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The Prescription
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Working Step 4
From "Barefoot" Bill L.

Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Please turn in your Big Book to page 64. The authors start by comparing a personal inventory to a business inventory. In the first full paragraph of page 64, they write:

    "Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory. This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he CANNOT fool himself about values."

So, we are going to conduct the equivalent of a commercial inventory on our lives. We are going to discover what had blocked us off from the Sunlight of the Spirit.

In the next paragraph, the authors tell us exactly what we have to do to conduct a Fourth Step inventory:

    "We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self (not alcohol but self), manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations."

If you remember, this is a reference back to what was discussed in Step Three that self-will (or "my life run on my will") is the root of our troubles. We are now going to inventory or, "take stock" if you will, of three manifestations of self-will: our resentments, our fears, and our sex conduct and harms toward others. The Fourth Step commentary in the 12 & 12 goes into much greater detail about this, but we humans have three basic instincts of life which create self: the social instinct, the security instinct, and the sex instinct. These are needed in order for the human race to survive. All humans have them and they are God-given so they are good, but when we use them selfishly or incorrectly, they cause problems for others and ourselves. When the social instinct is used incorrectly, it brings about resentments. When the security instinct is used incorrectly, it brings about fears. And when the sex instinct is used incorrectly, it brings about harms to others. Left to our own resources, we will invariably overdo in these areas. In our selfish attempt to fulfill these desires, we are in constant conflict with others. That is why, coincidentally, the Big Book's Fourth Step process focuses directly on resentments, fears, and harms; so it gets down to our misdirected instincts and the root of our problems. Nearly every serious emotional problem can be seen as a case of misdirected instinct. All self-centered people have difficulties in these three areas whether they are alcoholics or not. This link includes helpful tips on doing a 4th Step:   4th Step Tips

We have provided inventory sheets for you to do this, and we will read the "clear-cut", simple directions that the "Big Book" authors have documented for us. Let us reassure you, the Fourth Step is not difficult nor should it be a tedious process. Within seven pages of text, the "Big Book" authors give us precise instructions on how to make a good beginning on facing and getting rid of the obstacles in our path to the Power greater than ourselves. This link will provide all the forms for you to print out to do a 4th Step


The first manifestation of "self" we're going to look at is our resentments.

Since Bill Wilson liked using different words that mean the same thing, the book uses a few different expressions when describing who and what to write down. People, institutions or principles with whom we have resentment, with whom we were angry, with whom we were hurt or threatened or interfered with, with whom we felt had wronged us, with whom we stayed sore at, with whom we felt "burned up" toward, and with whom we held a grudge. Also included in this list should be people, institutions or principles with whom we were annoyed with, agitated by, or let down by; and also include your regrets because regret is resentment toward yourself. Needless to say, this is usually a long list.

The word resentment comes from the Latin word "sentire" which means "to feel", and when you put "re" in front of any word, it means "again", so the word resent means "to feel again". After we experience what we perceive as being wronged by someone, the first response usually is anger or frustration. But then after a while, after we have reviewed in our mind what happened, and have felt the anger or anxiety again and again, we move to the next stage, which is resentment. Over a short period of time, as I playback the suspected harm in my head, I become less and less involved in what happened and the other person becomes more and more to blame. Sometimes we are able to let the incident go without moving past anger, but if you are a self-centered alcoholic, that is usually a difficult thing to do since we tend to keep score of these things so we can at some point get back at them. I'm sure no one here can relate.

In the third paragraph on page 64, the authors write:

    "Resentment is the "number one" offender. It destroys more alcoholics than ANYTHING else. From it stem ALL forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically."

Please notice the equation in that last sentence, "When the SPIRITUAL malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically." It describes the Program and the ONLY three relationships we all have - our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with others (which includes the physical world around us). In the first three Steps, we get headed in the right direction with our relationship with God. In Steps Four through Seven, we get headed in the right direction with our relationship with ourselves. And in Steps Eight and Nine, we get headed in the right direction with our relationship with others. Then in Step 10, we deepen and broaden our relationship with ourselves. In Step 11, we deepen and broaden our relationship with God. And in Step 12, we deepen and broaden our relationship with others. So the Steps are not some random, fluke process. They are a specific, focused and deeply effective set of tools that bring about a transformation or personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.

Please turn to the sheet entitled "Resentment Inventory" in the packet provided for you. You can clearly see that the first three columns of this sheet resemble the example found on page 65, with the exception of an added fourth column. Don't worry! The directions for the fourth column are found on page 67 and we'll be getting to that in a few minutes.

There is a prayer that I like to use when doing a Fourth Step that I would like to pass along. I suggest that this prayer be said each time you begin writing, and that you write it at the top of each blank inventory page as you come to them. This brings our Higher Power into the process. It's not out of the Big Book, but goes like this: "God, please help me with this, show me what I need to know. Please protect me, Your will not mine be done."

Let's first look at the simple step-by-step, column-by-column procedure the "Big Book" authors give us for writing the resentment inventory. Six lines from the bottom of page 64, the authors tell us:
"In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper."

So in the first column, "I'm resentful at", it says to put the following:

"We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry."

We continue writing the names in the first column until we are finished. How do you know when you are finished? Well, when you think you are finished and no more names come to mind, stop. Ask God for Guidance. If more names come, write them down. If not, you are finished with the first column unless you think of something later. Please note that there is a "Resentment Inventory Prompt Sheet" just before the Resentment Inventory in the above attachment that will give you some other ideas as well.

Second column, second instruction - 3 lines up from the bottom of page 64:
"We asked ourselves why we were angry."

In our example on page 65 and on our sheets, the second column is entitled, "The cause".

Why am I resentful, "burned up" or sore at whatever is written in each of the boxes in the first column? What did they do to make me angry? List all the resentments you have for each name. Keep in mind that you may have more than one resentment toward any one person, place or thing. Continue writing all the reasons in the second column, top to bottom, before going on to the third column.

In the third column, third instruction - page 64, last three lines and page 65, first two lines:
"In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships, (including sex) were hurt or threatened."

In the first paragraph on page 65, the "Big Book" authors repeat themselves and add a few more ways self can be affected:

    "On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our ambitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?"

Remember: our self-esteem is how we view ourselves. Our pocketbook is money or material possessions. Our ambitions are our plans for the future or what we want. And our security is our general sense of personal well being, and has two possible viewpoints - financial security or emotional security. (See "Definitions of Words Used in Step 4." These definitions should be handy as you are writing this.)

Then, at the bottom right of the example given on page 65, the "Big Book" includes the word "pride". Pride can be defined as an exaggerated opinion of ourselves. That makes up the seven ways that self can be affected in column three.

Please spend some time with someone who is familiar with doing a 4th Step Inventory out of the Big Book to help guide you as you go along. For now, ONLY do the first three columns of your Resentment Inventory. Column 3 requires checks only, where applicable. Stay with each of the sections in the third column, going top to bottom before going on to the next one, until all seven are done. Columns 1, 2 and 4 do not require long explanations - they should be brief, bullet statements to jog your memory about the facts for when you do your 5th Step, at which time you can go into greater detail.

When the first three columns are complete, the "Big Book" takes a very important, two-page break from the Resentment Inventory so we can soften our heart toward these people, institutions and principles. The authors tell us to pray for OURSELVES (that we may have a better attitude toward them), and to pray for THEM as well. Why? Because we need to rid ourselves of these resentments. Well, why on earth would we want to be free of resentments? Shouldn't we justifiably be angry with these people? Don't we have a right to be "burned up"?

Well, let's see what the Big Book has to say about resentment: Page 64 says - "Resentment is the "NUMBER ONE" offender. It destroys more alcoholics than ANYTHING else, from it stem ALL forms of spiritual disease.

Page 66 - It leads ONLY to futility and unhappiness; to the precise extent that we permit resentment do we squander the hours that might have been worth while; this business of resentment is INFINITELY grave; it is FATAL; when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit; the insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again; these things are poison; because of it the world and its people really dominated us; the wrong-doing of others FANCIED OR REAL had power to actually kill.
Page 70 - we begin to comprehend the futility and fatality of our resentments; we commence to see its terrible destructiveness.
Page 117 - never forget that it is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic.
Page 145 - the GREATEST enemies of us alcoholics include resentment.
Page 325 - I can't afford resentments against ANYONE because they are the build-up of another drunk.
Page 552 - I realized I had to get rid of my last resentment for my reprieve was running out and if I didn't get rid of it I was going to get drunk."

Most of us usually think resentments are kinda fun and acceptable. We have a problem with most people so resentment becomes a way of life for us. Now it was saying that even if I felt that a resentment was JUSTIFIED (which I ALWAYS did), it was the BIGGEST CAUSE for leading an alcoholic back to a drink, and I desperately do NOT want to move in that direction.

Well, that's very simple, isn't it? The book says very clearly, if we continue to hold on to resentments we WILL drink again.

How do we get free of ongoing anger and frustration, as the book suggests we do? The top of page 67 deals with prayer.

Before we go there, the "Big Book" authors ask us to turn back to our list because it holds the key to our future. They tell us to look at it from an ENTIRELY different angle (which will become column four in our inventory).

On the bottom of page 66 in paragraph 4, the book states:

    "This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us (column 1) were perhaps spiritually sick (also called spiritually unconscious or spiritually blocked off). Though we did not like their symptoms (column 2) and the way these disturbed us (column 3), they, LIKE OURSELVES, were sick too."

The next few lines are prayers for getting rid of our resentments.

    "We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, 'This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.'"

Please turn to page 552. The Big Book gives us another powerful example of how to use prayer to soften our heart toward the people we resent. In the middle of page 552, this is what it says:

    "He said, in effect: 'If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even when you don't really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don't mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks (or more) and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.'"

So the Big Book tells us that the way to get over a resentment is by seeing that the person we resent was spiritually blocked off, just like WE are when WE harm others; and to pray that we show them tolerance, pity, and patience, so that we can get a better attitude toward them. It also suggests that we pray for the person we resent that they get the good things in life that we want for ourselves. This softens our heart toward them and allows us to look at the situation around the resentment more realistically.

Let's turn back to page 67 and look at the fourth column on our resentment inventory sheets. In the second paragraph on page 67, the directions read:

    "Referring to our list again. 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. When we saw OUR faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted OUR wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight."

What's the EXACT NATURE of OUR wrongs that the Fifth Step talks about? You may want to take a second to study the paragraph just mentioned. It's important that we see OUR part in the resentment. Let's see how WE got the proverbial ball rolling in the first place.

There are two important points that I want to mention about the fourth column of the Resentment Inventory that I think are very transformative. First of all, almost every resentment can be boiled down to a simple statement: "They're not acting the way I think they should" or "Life's not treating me the way I think it should." This is very self-centered and a form of trying to play God. Secondly, something that I think is very interesting is that usually what we resent in OTHERS are the things we struggle with OURSELVES. In other words (using gossip as an example), people who are bothered most by being gossiped about, usually participate in gossip themselves. We are merely seeing in others something we don't like about ourselves. The other person's behavior is being a mirror for us, so we can see OUR OWN defects. The realization of these two perspectives about resentment has brought about much freedom in my life.

Now it's time to finish the Resentment Inventory by writing out all of the fourth column. Remember: let's look at the resentment from an ENTIRELY different angle. What did WE do? What's OUR part - disregarding the other person ENTIRELY. Please finish this before going on to the next inventory.

By completing a searching, fearless, honest, and thorough Resentment Inventory we are examining the four dimensions of our existence: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. (BUT only the fourth dimension, the "spiritual", is rooted in Truth.) Column 1 of this inventory deals with the physical - Who or what we're mad at. Column 2 deals with the mental - What we THINK they did to us. Column 3 deals with the emotional - What we FELT when they supposedly wronged us. And finally, Column 4 rockets us into the spiritual dimension, revealing the "exact nature of our wrongs" - the truth about what really happened. It usually reveals to me how my faulty thinking caused me to take actions which got the "ball rolling" in the first place. With 99% percent of the resentments I've heard about (both in myself and in those I've work with) the first 3 columns can be transformed when the truth of the fourth column is revealed. Truth is always present at the core of our Being even when we are unconscious to it or when it's blocked off by a lie.


Let's look at the next inventory mentioned in Step 4 beginning on page 67 and please turn in your packet to the Fear Inventory. In the Big Book, this inventory starts with the last paragraph on page 67 where it says:

    "Notice that the word "fear" is bracketed alongside the difficulties with Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, the employer, and the wife. This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn't deserve." (In the Fear Inventory, this next line is part of column 3. The book continues) "But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble."

So fear is a thief! It robs us of our relationship with God and others, and prevents us from reaching our full potential. Fears can usually be classified into three categories - afraid of losing what I have, afraid of not getting what I want, and afraid of being found out. Fear in and of itself is NOT necessarily a bad thing. When right-sized and not controlling, fear brings about caution and prevents us from being hurt. In other words, if I am by the ledge on the roof of a tall building and I experience some fear, it is a good thing because it is letting me know that I am in a dangerous position. The fear around this situation will bring about caution and will prevent me from being hurt. However, if going near a sealed window on the twenty-ninth floor of an office building freezes me in panic and fear, this is NOT right-sized and IS controlling, and I need to analyze and seek truth about this fear so I can move toward being free of it.

A really great acronym for the word fear is "false evidence appearing real". Another acronym, perhaps on the humorous side, is "frantic efforts to appear recovered". Just like with the Resentment Inventory, we have provided a Fear Inventory Prompt Sheet to help you with identifying your fears.

The book continues with the first paragraph on page 68:

    "We reviewed our fears thoroughly (column 1). We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them. (It says this because we have ALREADY identified the fears associated with resentment when we did the fourth column in the Resentment Inventory, so now we are just looking for OTHER fears not associated with our resentments. Remember to also put the fears found in the Resentment Inventory onto the Fears Inventory. The book continues:) We asked ourselves why we had them (column 2). Wasn't it because self-reliance failed us? (Also column 3.) Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn't fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse.

    "Perhaps there is a better way (column 4) - we think so. For we are now on a different basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role HE assigns.(That's a reference back to the decision we made in the Third Step.) Just to the extent that we do as we think HE would have us, AND humbly rely on Him, [then] does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.

    We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. ALL men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we let HIM demonstrate, through us, what He can do. (Now here's a prayer) We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us BE. AT ONCE, we commence to outgrow fear."

Please begin writing all four columns of the Fear Inventory before continuing to the next inventory, finishing each column (top to bottom) before going on to the next column. See the above attachment for the forms. All four columns do not require long explanations - they should be brief bullet statements to jog your memory about the facts for when you do your 5th Step, at which time you can go into greater detail. Continue spending some time with someone who is familiar with doing a 4th Step Inventory out of the Big Book to help guide you as you go along.

How do we get rid of fear? I'll bet you could guess. That's right - through prayer!

Page 68, paragraph three, sixth line:

    "We never apologize for God. Instead we let HIM demonstrate, through us, what He can do. (Again, here's the prayer) We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us BE. (The results of doing this are in the next sentence.) At once, we commence to outgrow fear."

Notice the book doesn't say fear goes away and never comes back again. It states that we OUTGROW fear. We outgrow fear because through prayer, we're asking God to direct us toward His Will - to do His Work - to do His bidding. And notice what the last part of the prayer says, "...what HE would have us BE." Not what He would have us DO, but what He would have us BE. We must go deeper than just changing out actions, because like we've said before, who we are and what motivates us will drive our thoughts and actions.

It's that simple! And the miracle is it works! That's all the information for the Fear Inventory so let's go on to the Sex and Harms Inventory.


The "Big Book" authors continue on the bottom of page 68.

    "Now about sex. Many of needed an overhauling there (not just a simple tune-up but an OVERHAULING.) But ABOVE ALL, we tried to be sensible on this question. It's so easy to get way off the track. Here we find human opinions running to extremes - absurd extremes, perhaps. One set of voices cry that sex is a lust of our lower nature, a base necessity of procreation. Then we have the voices who cry for sex and more sex; who bewail (which means express sorrow over) the institution of marriage; who think that most of the troubles of the race are traceable to sex causes. They think we do not have enough of it, or that it isn't the right kind. They see its significance everywhere. One school would allow man no flavor for his fare and the other would have us all on a straight pepper diet. We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter (or judge) of anyone's sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We'd hardly be human if we didn't. What can we do about them?"

The "Big Book" authors go on to tell us to review our own conduct over the past years. Therefore, we will begin our third and final inventory. Your "sponsor" will help you with this as well as with the completion of the Resentment and Fear Inventories during the next week. The book continues:

    "We reviewed OUR OWN conduct over the years past. Where had WE been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate?(Column 3)Whom had WE hurt? (Column 1)Did WE unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? (Column 2) Where were WE at fault, (also Column 3) what should WE have done instead? (Column 4) We got this all down on paper and looked at it.

So we need to include on this inventory both a harms review around our sex conduct over the years, and also look for ways we harmed others in the past NOT associated with our sex life. Needless to say, this is ALSO sometimes a long list. Please begin writing all four columns of the Sex and Harms Inventory before continuing on, finishing each column (top to bottom) before going on to the next column. Again, see this link for the forms. Column 2 requires checks only, where applicable. Columns 1, 3 and 4 do not require long explanations - they should be brief bullet statements to jog your memory about the facts for when you do your 5th Step, at which time you can go into greater detail. Continue spending some time with someone who is familiar with doing a 4th Step Inventory out of the Big Book to help guide you as you go along.


The book continues in the middle of page 69 by mentioning that we need to develop an ideal for our future sex life and even gives us a way of testing future relations. Middle of page 69.

    "In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test - was it selfish or not? (Now here's a prayer.) We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed. Whatever our ideal turns out to be, we MUST be willing to grow toward it. We MUST be willing to make amends where we have done harm, provided that we do not bring about still more harm in so doing. In other words, we treat sex as we would ANY OTHER PROBLEM (so the book is going to tell us how to deal with EVERY problem, and here's another prayer.) In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer WILL come, IF we want it. (That's another promise.) God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge. We realize that some people are as fanatical about sex as others are loose. We avoid hysterical thinking or advice.

    "Suppose we fall short of the chosen ideal and stumble? Does this mean we are going to get drunk? Some people tell us so. But this is only a half-truth. It depends on us and on our motives. IF we are sorry for what we have done, and have the HONEST desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson. (Now here's a warning.) IF we are NOT sorry, and our conduct CONTINUES to harm others, we are quite SURE to drink. We are not theorizing. These are FACTS out of our experience.

    To sum up about sex:
    1- We earnestly pray for the right ideal,
    2- we pray for guidance in each questionable situation,
    3- we pray for sanity (which is seeing the truth), and
    5- If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others. We think of THEIR needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves. It quiets the hornyness, when to yield would mean heartache."

So the last part of the Fourth Step out of the Big Book is to come up with a future sex ideal and praying that we move toward it. In your packet, right after the Sex and Harms Inventory guide, is a sheet that can be used to develop your ideal. This form opens with all the references the Big Book gives for coming up with a future sex ideal, and then has blank space for writing your ideal.

This ideal usually includes three aspects of a relationship:

    1) Ideal attributes and behaviors in OURSELVES that we would like to bring to a relationship.
    2) If you are NOT currently in a relationship, include ideal attributes and behaviors that we would look for in SOMEONE ELSE that we might consider having a relationship with. But if you ARE currently in a relationship, include positive attributes and behaviors that your partner already has that you can appreciate and notice more.
    3) Attributes and behaviors that would describe what an ideal relationship would generally look like.

We'll conclude Step Four with the last two paragraphs of the chapter, which has a little bit of a review and contain some more promises associated with doing the work up to this point. Last full paragraph on page 70:

    "If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot. We have listed and analyzed our resentments. We have begun to comprehend their futility and their fatality. We have commenced to see their terrible destructiveness. We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. (If we have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward our enemies, and we did this through prayer and forgiveness during the Resentment Inventory, we certainly ARE beginning to experience that psychic change that Dr. Silkworth mentioned in the Doctor's Opinion. The book continues:) We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.

    In this book you read again and again that faith did for us what we could NOT do for ourselves. We hope you are convinced now that God can remove whatever self-will has blocked you off from Him (Step 2). If you have already made a decision, (Step 3) and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, (Step 4) you have made a good beginning. That being so you have swallowed and digested some big chunks of truth about yourself."

If you have already done the three inventory, four column 4th Step out of the Big Book at some point in the past, you may want to consider the below alternate 4th Step Inventory. I do believe that the Steps should be worked and reworked every year or two (or when needed) starting again from Step One, but I also try to encourage people to do different types of 4th Steps each time they do one so that they get a different and deeper look at how their ego (self-will) reasserts itself. When giving someone the below Four Absolutes Inventory, I also ask them to fill out the above Fear Inventory (because it is different then all other Big Book Fear Inventories I've seen, and because fear is our root issue) and also come up with their updated Sex/Relationship Ideal. This attachment should be read through to the end before going back to do the writing on each of the Four Absolutes

So the Fourth Step is NOT about finding out who we ARE, it's about finding out who we are NOT, so we can get rid of it and who we ARE will then shine through. That's another reason why "self-knowledge avails us nothing", we need to find out what GOD wants us to be.

Some people think that the Fourth Step is like cleaning your room by rearranging the same old stuff you've always been stuck with. This is absolutely not true. The Fourth Step is more like cleaning your room by throwing out all the things you do NOT want anymore, so that it can be replaced with the NEW things you DO want. In looking at it THAT way, we should be EXCITED about doing a Fourth Step.

In our Fourth Step inventories we will discover, for the most part, that our troubles were of our OWN making. We will see how we played a part in every resentment and fear we've ever had and how our conduct has harmed others. By taking stock of ourselves and sharing our inventories with another person, we will gather a list of things about ourselves that we view as objectionable. These are the very things that have blocked us from God, which is the ONLY Power that can remove the alcoholic obsession.

The AA Program then goes on to ask that we become willing to have God relieve us of our defects of character in Steps Six and Seven and then asks you to make restitution to those whom you've harmed in Steps Eight and Nine. Also, after you complete your 4th Step Inventories, you will have all the information that you are going to share in your 5th Step, all of the defects/shortcomings you'll be asking God to help you with in Steps 6 and 7, and a list of all the harms you'll be making amends for in Steps 8 and 9; so your 4th Step will provide everything you need for Steps 4 through 9.

Those of you who have never done a Fourth or Fifth Step and were NOT intending to, may have read something here that will motivate you to complete Steps Four and Five in the near future. We want you to know that everything you've read here is ALSO for your benefit.

We are now entering the phase of the program where more and more actions are required. But these actions produce many positive results.

Many of these results are in the form of promises, which as our lives change, become an integral part of our spiritual being.

If our lives didn't get better, why would we want to stay sober? If all we had to look forward to was restlessness, irritability and discontentment, why do the work? A.A. offers so much more - a new way of living (not just a new way of not drinking) which is far more wonderful than ANYTHING we could EVER have imagined. THAT'S why we take the Steps.

Please finish writing all of your Fourth Step, as well as create your future sex/relationship ideal, before going on to Step Five. Writing your 4th Step should not take more than three or four weeks, and an appointment for your 5th Step should be made for about a month after you begin writing your Fourth Step. This will help in motivating you to complete the work. Please try to write some every day and make finishing it a priority. If you have done the first three Steps and have balked and procrastinated for months with writing only some or most of your 4th Step, please be advised that you are in a very vulnerable place. It's like being an open wound, psychologically and spiritually. You have raised old issues that clog your system and cause difficulties if not processed immediately by the healing power of Steps Five through Nine.

It has also been my experience that when these wounds have been raised and left undealt with, we begin to relive and participate in the behavior again because it is now back in our consciousness again. If you have delayed in finishing your 4th Step, ask yourself one simple, yet powerful question of truth about your position: Is it possible that you lack of willingness to move forward in the Steps has ANYTHING to do with whether you go back to drinking again or not? Oooops, there it is! Sorry, but I had to go there!

Some Thoughts on Step Four

If you choose to do your Fourth Step in your head and don't write it down, that's fine, but please don't call it AA.


The moment you start to resent a person, you become their slave. He/She controls your dreams, robs you of your peace of mind and good will, and takes away the pleasure of your work. He/She blocks your relationship with God and nullifies your prayers. You cannot take a vacation without this person going along! He/She destroys your freedom of mind and hounds you wherever you go.

There is no way to escape the person you resent. He / She is with you when you are awake; invades your privacy when you sleep; is close beside you when you eat, when you drive your car, and when you are on the job. You lose neither efficiency nor happiness. He / She even influences the tone of your voice. He / She even steals your last moment of consciousness before you go to sleep.

So, if you want to be a slave - harbor resentments.


Am I SELFISH? If I am resentful, it is because someone did not do what I wanted them to do in the past. They did not do it my way. That is being SELFISH. If I am angry, it is because someone is not doing what I want them to do right now. They are not doing it my way. That is being SELFISH. If I am fearful it is because I know someone is not going to do what I want them to do in the future. They are not going to do it my way. That is being SELFISH. If I feel guilty or remorseful, it is because I got my own way at your expense. And that is being SELFISH. It seems that page 62 of the Big Book is correct when it says SELFISHNESS is the root of all my trouble.


If you hate a person, you hate something in them that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us. What I hate in another, is usually what I struggle with myself.


Forgiveness is a process through which we free ourselves from the bondage to another person that is maintained for as long as we stand in judgment of them. Forgiveness is love in action.


The 4th step isn't about finding out who you are, it's about finding out who you are not, so you can get rid of it and who you are will shine thru. That's why self-knowledge avails us nothing. We need to find out what GOD wants us to be.


Hating destroys the hater.


Nothing that you fear is as bad as the fear itself. The man who fights life's battles without fear fights one enemy - the real thing confronting him. But the man who fights with fears within him fights three enemies - the real thing to fight, plus the imaginary things built up by fear, plus the fear itself. And the greatest of these is fear. Fear is what looses from within itself the enemies that capture us within before the real fight with the outward enemy begins. So boiled down to its essence, the conclusion is that there is nothing to fear save fear, nothing to worry about except worry.


Resentment = wrong judgments, Fear = wrong believing, Harms = wrong actions.


That which we fear grows in proportion to our obsession with it. The more we fear a thing, the bigger it becomes, which in turn increases our fear. How lucky we are that our Higher Power awaits our call for the strength, the companionship that is guaranteed us! We are in partnership, all the way, every day, if we'd only recognize it. We can move toward and through anything. And the added benefit is that we come to trust our partnership. We soon know that all situations can be met. All experiences can be survived. Avoidance is no longer our technique for survival. Tackling with God's help that which seems impossible, reduces it to manageable size. It also deflates the power our fears have given it.


Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.


Fear is the faith that something bad is going to happen.


Thanks for your anger, because it reminds me when I'm angry what I do to myself.


Fears usually revolve around three things: afraid of loosing what I have, afraid of not getting what I want, or afraid of someone finding out what I did.


It is not that anything changes, it's just that we get a new pair of glasses that are in focus, and when we take a look at everything through the spiritual glasses, we realize everything has been fine all along. The problem was that our vision was distorted. It was distorted because we were looking at everything from a position of self-centeredness; we're looking at the universe with us at the center. From that perspective, everything was screwed up. As soon as we change to being more God-centered or love-centered or others-centered, peace of mind becomes our constant state.


(A prayer to begin with each time you sit down to write your Fourth Step) God please help me with this; show me what I need to know. Please protect me, Thy Will not mine be done. Amen.


Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.


The things we are afraid of seem to be like high mountains to climb. When we have gone through them they were in fact small speed bumps.


Dear God, it is I who have made my life a mess. I have done it, but I cannot undo it. I desperately need Your help. My mistakes are mine, and I will begin a searching and fearless truth-finding inventory. I will write down the exact NATURE of my wrongs. I pray for the strength to complete the task. Amen.


If I am trying to make myself "un-self-centered", isn't that still being self-centered?


"God, Please help me show those I resent the same Tolerance, Pity and Patience that I would cheerfully grant a sick friend. Help me to see that this is a sick man. Father, please show me how I can be helpful to him and save me from being angry. Lord, help me to avoid retaliation or argument. I know I can't be helpful to all people, but at least show me how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one. Thy will be done."


Is it possible that fear is a conscious decision?


Instead of going into the 4th Step as "cleaning your room by rearranging the same old stuff you've always been stuck with", think of it as "cleaning your room by throwing out the stuff you don't want so you can replace it with stuff you DO want".


The way you are is NOT the result of what has happened to you, it's the result of what you decide to KEEP INSIDE of you.


A scientist showed the Teacher a documentary film on the achievements of modern science. "Today we are able to irrigate a desert," he exulted, "harness the power of Niagara Falls, and detect the composition of a distant star and the makeup of an atom. Our conquest of nature will soon be complete." The Teacher was impressed but pensive. Later he said, "Why conquer nature? Nature is our friend. Why not spend all that energy in overcoming the one single enemy of the human race: fear?"


At a certain point, we forgive because we decide to forgive. Healing occurs in the present, not the past. We are not held back by the love we didn't receive in the past, but by the love we're not giving in the present.


You don't wait to get better before you do a 4th Step; you do a 4th Step to get better.


FEAR - False Evidence Appearing Real or Frantic Efforts to Appear Recovered or Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover.


Fear is only an illusion. It is the illusion that creates the feeling of separateness, which is the false sense of isolation that exists only in your imagination.


An expectation is a premeditated resentment.


To be wronged is NOTHING unless you insist on remembering it.


If I totally, at the depth of my being, trusted God, I would never experience fear. So my fears and anxieties reveal my current agnosticism.


It's not what's going on around me that makes me feel the way I'm feeling, it's what I'm thinking ABOUT what's going on around me that makes me feel the way I'm feeling. And when I change the way I'm thinking about what's going on around me, my feelings toward them also change. Every time I have a negative emotional reaction, I am always telling myself something about what's happening. And if I have a negative emotional reaction, whatever I'm telling myself is always a lie, and all I have to do to stop having these negative emotional reactions is to become aware that I am telling myself a lie, and the moment I know I'm telling myself a lie, I stop doing it. And then I stop having the negative emotional reaction. It sounds complicated but it isn't. Of all judgments that I can make about what's going on, they all can be boiled down to two. I'm always telling myself one or the other of two lies whenever I am angry, disappointed, annoyed, afraid; whatever. I'm either telling myself: 1) this should not happen, or 2) this is terrible/intolerable/unacceptable/I am unable to live with this (or however you want to put it). There is only one cure for resentment - detachment. The detachment that comes from attachment, whole-souled attachment, to the One Who loves even the "unlovable" and the "undeserving" of love. Our attachment needs to be on God and God alone. And since God is love, we get over resenting someone by loving them!


Non-consideration of our character defects is every bit as self-destructive as denial of them. Admission of them is what's called for. But non-sharing of them with another human being makes it impossible to experience the maximum experience of feeling ashamed of ourselves that gives the maximum hope of wanting to be rid of them all.


On the slope of Long's Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of a gigantic tree. Naturalists tell us that it stood for some four hundred years. It was a seedling when Columbus landed at San Salvador, and half grown when the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth. During the course of its long life it was struck by lightning fourteen times, and the innumerable avalanches and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end, however, and army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant, which age had not withered, not lightening blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush them between his forefinger and his thumb. Aren't we like that battling giant of the forest? Don't we manage somehow to survive the rare storms and avalanches and lightning blasts of life, only to let our hearts be eaten out by resentments?


It is necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we can. Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one. Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay - and pay handsomely.


Most anger/resentment in relationships is supported by this sentence: If only you were more like me then I wouldn't have to be upset at you right now, so why don't you work at becoming more like I want you to be.


Victims don't stay sober.


Many people think that it's too much work to put a Fourth Step inventory in writing. They believe it's much easier to simply search their memories and identify the nature of their wrongs. However, time and again, experience has shown that the opposite is true. Our popcorn-machine minds shoot out so many random and unrelated thoughts that the central theme gets lost. Writing it all down, on the other hand, creates more order and focus, and enables us to discover the recurring patterns in our actions.


Those who have gone before us in the Twelve Step process discovered that only by making a deep and soul-searching examination could they begin to effect the kind of recovery that could withstand the stimuli that sparked their dysfunctional behavior.

What we are searching out in our inventory is not only the behavior that we see as unproductive, but also the very nature of that behavior.

Does that behavior stem from fear, or from resentment, ignorance, defiance, or from a need to retaliate because others have treated us unfairly?

Those who have successfully completed Step Four report that the human tendency to generalize, skip or undervalue specifics results in an inventory that is, at best, a mediocre attempt. To truly rid ourselves of unproductive thinking and actions, we need to be detailed enough to detect the patterns that must be changed in order to create a more satisfying life.


Through the process of "uncover," "discover," "recover," we progress into deeper self-knowledge and acceptance. This process allows us to uncover long-forgotten incidents. In them, we discover the origins of earlier, carefully disguised characteristics that had become recurring themes in our bag of coping tricks. The object of this search is not to make us feel more guilty or ashamed of ourselves, but to clearly point out how the mosaic of our life has been made up of tiny missteps.


In his book, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" Dale Carnegie says: "When we hate our enemies, we give them power over us - power over our sleep, our appetites and our happiness. They would dance for joy if they knew how much they were upsetting us. Our hate doesn't harm them at all, but turns our days and nights into a hellish turmoil." No matter how much harm we feel has been done to us, and how much we feel our anger is justified, our job now is to take our eyes off the microscope and pick up the mirror. We are responsible for our own actions and reactions, we have no power over anyone else's actions or emotions, nor do we want them living rent-free in our heads. Lord knows, we have enough work to do on ourselves without muddying the water with other people's behavior. A woman told her sponsor a truly sad tale of disappointment and despair. She ended by saying: "You know, I feel I've really been betrayed." "That's because you have been betrayed," said her sponsor. "Now that your perception has been validated, and your very understandable pain has been acknowledged, it's up to you to accept that unpalatable truth, and get on with your business of making a new life. I must relinquish the gratification of justifiable anger.


SELF-ESTEEM- What I think of myself,
high (Positive = self-love) or
low (Negative = self-hate)

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS - My relations with other human beings and the world around me.

AMBITIONS - My goals or plans for the future to gain self-esteem and personal relationships (to be liked, accepted, and respected).

POCKETBOOK - My desire for anything of a material nature (money, property, buildings, etc.) to be secure.

EMOTIONAL SECURITY - My general sense of personal well-being, usually based on my demand for my own way: either to dominate those about me or to become overly dependent upon them.

AMBITIONS - My goals or plans for the future to gain material wealth and/or emotional security.

My desire to have sex and reproduce

AMBITIONS - My goals or plans for the future regarding my sex life.

"Wrong Thinking or Judging"
"Wrong Believing"
"Wrong Acting"
Feelings of indignation or bitter hurt, which comes from rightly or wrongly held feelings of being injured or offended. Feelings of anxiety, agitation, uneasiness, apprehension, etc. Wrongful acts, which result in pain, hurt feelings, worry, and financial loss, etc., for others and also self.

AMBITION Our goals or plans for the future, or what we want.
ARBITER One chosen to judge.
BITTERNESS Pain, suffering, ill will or regret.
DEFECT Lack of something necessary for completeness. Same as shortcoming - what blocks me off from God and others.
DISHONEST The act or practice of telling a lie, cheating, deceiving, stealing. Not dealing with reality.
EXACT Very accurate, precise, correct.
FATAL Causing death.
FAULT Something done wrongly, an error or mistake.
FEAR A feeling of anxiety, agitation, uneasiness or apprehension.
FINITE Limited.
FRIGHTENED A temporary or continual state of fear.
FUTILITY Uselessness.
IDEAL Goal, aim, conception, standard, mental image.
INCONSIDERATE Without thought or consideration of others.
INFINITE Without limits, boundless.
INSTITUTION Significant practice or relationship in a society or an established organization or corporation, especially of public character.
INVENTORY Written list of items (used to evaluate personal characteristics).
JEALOUSY Feeling of rivalry, unfaithfulness, or the loss of another's exclusive devotion.
MISTAKE A wrong action or statement (caused by faulty judgment).
MOLD To give shape to, to exert influence on.
MORAL Honest, truthful. Relating to the practice, manners, or conduct of men/women, as social beings, in relation to each other, and with reference to right and wrong.
NATURE The essential characteristic of something (root cause, the truth of where the wrong began - what created the wrong).
PARADOXICALLY A statement that seems contradictory or opposed to common sense, but is true.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS My relations with other human beings and the world about me.
POCKETBOOK Anything of a material nature (money, property, buildings, jewelry, etc.)
PRIDE An excessive and unjustified opinion of oneself: either positive (self-love) or negative (self-hate). An alcoholic's pride is usually based on how we think others view us.
PRINCIPLE Rule or code of conduct, fundamental law or assumption.
RESENTMENT Comes from the Latin word "sentire" which means "to feel", and when you put "re" in front of any word, it means "again", so the word resent means "to feel again".
SANE Healthy, able to appraise the effect of one's actions.
SECURITY My general sense of personal well being, usually based on my demand for my own way: either to dominate those about me or to become overly dependent upon them. Has two possible viewpoints - financial security or emotional security.
SELF-CENTERED Occupied or concerned only with one's own affairs.
SELF-ESTEEM What I think of myself, how I view myself: either high (positive = self-love) or low (negative = self-hate).
SELFISH Concerned with one's own welfare or interests and having little or no concern for others.
SELF-SEEKING Constant looking to further one's own interest.
SHORTCOMING Falling short of what is expected or required. Same as defect - what blocks me off from God and others.
SOUND Showing good judgment, healthy, free from flaw or defect.
SUBJECTED To study motive.
SUSPICION To have doubt or mistrust, with little or no proof.
WRONG Judging, believing or acting incorrectly.

Here is a list of people, institutions and principles that may be helpful in your resentment inventory. Feel free to add to the lists if you need to.
Father (Step)
Mother (Step)
Sisters (Step)
Brothers (Step)
Grandfather (Step)
Grandmother (Step)
Childhood Friends
School Friends
Life Long Friends
Best Friends
Girl Friends
Boy Friends
Parole Officers
Probation Officers
A.A. Friends
Friends in the Military
Education System
Health Care System
Correctional System
Mental Health Sys.
Mental Institutions
God (or any Deity)
Ten Commandments
Life after death
Golden Rule
Original Sin
Seven Deadly Sins
Love, honor, obey
Reciprocity Theory
Twelve Steps
Twelve Traditions
Twelve Concepts
"Do unto others..."
"Can't be too thin"
"Love thy neighbor"
"Don't put off until tomorrow..."
Old guiding sayings

Here is a list of fears that may be helpful in your Fear Inventory. Feel free to add to this list if you need to.
Fear Of Abandonment
Fear Of Acceptance
Fear Of Anger
Fear Of Animals
Fear Of Authority
Fear Of Being Alone
Fear Of Being Found Out
Fear Of Being In A Relationship
Fear Of Change
Fear Of Confrontation
Fear Of Creditors
Fear Of Crying
Fear Of Disapproval
Fear Of Disease's
Fear Of Doctors
Fear Of Drowning
Fear Of Dying
Fear Of Failure
Fear Of Fear
Fear Of Feelings
Fear Of Gangs
Fear Of Gays
Fear Of Getting Old
Fear Of God
Fear Of Gossip
Fear Of Government
Fear Of Guns
Fear of Having Children
Fear of Having No Children
Fear Of Heights
Fear Of Hospitals
Fear Of Hurting Others
Fear Of Insanity
Fear Of Insects
Fear Of Insecurity
Fear Of Intimacy
Fear Of Jail
Fear Of Lies
Fear Of Living
Fear Of Loneliness
Fear Of Losing A Child
Fear Of Losing A Spouse
Fear Of Losing A Parent
Fear Of Love
Fear Of Making Amends
Fear Of Men
Fear Of Not Being In A Relationship
Fear Of Not Being In Control
Fear Of Not Having Sex
Fear Of Not Having Enough
Fear Of Not Having A Job
Fear Of Parents
Fear Of People
Fear Of Physical Pain
Fear Of Police
Fear Of Public Speaking
Fear Of Other Races
Fear Of Rejection
Fear Of Relapse
Fear Of Religion
Fear Of Responsibility
Fear Of Sex
Fear Of Sin
Fear Of Sobriety
Fear Of Stealing
Fear Of Success
Fear Of The Truth
Fear Of The Unknown
Fear Of Violence
Fear Of Wealth
Fear Of Women
Fear Of Working
Fear Of Writing Inventory
Fear That There Is No God

The Four Absolutes:

Absolute Honesty
Absolute Unselfishness
Absolute Love
Absolute Purity

These principles were adopted by the Oxford Group (for those who don't know, the Oxford Group is where A.A. got most of it's program of recovery from) and are taken from Christ's greatest talk called "The Sermon on the Mount" found in Matthew 5:1 - 7:29. They are the essence of Jesus' teachings about the Will of God, the ideals for our life, the moral standards by which our thoughts and actions may be tested for harmony with God's Will, and the keys to the kind of spiritual life God wishes us to lead, as outlined by Robert E. Speer in his book "The Principles of Jesus".

They are an intelligent discipline of simple intention, positive motives, and a way to do the things that are right just for virtue's sake. In 1948, Dr. Bob recalled the Absolutes as "the only yardsticks" A.A. had in the early days, before the official Twelve Steps. He said he still felt they held good and could be extremely helpful when he wanted to do the right thing and the answer was not obvious. "Almost always, if I measure my decision carefully by the yardstick of the absolutes and it checks up pretty well with those four, then my answer can't be very far out of the way," he said. The Four Absolutes are still published in pamphlet form (included below) by the Cleveland Central Committee of A.A. and are widely quoted at A.A. meetings in the Akron-Cleveland area. A copy of the pamphlet can be ordered by calling the A.A. Intergroup at 216-241-7387 (Cleveland) or 330-253-8181 (Akron). Bill Wilson included the absolutes specifically in Steps 4, 5, 10 and 11 as found in the Big Book. They are used in their opposite, self-will form (since we need to see where self-will fails us):

Step 4
Step 10
Step 11
BB pg.67
(God's Will)
BB pg.84
(God's Will)
BB pg.86
(God's Will)

The Oxford Group used the Absolutes in at least three specific ways:

  1. As a way to take inventory of our past to see where we fell short and in what ways, so that we could learn what areas of our life need to be worked on.
  2. During meditation or while being inspired or guided by our Inner Voice, as a way to differentiate between "God" thoughts and human thoughts.
  3. As a standard of living God's Will, moment by moment.



When doing this inventory, look at your thoughts, words and deeds as if they are being displayed on a screen for all to see.

Then ask yourself, "How would they be generally viewed?"



The real virtue in honesty lies in the persistent dedicated striving for it both with ourselves and with others, regulated with common sense and kindliness. There is no relaxed "twilight zone", it's either full speed ahead constantly or it's not honesty we seek. And the unrelenting pursuit of truth will set you free, even if you don't quite catch up to it. We need not choose or pursue falsity. All we need is to relax our pursuit of truth, and falsity will find us. Honesty is not a policy. It has to be a constant conscious state of mind.

It is not easy to be absolutely honest with ourselves because of what is called the tendency to rationalization. We set our minds to work not upon the facts as they are, but upon the business of inventing reasons for our courses of conduct. The ego plays tricks on us. We are self-deceived. It is a test of a person's character. And yet how easy it is to lie - even for spiritual people. The willingness to twist a meaning to gain a point, to misquote if the misquotation gains an end, exaggerations to make impressions, a lack of complete truth and misrepresentations in presenting goods for sale. What is at the basis of this looseness with the truth? Is it not often in the fact that we think a lie is sometimes justifiable? Lies are apart from God's Will. If lies are still there, no matter how spiritual we may be, we are still in the old self-defeating life and lower nature.

Please ask yourself, "Is it true or is it false? Are there any conditions under which I will or do tell a lie? Can I be depended on to tell the truth - no matter the cost? Can I be absolutely trusted in money matters? In my work? With other people's reputations? Are there any areas of my life (currently or when thinking about something that's happened in the past) where I'm NOT dealing with reality or the truth?" How have I fallen short in thought, word and deed? Please be specific.


We must give of ourselves to others in order to maintain our own spiritual growth. It is the sacrifice of ourselves and our own interests to other people's interests without thought of reward. This is called altruism. To be willing wherever possible to help others who need our help, expecting nothing in return.

Please ask yourself, "What am I living for - myself, my own position, money, place, power? Or are my powers at the disposal of another's need? At the disposal of our Creator's Work?" This test comes to the root of the matter. In the final analysis, what controls my actions - self-interest or God-interest? In the depths of my spirit, who gives the final word? Am I self-directed or God-directed?

How have I fallen short in thought, word and deed? Please be specific.


In giving love, we receive it. But the joy of receiving can never match the real thrill of giving. Love is a spiritually poor man's beginning toward God. Love is "giving of yourself" and unless we do, our spiritual progress will be lost. When love is offered, our Higher Power is there. The will to love is God's Will.

Love is NOT a feeling, it is a DECISION. REAL love is what happens AFTER the feeling of love has gone.

Consider these definitions: "Love is the will to extend ourselves for the purpose of nurturing our own or another's spiritual growth," or "Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love." The Oxford Group defined love thus: "Love endures long and is patient and kind, love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, it does not boast and it is not proud. It does not act unbecomingly, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances and it endures everything without weakening. Love never fails, never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end." Please ask yourself, "Is it based in faith or fear? Am I easily offended or am I loving? Do I lose my temper? Am I quick to sense slights? Or am I taking the attitude of love which refuses to be offended?" Bad tempered, touchy and quarrelsome spiritual people do as much to hold back our Creator's Work as liars and thieves.

How have I fallen short in thought, word and deed? Please be specific.


Our problem here is the unrelenting desire to do that which is right. It is flawless quality. Knowing what is right means little until we DO what is right. Were we to contemplate the peace and contentment that a pure conscience would bring to us, and the joy and help that it would bring to others, we would be more determined about our spiritual progress. Giving our all in its constant pursuit, will make us free even though we never quite perfect it.

Purity of mind, of body and of purpose. True wisdom is thinking with the end in mind; it's the perfect combination of knowledge and love. A clean mind in a clean body that embraces clean conduct in business, in work and play, our use of our possessions, our attitudes toward relations with those we're sexually attracted to, friends and acquaintances, as well as in my habits. Purity means we do not manipulate, or seduce, or pre-program, or project hidden agenda's onto anyone or anything.

Please ask yourself, "Is it right or is it wrong? Are my motives pure in all of my affairs? Am I entertaining sexual lusts in act or in thought?" We may not be in the gutter but is the gutter in us?

How have I fallen short in thought, word and deed? Please be specific.

The 4 Absolutes Pamphlet

(This pamphlet is not A.A. Conference Approved simply because it came out in the 1940's, which was BEFORE there was any kind of Conference Approval. "The Four Absolutes" is still published in pamphlet form (included below) by the Cleveland Central Committee of A.A. and are widely quoted at A.A. meetings in the Akron-Cleveland area. A copy of the pamphlet can be ordered by calling the A.A. Intergroup at 216-241-7387 (Cleveland) or 330-253-8181 (Akron).)


Spelled out as such, the Four Absolutes are not a formal part of our AA philosophy of life. Since this is true, some may claim the Absolutes should be ignored. This premise is approximately as sound as it would be to suggest that the Holy Bible should be scuttled.

The Absolutes were borrowed from the Oxford Group Movement back in the days when our society was in its humble beginning. In those days our founders and their early colleagues were earnestly seeking for any and all sources of help to define and formulate suggestions that might guide us in the pursuit of a useful, happy, and significant sober life.

Because the Absolutes are not specifically repeated in our Steps or Traditions, some of us are inclined to forget them. Yet in many old time groups where the solid spirit of our fellowship is so strongly exemplified, the Absolutes receive frequent mention. Indeed, you often find a set of old placards, carefully preserved, which are trotted out for prominent display each meeting night. There could be unanimity on the proposition that living our way of life must include not only an awareness but a constant striving toward greater achievement in the qualities which the Absolutes represent. Many who have lost the precious gift of sobriety would ascribe it to carelessness in seeking these objectives. If you will revisit the Twelve Steps with care, you will find the Four Absolutes form a thread which is discernible in a sober life of quality, every step of the glorious journey.

The Absolutes

We walked into this large group of which we had heard so much, but had never attended. From the vestibule we saw a placard on the corner of the far wall, which said "Easy Does It." We turned left to park our coat. We turned back and there on the other corner of the same wall was a twin placard, which said, "First Things First." Then facing to the front of the room, high above the platform we saw in the largest letter of all, "But for the Grace of God." Then as our eyes descended, there directly on the front of the podium was another with four words, "Honesty, Unselfishness, Purity, and Love."

In the next ten minutes as we sat unnoticed in the last row waiting for the meeting to start, many thoughts tumbled through a mind that was really startled by this first face to face meeting with the four Absolutes for a very long time. We started to grade ourselves fearlessly on our own progress toward these Absolutes through long years of sobriety. The score was a pitiful, lonely little score. We thought of a fine lead recently heard in which a patient humble brother had told his story, and had mentioned his overwhelming sense of gratitude as an important ingredient of his fifteen years of sobriety.

And in listing things for which he was so grateful, he mentioned how comfortable it was to be completely honest. Certainly he meant nothing prideful. He simply meant that he told his wife and friends the truth as best he could, had no fishy stories to reconcile, was honest with money and material things, etc. This was a truly grateful, humble fellow. Certainly he did not resemble the man pictured in the cartoon, speaking to a large audience, pounding on the table and with a jutting chin proclaiming in a loud voice that he had more humility than anyone there and could prove it.

But just think of "complete honesty". Is it not the eternal search for the truth which is endless, and in which none achieve perfection?

What do the four Absolutes mean to most of us? Words are like tools. Like any other tools they get rusty and corroded when not used. More importantly, we must familiarize ourselves with the tools, understand them, and ever improve our skill in their use. Else the end product, if any, is pathetically poor.

We thought of a dear friend in the fellowship, prone like other alcoholics to move quickly from one hobby or interest to another, without really doing much with any of them. (Does that sound like someone you know?) Once this friend decided that working with his hands would solve some problems, quiet his nerves, perhaps help him to achieve serenity and balance. So he reviewed an impressive collection of tool catalogues with friends already addicted to the woodworking hobby.

He bought a large expensive collection of tools, and a lot of equipment. He hired a carpenter to build a shop in his basement, install the equipment, and make custom-built racks to house the tools. But in the end not one shaving and not one tiny bit of sawdust graced its floor. The idle tools serve just as will to keep our friend occupied while he doesn't go to meetings, do Twelfth Step he bought a large expensive collection of tools, and a lot of equipment. He hired a carpenter to build a shop in his basement, install the equipment, and make custom-built racks to house the tools. But in the end not one shaving and not one tiny bit of sawdust graced its floor. The idle tools serve just as will to keep our friend occupied while he doesn't go to meetings, do Twelfth Step work or engage in other happy activity in AA.

How many of you will be completely honest and admit that you have put the four Absolutes in the attic, a little rusty from non-use perhaps, but none the worse for wear? Give or take a little, how many of us who still maintain the workshop for the Absolutes, will admit that not too many shavings or much sawdust from our activity have ever graced its floor? Or even assuming that the activity has persisted, how many will admit that the end product did not win a prize for its quality?

Such lack of quality can only mean lack of objectives or lack of all-out effort toward such objectives. We must recognize the Absolutes as guideposts to the finest and highest objectives to mortal man. But recognition is not enough. We must use the tools.


Over and over we must ask ourselves, "Is it true or is it false?" For honesty is the eternal search for truth. It is by far the most difficult of the four Absolutes, for anyone, but especially for us in this fellowship. The problem drinker develops genuine artistry in deceit. Too many (and we plead guilty) simply turn over a new leaf and relax. That is wrong. The real virtue in honesty lies in the persistent dedicated striving for it. There is no relaxed twilight zone, it's either full speed ahead constantly or it's not honesty we seek. And the unrelenting pursuit of truth will set you free, even if you don't quite catch up to it. We need not choose or pursue falsity. All we need is to relax our pursuit of truth, and falsity will find us.

The search for truth is the noblest expression of the soul. Let a human throw the engines of his soul into the doing or making of something good, and the instinct of workmanship alone will take car of his honesty. The noblest pleasure we can have is to find a great new truth and discard old prejudice. When not actively sought, truth seldom comes to light, but falsehood does. Truth is life and falsity is spiritual death. It's an everlasting, unrelenting instinct for truth that counts. Honesty is not a policy. It has to be a constant conscious state of mind.

Accuracy is close to being the twin brother of honesty, but inaccuracy and exaggeration are at least "kissing cousins" of dishonesty. We may bring ourselves to believe almost anything by rationalization, (another of our fine arts), and so it's well to begin and end our inquiry with the question, "Is it true?" Any man who loves to search for truth is precious to any fellowship or society. Any intended violation of honesty stabs the health of not only the doer but also the whole fellowship. On the other hand if we are honest to the limit of our ability, the basic appetite for truth in others, which may be dormant but not dead, will rise majestically to join us. Like sobriety, it's the power of example that does the job.

It is much simpler to appear honest, than to be honest. We must strive to be in reality what we appear to be. It is easier to be honest with others than with ourselves. Our searching self-inventories help because the man who knows himself is at least on the doorstep of honesty. When we try to enhance our stature in the eyes of others, dishonesty is there in the shadows. When falsehood even creeps in, we are getting back on the merry-go-round because falsehoods not only disagree with truth, they quarrel with each other. Remember?

It is one thing to devoutly wish the truth may be on your side, and it is quite another to wish sincerely to be on the side of truth. Honesty would seem to be the toughest of our four absolutes and at the same time, the most exciting challenge. Our sobriety is a gift, but honesty is a grace that we must earn and constantly fight to protect and enlarge. "Is it true or false?" Let us make that a ceaseless question that we try to answer with all the sober strength and intelligence we have.


At first blush, unselfishness would seem to be the simplest of all to understand, define and accomplish. But we have a long road to travel because ours was a real mastery of the exact opposite during our drinking days. A little careful thought will show that unselfishness in its finest sense, the kind for which we must strive in our way of life, is not easy to reach or describe in detail. In the final analysis, it must gain for us the selflessness which is our spiritual cornerstone, the real significance of our anonymity. Proceeding with the question method of digesting the absolute, we suggest you ask yourself over and over again in judging what you are about to do, say, think or decide, "How will this affect the other fellow?"

Our unselfishness must include not merely that we do for others, but that which we do for ourselves. I once heard an old timer say that this was a 100% selfish program in one respect namely that we had to maintain our own sobriety and its quality before we could possibly help others in a maximum degree. Yet we know that we must give of ourselves to others in order to maintain our own sobriety, in a spirit of complete selflessness with no thought of reward. How do we put these two things together?

Well, for one thing, it points up that we shall gain in direct proportion to the real help we give others. How many of us make hospital calls simply because we think that we need to do it to stay sober? Those who think only of their own need and who reflect little on the question of doing the fellows at the hospital some genuine good, are missing the boat. We know, for we used to make hospital calls in much the same way that we took vitamin pills.

Then one day in our early sobriety, we were asked to call on a female patient. There weren't enough gals to go around in those days and the men were called in to help. Never will we forget the anxiety on the way to that nursing home. And after nearly two hours of earnest talk we left one of the noblest women we will ever meet, worried about whether we had helped, or hurt, or perhaps had accomplished nothing at all. Some of her questions stayed with us. We thought of better answers later on, and returned to see her several times.

We are helped on our long journey to unselfishness by our great mission of understanding which sometimes seems as precious as the gift of sobriety itself. But the quality cannot be confined alone to that which we do for others. We must be unselfish even in our pursuits of self-preservation. Not the least of our aid to others comes from the examples of our own lives.

Is there any protection against that first drink which equals our thought of what it may do to others, those whose unselfish love guided us in the beginning, and those whom we in turn guided later on? We are again reminded of the late verse of an anonymous poem:

"I must remember as I go,
Though sober days,
Both high and low,
What I must always seem to be
For him who always follows me."


We often learn more by questions, than by answers. Did you ever hear a question that caused you to think for days or even weeks? The questions which have no easy answer are often the key to the truth. However, in this series on the four Absolutes, we are concerned with the questions we should be asking ourselves over and over again in life. The integrity of our answers to these questions will determine the quality of our life, may even determine the continuance of our sobriety.

A good question to ask ourselves on love might be, "Is it ugly or is it beautiful?" We are experts on ugliness. We have really been there. We are not experts on beauty but we have tasted a little, and we are hungry for more. Love is beauty. Coming from the depths of fear, physical agony, mental torture and spiritual starvation, we feel completely unloved, impregnated with self-pity, poisoned by resentment, and devoured by a prideful ego which with alcohol has brought complete blindness. We receive understanding and love from strangers and we make progress as we in turn give it to new strangers. It's as simple as that. Fortunately for us love is inspiring from the very beginning, even in kindergarten which is where many of us still are.

The old song tells us that love is a many splendor thing. In giving it we receive it. But the joy of receiving can never match the real thrill of giving. Consider that this great mission of love which is ours is seldom experienced by the non-alcoholic, and you have a new reason for gratitude. Few are privileged to save lives. Fewer have the rich experience of being God's helper in the gift of a second life. Love is a poor man's beginning toward God. We reach our twelfth step when we give love to the new man who is poor today, as we were poor yesterday. A man too proud to know he is poor, has turned away from God with or without alcohol. We have been there too. But if he has a drinking problem, we can show him the way through love, understanding and our own experience.

When we live for our own sobriety, we again become beggars in spiritual rags, blind once again with the dust of pride and self. Soon we shall be starving with the hunger of devouring ourselves, perhaps even lose sobriety, Love is "giving of yourself" and unless we do, our progress will be lost. Each one owes the gift of this second life of sobriety to every other human being he meets in the ceaseless presence of God, and especially to other alcoholics who still suffer. Not to give of himself brings the desolation of a new poverty to the sober alcoholic.

When we offer love, we offer our life; are we prepared to give it? When another offers us love, he offers his life; have we the grace to receive it? When love is offered, God is there; have we received Him. The will to love is God's will; have we taken the Third Step? Ask yourself, "Is this ugly or is it beautiful?" If it's truly beautiful then it is the way of love, it is the way of A.A., and it is the will of God as we understand Him.


Purity is simple to understand. Purity is flawless quality. Gerard Groot in his famous fourteenth century book of meditation, has an essay entitled, "Of Pure Mind and Simple Intention", in which he says, "By two wings a man is lifted up from things earthly, namely by Simplicity and Purity. Simplicity doth tend towards God; Purity doth apprehend and taste Him."

Purity is a quality of both the mind and the heart, or perhaps we should say the soul of a man. As far as the mind is concerned, it is a simple case of answering the question, "Is right, or is it wrong?" That should be easy for us. There is no twilight zone between right and wrong. Even in our drinking days we knew the difference. With most of us, knowing the difference was the cause or part of the cause of our drinking. We did not want to face the reality of doing wrong. It isn't in the realm of the mental aspects of purity that our problem lies. We can all answer the question quoted above to the best of our ability and get the correct answer.

It's in the realm of the heart and spirit that we face difficulty. We know which is right, but do we have the dedicated will to do it? Just as a real desire to stop drinking must exist to make our way of life effective for us, so we must have a determined desire to do that which we know is right, if we are to achieve any measurable degree of purity. It has been well said that intelligence is discipline. In other words knowledge means little until it goes into action. We knew we should not take the first drink, remember? Until we translate our knowledge into the action of our own lives, the value of it is non-existent. We are not intelligent under such circumstances. So it is with the decency of our lives. We know what is right, but unless we do it, the knowledge is a haunting vacuum.

In discussing unselfishness we mentioned that it includes more than just doing for others. We repeat that it includes all that we do, since much of our help to others comes through our own example. Nowhere is this more true than in the decency and rightness of our life. Were we to contemplate the peace and contentment that a pure conscience would bring to us, and the joy and help that it would bring to others, we would be more determined about our spiritual progress. If our surrender under the Third Step has not been absolute, perhaps we should give the Eleventh Step more attention. If you have turned your will and your life over to God as you understand Him, purity will come to you in due course because God is Good. Let us not just tend toward God, let us taste of him.

In Purity as in Honesty the virtue lies in our striving. And like seeking the truth, giving our all in its constant pursuit, will make us free even though we may never quite catch up to it. Such pursuit is a thrilling and challenging journey. The journey is just as important as the destination, however slow it may seem. As Goethe says: "In living as in knowing be intent upon the purest way."

The Absolutes - A Summary

Our consideration of the absolutes individually leads to a few conclusions. The Twelve Steps represent our philosophy. The Absolutes represent our objectives in self-help, and the means to attain them. Honesty, being the ceaseless search for truth, is our most difficult and yet most challenging objective. It is a long road for anyone, but a longer road for us to find the truth. Purity is easy to determine. We know what is right and wrong. Our problem here is the unrelenting desire to do that which is right. Unselfishness is the stream in which our sober life must flow, the boulevard down which we march triumphantly by the grace of God, ever alert against being sidetracked into a dark obscure alley along the way. Our unselfishness must penetrate our whole life, not just our deeds for others, for the greatest gift we bestow on others is the example of our own life as a whole. Love is the medium, the blood of the good life, which circulates and keeps alive its worth and beauty. It is not only our circulatory system within ourselves, but it is our medium of communication to others.

The real virtue is in our striving for these Absolutes. It is a never-ending journey, and our joy and happiness must come each step of the way, not at the end because it is endless. Cicero said, "If you pursue good with labor, the labor passes and the good remains, but if you court evil through pleasure, the pleasure passes and the evil remains." Our life is a diary in which we mean to write one story, and usually write quite another. It is when we compare the two that we have our humblest hour. But let's compare through our self-inventory and make today a new day. Men who know themselves, have at least ceased to be fools. Remember if you follow the Golden Rule, it's always your move too. To love what is true and right and not to do it, is in reality not to love it, and we are trying to face reality, remember? The art of living in truth and right is the finest of fine arts, and like any fine art, must be learned slowly and practiced with incessant care.

We must approach this objective of the Absolutes humbly. We pray for these things and sometimes forget that these virtues must be earned. The gates of wisdom and truth are closed to those wise in their conceit, but ever open to the humble and the teachable. To discover what is true and to practice what is good are the two highest aims in life. If we would be humble, we should not stoop, but rather we should stand to our fullest height, close to our Higher Power that shows us what the smallness of our greatness is.

Remember our four questions, "Is it true or false?," "Is it right or wrong?", "How will this affect the other fellow?," and "Is it ugly or beautiful?" Answering these queries every day with absolute integrity, and following the dictates of those answers one day at a time, will surely lead us well on our journey toward absorbing and applying the 4 Absolutes.

Now that you have finished your 4th Step --

Continue to Working Steps 5, 6 and 7

Return to Working The Steps Index

Index of AA History Pages on Barefoot's Domain

As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!.. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" .. Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!

ABC Page 60 from the Big Book



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