Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.
When you took step 3, you decided to trust the Lord. You turned your will and your life over to His care. In step 4, you show your willingness to trust God. You make a searching and fearless written inventory of your life, surveying or summarizing the thoughts, events, emotions, and actions of your life, making your inventory as complete as possible.
Doing a fearless and thorough inventory of your life will not be easy. When we say fearless, we do not mean you will have no feelings of fear. You will likely experience many emotions as you survey your life, including embarrassment or shame or fear. Fearless means you will not let your fears stop you from being thorough in the inventory process. In step 4, it means you commit to rigorous honesty as you focus on events in your life, including your own weaknesses, and not on anyone else’s weaknesses.
In the past you probably justified bad behavior and blamed other people, places, or things for the problems you had created. Now you will begin to take responsibility for past and current actions, even though you may need to acknowledge painful, embarrassing, or difficult events, thoughts, emotions, or actions.
If the thought of making a searching and fearless inventory of yourself feels overwhelming, know you are not alone. Our hearts go out to you. We remember our struggles to find the willingness to complete this step. Many of us wondered if we might skip step 4 entirely and still overcome our addictions. Eventually we had to believe the words of those who went before us: “Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, . . . the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions , 43).
Addiction crippled our ability to reflect honestly about our lives. It limited our ability to understand the damage and havoc—the liabilities—it caused in all our relationships. Before we could confidently rely on the Savior, we needed a framework through which He could help us sort out our past honestly. Step 4 provided that framework; it was the “vigorous and painstaking effort to discover what these liabilities in each of us have been, and are” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 42).
The inventory was also a step in helping us align our lives with the will of God. Through this inventory, we identified negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that ruled our lives. By discovering those destructive elements in our lives, we took the first step toward correcting them. Doing an inventory was difficult,but this step opened the door to the additional faith and hope we needed to continue our recoveries and overcome addiction.
How to do an inventory
Once we had admitted the need for step 4, the next questions became, “But just how do I do an inventory? What tools will I need?” An inventory is a very personal process, and there is no single right way to do it. You can consult with others who have already done an inventory and seek the Lord’s guidance in doing your own. He will help you be truthful and loving as you sort through your memories and feelings.
One way to do an inventory is to list memories of people; institutions or organizations; principles, ideas, or beliefs; and events, situations, or circumstances that trigger positive and negative feelings (including sadness, regret, anger, resentment, fear, bitterness). Some items on the list may appear multiple times. That is okay. Do not try to sort or judge or analyze at this point. For now, the most important thing is to be as thorough as possible.
As you do your inventory, look beyond your past behaviors and examine the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that led to your behavior. Your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are actually the roots of your addictive behaviors. Unless you examine all your tendencies toward fear, pride, resentment, anger, self-will, and self-pity, your abstinence will be shaky at best. You
will continue with your original addiction or switch to another one. Your addiction is a symptom of other “causes and conditions” (Alcoholics Anonymous , 64).
Some people group their lives according to age, grades in school, places lived, or relationships. Others start simply by brainstorming. You will probably not remember everything all at once. Continue to be prayerful and allow the Lord to bring things to your remembrance. Leave this process open-ended, and add to your inventory as your memories come.
Once you have finished your list, seek the Lord’s guidance in learning from each memory. Some people organize this part of their inventory into a table or chart with columns under each of the five headings listed below. They restrict their entries to brief statements. Others create a page for each entry on their list, and then write answers in each of the five categories.
Incident. What happened? In just a few words, give a short description of your memory of the event. Think more in terms of a summary rather than a long story.
Effect. What was the effect on you or others?
Feelings. What were your feelings at the time of the incident? What are your feelings now about it? Consider how your fears may have contributed to it.
Self-examination. How did your character weaknesses or strengths affect the situation? Do you see any evidence of pride, self-pity, self-deception, or self-will in your attitudes and actions? Be sure to record also those times when you acted right.
The Holy Ghost can help you humble yourself and face the truth, even if the truth is painful. With the help of the Lord, you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses (see Ether 12:27). Questions like these may help:
- What out come did I want in this situation and why?
- How did I try to control the situation?
- Was it any of my business?
- What actions did I take or omit to get what I wanted?
- Did I ignore reality?
- Were my expectations reasonable for myself and for others?
- Did I lie to myself or to others?
- Did I ignore the feelings of others and think only of myself?
- How did I act like a victim to control others, get attention and sympathy, be special, and so on?
- Did I resist help from God and others?
- Did I insist on being right?
- Did I feel slighted for lack of recognition or acknowledgment?
Inspired counsel. What counsel does the Lord give concerning this incident? Remember you have nothing to fear as you submit to the Savior. You are here to learn good from evil, and the Savior can help you forgive yourself and others. Record your thoughts and impressions as you consider inspired counsel from the scriptures and from Church leaders.
Four necessary elements
Four elements are critical to a successful moral inventory—writing, honesty, support, and prayer. These elements of a moral inventory will help you recognize and overcome sins and shortcomings.
Writing. The inventory of your life will be most effective if you write it. You can hold a written list in your hands, review it, and refer to it when necessary; unwritten thoughts are easy to forget, and distractions can easily interrupt you. As you write your moral inventory, you will be able to think more clearly about the events in your life and you will be able to focus on them with less distraction.
Some people try to avoid writing their moral inventory, feeling embarrassed or fearful about their writing ability or about someone else reading what they write. Don’t let these fears stop you. Your spelling, grammar, penmanship, or typing skills do not matter. You can draw stick figures, if you must, but get your inventory on paper. Until you put it in a tangible form, you still haven’t done your fourth step. As you complete the fourth step, remember that perfectionism—trying to do your inventory perfectly and to please others—can block you from being complete.
The fear of someone reading what you have written can be a genuine concern, but you can overcome it. Those of us who have done an inventory have had to face this fear. We had to do all we could to keep our inventory private and then trust the results to God. We had to care more about healing than about our ego or reputation. The inventory required us to call on God’s help continually, to ask Him to protect and guide us as we accomplished it. You must remember that step 4 is an act of stepping out of shadows of shame and admit- ting your need for repentance. If you will be prayerful about how and where to keep your inventory pages private, the Lord will guide you to do what is best.
Honesty. Being honest with yourself about the sinful areas of your life can be terrifying. Often people avoid looking too closely at themselves in the mirror of the past, fearing the reflection may reveal the truth of what their lives have become. Now as you take the fourth step, you must face the truth about your life and your fears squarely.
In your inventory, you will not only discover your weaknesses but you will also understand and appreciate your strengths better. Include in your inventory your good traits and the positive things you have done. In truth, you are a combination of weaknesses and strengths. As you become willing to see the whole truth about your past—good and bad—you allow the powers of heaven to reveal the truth and help you put the past in proper perspective. The Lord will help you change your life’s course and fulfill your divine potential. You will learn that you are like all other humans, with strengths and weaknesses. You can begin to face others on equal footing.
Support. The encouragement and support of others who understand recovery can help you in your efforts. They can guide you in discovering the method, structure, or approach that will work best for you in reviewing your past. They can encourage you if you get discouraged.
Prayer. As you consider the magnitude of step 4 and the challenge it represents, think of how the Lord has helped you in each previous step. As you turned to God for comfort, courage, and guidance, you found the help that will continue with you as you do an inventory. Paul taught that God is the “God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). If you pray each time you sit down to write your inventory, God will help you. You will learn this reality as you take this seemingly impossible step— God can and will always be there for you, if you ask.
Freeing yourself from the past
Some people are concerned about looking into the past for fear of inadvertently creating false memories from vague or exaggerated impressions. In doing your inventory, consider only those memories that are plain enough to be addressed and sorted through. Here again, trusting God is the answer. If you conduct your inventory with sincere prayer, with real intent, having faith in Christ, you can trust Him to bring those things to your remembrance that will help in your recovery.
One glorious result of completing step 4 is that you take a major step toward freeing yourself from behaviors that defined your past. The reflection of yourself
that you will see as you complete this step can inspire you to change the direction of your life if you will let it. Because of the love and grace of the Savior, you do not have to be what you have been. By calling on the Lord for guidance as you examine your life, you will come to recognize your experiences as learning opportunities. You will find that uncovering weaknesses you have suffered with for so long will allow you to move forward to a new life.
Write in a personal journal; seek guidance from the Holy Ghost
For many of us, an inventory was our first effort to write about our lives. A personal journal can continue to be a very powerful tool of recovery. Prophets of the Lord have often taught the importance of journals. For example, President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, “Write . . . your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies” (“The Angels May Quote from It,” New Era, Oct. 1975, 5).
When you prayerfully write about your life, you give the Holy Ghost an opportunity to help you see and understand the potential lessons that come from each of your experiences. If you are not currently keeping a journal, we encourage you to start. If you are already keeping one, we encourage you to be more prayerful as you write so the Lord can teach you and enrich your understanding through His Spirit.
Make an accounting of your life, past and present
Completing an inventory will take time. There is no need to rush through it, but you need to get started. Where you begin is not as important as eventually examining your past as far as your memory and the Lord’s inspiration will take you. Just write as memories come into your mind. What you write is private, and you will share it only with a trusted support person you will prayerfully select when you take step 5. Your inventory is about you and your relationship with yourself, with God, and with others. As you gather courage to see yourself as you really are, God will open your eyes, and you will begin to see yourself as He sees you—as one of His children with a divine birthright. Take this step, and keep your eyes on that birthright.
Remember your sins no more
After you have completed your written inventory and when the time is right, those portions that include negative or angry expressions, accounts of personal transgressions, and any other sensitive matters that should not be shared with others or passed down to future generations should be destroyed. The destruc- tion of these writings can be a symbol of your repen- tance and a powerful way to let go. The Lord promised Jeremiah concerning His people, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jere- miah 31:34). We should follow the Lord’s example in forgiving our own sins and the sins of others.