. It is the opposite state from always being in want. Recovery might be described as the process of ‘adapting to plenty’. We will never finish this process because the nature of life is to move on to new things. But when we live fully, we don't repeat the past endlessly. Allowing useless defense mechanisms to rule our habit patterns is reliving the worst things that happened to us.

Bondage describes exactly the state in which some of us coming into recovery had been living. We come in feeling so bound up with guilt, shame and being terminally different in our minds because of the things we had done. We were not only bound by the things that we had done but the things that we were still doing, wanted to do, and thought we needed to do. Many times our bondage issues are sexually related and we may wake up, scared that we might not be able to stay clean or find recovery. Our days, weeks or months of clean time might seem like an illusion and we feel that no matter how long we stay clean we will eventually use again. We feel so helpless. Because of our desire for recovery, we may see how our behavior and needs are as much or more of our disease than the using. We begin to identify addiction, as we understand it in NA. This lack of understanding kept us in active addiction because it prevented us from admitting and accepting that we were indeed addicts. Denial kept us from surrendering and without complete surrender; we could not begin to recover. Denial enabled us to believe that everything was okay no matter how hard it really was. While we were in deep denial, we could continue to live in the fantasy that our disease allowed us to create. The Fourth Step has made us take a good look at ourselves and accept that we are addicts.

Besides all the fear that we may have felt at this point, we knew that we needed to get to a meeting, share, and ask for help. We knew that we needed to open up about our secrets as well. Recent understandings of fears may be weak compared to lifelong fears and limitations. It takes real courage to overcome the effects of a harsh and deprived childhood. Although determined that we would never tell another soul, desperation gave us courage. Finding others, who don't reject us, encourages us to go further into the recovery process by writing out our feelings about things. If we can get at what's been bothering us, we may get free of it as well. While many complain about the embarrassment and guilt they felt while working a Fourth Step, some of our members share a quite different experience. They feel they are lightening up as they write about what has been troubling them, often without having let themselves share any of it with another human being. We can become so used to pain that we come to rely on it. We have adapted to being continuously hurt. Beyond shoddy living habits, poor mental conditioning and spiritual restriction, some of us go out of our way to create and maintain pain producing structures in our daily lives. We all encounter situations at work or in our social lives where we dare not express ourselves. Some actually enjoy the tokens of bondage and use them to tease and challenge the spirit that dwells in each of us. We are free to go on with life if we wish - other people have other chains. If these things chain us to the past and prevent growth, they are probably part of the general enslavement of our addiction.

One addict relates, "Any confidence that I experienced while using was false. Until the fog lifted and feeling became possible, I could not embrace the experiences that breed confidence. Once the drugs were gone, I was open to walk through experiences and feel them. When more encounters occurred, both positive and negative, a basis for confidence grew. God's will: To me, God's will is very simple and straightforward. He wants all good for all creatures. Man is the only creature given the freedom of choice and we must use this wisely. If we don't, we suffer greatly."

We have to go to meetings to remember that we didn't do some of the things that help us in recovery. Our disease is so strong that even in ongoing recovery we can forget the life-affirming and life-giving effects of the NA 12 Steps. Through study, application, and experience any sincere person can discover and begin to live God's will for themselves in the Twelve Steps of NA. The further we are from God, the more God seems to be our enemy. The closer we come to God, the more we realize God was our only true friend all along. We addicts have been known to complain and whine that we're just not getting it when it comes to spiritual growth. We may need to remind ourselves seriously that it is up to each one of us to give our permission for God to come into our life. We know that the flow of spiritual energy is restricted – not because it doesn’t come to us but because we refuse to act and pass it on to others. In this sense, we need to feel the sensation of personal liberty and the curiosity to allow this passage of spiritual energy without worrying that it will get away from us.

The miracle of sponsorship provides us with the ability to listen and be heard perhaps for the first time in our lives. We are no longer invisible or inaudible. Eventually, someone else asks us to sponsor them and a new confidence is born - quite often in spite of ourselves. We become someone with whom people can share and we are part of a circle of friends. Positive reinforcement in recovery can come in the form of people loving us first and teaching us to love ourselves like they do. Ideas in our head made sense for the first time. Service in NA in an invaluable source of confidence building, like other experiences clean. Only reading and talking about it is half-stepping. We have to step out and do things for ourselves to build up our confidence. Making a point, arguing, disagreeing, taking a stand and being passionate about issues have enabled us to have confidence. Being courageous, willing to change and getting past the doubts we harbor are all part of the process. There is no equal for commitment and personal involvement in gaining confidence for the first time. It is precious and personal. No one can take it away from us. A spirit is being born that cannot be broken. Writing a Fourth Step on our journey is necessary for building confidence. We become willing to rid ourselves of old patterns and to try a new way of life.

Real ability and confidence take the place of false pride and egotism when we stop dodging the fact that we are insufficient in some areas and begin to learn and grow in our abilities. The ability to understand along with applying that understanding in some useful way is greater than any possession that simply represents the results of our ability. Possessions get old and take more and more energy to maintain. Ability is how we get more of what we want when our minds clear and our passions subside. The Fourth Step is not as big of a deal as those who have not worked it make it out to be. Think of the relief that comes from being able to do things we have previously been unable to do, rather than the short term discomfort of removing obstacles to our happiness. Like it or not, we all pay a heavy toll for our defects. The price we have to pay is less and what we get is more desirable as we discover that we are less defective. One of the tactics our disease utilizes is the idea that somehow dealing with our shortcomings is going to take more out of us or hurt us more than staying in our damaged condition.

Our desire for recovery makes our voluntary efforts to help locate defects and turn ‘off’ the inhibitions that keep them hidden from view. If an outsider even suggested that we had the very same defects, we would switch instantly into denial. We may have shielded ourselves so long that we are in a perpetual state of shock over some past pain. This shock has so imbedded itself in our lives that it doesn't occur to us to change, much less that we are free to do so whenever we want. Nothing else could make us feel so open. It is self-destructive to ignore or nullify our gifts and personal advantages, especially when we feel overwhelmed with good things in our lives. We addicts are so ingenious when it comes to breaking up the miracles that God so patiently sets in our paths. It’s not our enemies or disgruntled friend that we need protection from, it is our own personal limitations, bad thought processes and out-dated living habits. Nature has fostered and sustained life on this planet for a long time. No matter what our religious belief or orientation, we should be able to grasp the concept of getting along with nature.

As one addict shares, "The most difficult aspect of practicing rigorous honesty is overcoming the fear of exposure that such honesty brings. When I am being totally honest with myself, I become aware of aspects of myself that are uncomfortable. Honesty also brings a fear of rejection.

"I think about how others may perceive me, or if they will judge me. Honesty and vulnerability go hand in hand. I cannot do one without the other. Usually when I am dishonest it is because my will is in control. I often wonder about the difference between being totally honest and being totally self-justified. It is easy for me to justify my dishonesty except when I know on some level what is going on. When I am honest, I gain a great freedom because I know that I am not pretending or hiding any aspect of myself.

"To many of us, recovery is about to facing ourselves, no matter how frightening that may be. My experience has been that people who are not in a recovery program are very uncomfortable with honest people. I, like most recovering addicts, find that honesty is easiest to practice in meetings. With spiritual growth comes the ability to practice spiritual principles in all my affairs. It is other recovering addicts who give me the courage and faith to be honest with myself."

It may be that defense mechanisms and avoidance behavior are the worst offenders of personal freedom. They reduce what we can say and do. We can set goals for ourselves with only the promise that some past pain will not repeat itself. It is important to examine some of our basic assumptions about life in our inventories because we may otherwise be tricking ourselves. An unwritten law of human nature is that if you criticize you friend, he may correct himself and if you’re very lucky, he may forgive you. So, if we are to get better, it is better to inventory ourselves, even if we do so harshly than to wait for someone to point out our flaws. If the criticism comes from an enemy, our disease tells us to ignore it because its only purpose is to hurt us. If it comes from a friend, we feel crushed and our disease tells us that it is betrayal. If it comes from a stranger, our disease says, "What do they know, they are uninformed." It is a logical conclusion that if it comes from us, we may need to look at it. We have to go to meetings to remember that we didn't do some of the things that help us in recovery. Our disease is so strong that even in ongoing recovery we can forget the life-affirming and life-giving effects of the NA 12 Steps. The more we get 'stuff', the more our disease will try to tell us that we did it all on our own! Our suffering and pain can seem distance and the old songs call us to The 4th Step moves us forward in recovery to the point where we can share our inventory to at least one other person. We share it with ourselves when we write it down and we share it with God when we become willing. After all, our higher power is now caring for our lives and will in response to our willingness in Step Three. We can go forward to Step Five knowing that we will soon feel the release of all that stress and tension resulting from our active addiction. Step Four is not a fearsome Step, it is a freedom Step!


Hit Counter
persons have visited this site since March 3, 2012


Reprinted from the 
Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life, 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace,
The Spirit of NA 
or NA Twenty Plus

being edited on this site.

Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA


All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.