Guide to Steps 4-5

Last Updated on 5 January 2024

Step Four: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Step Five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Once we had completed the first three Steps in the program, it was time to start on Step Four. This could often seem a daunting undertaking and it was one of the Steps in the program where many of us faltered, evaded, and occasionally slipped. Our sponsor’s experience, love, support and encouragement were all the more important.

Before embarking on Step Four, some of us found it appropriate at this stage to discuss and review the boundaries around our relationship with our sponsor. For example, maybe daily phone calls were no longer needed. However, it was important that the discipline of regular meetings, phone calls to our sponsor and outreach calls were maintained. It kept us connected to the power of recovery and helped us to avoid slips and relapses.

It could also be appropriate to reconsider our Bottom or Top lines. The experience of those who worked the program suggested that it was rarely appropriate to remove Bottom Lines at this stage. However, that was not to say it wasn’t appropriate; every person and situation was different. Discussion with our sponsor and connection with our Higher Power guided the way. More often, it could be appropriate to discuss adding or changing the behaviours in our Bottom Lines as we changed our addictive patterns.

Photo by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash

Often it was now appropriate or helpful for there to be Top Lines for us to work on. Top Lines were positive, affirming behaviours and actions. They could’ve included such things as doing something for fun, such as listening to music, taking exercise, or taking part in a regular spiritual practice. We let Higher Power be the guide on this.

We worked Step Four following the Step Four Guidelines contained in this booklet. We were asked to read the following before commencing our inventory:

  • Read the section about Step Four in Chapter Five (How it Works) in Alcoholics Anonymous, AA’s Big Book
  • Step Four in, AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
  • Step Four in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, SLAA’s basic text

Before starting work, we met (if possible) or spoke to our sponsor so they could explain the guidelines and how to complete the inventory and deal with any questions.

We wrote down the inventory and completed it as suggested in chapter Five of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA’s Big Book. We sometimes used the same or a similar format to the tables available to download on this page. Our inventory was split into four parts: review of resentments, review of fears; review of sex conduct; and review of harms other than sexual.

Many of us set a date for the Fifth Step before starting the Fourth Step so that there was a deadline in place, even if that deadline was subsequently moved. Whatever was agreed, our sponsor guided and supported us as we were working through the inventory.

Regular check-ins were made to review progress and to check that we were completing the inventory as suggested. Above all, it was important that forward progress was made on this Step and that it was completed as quickly as possible. The experience of those who had worked the program was that it was easy to get stuck, let things slip (or to have a slip!) at this time.

Key Documents

The Step 4 Inventory

Stage 1 – JournalStage 2 – WorksheetsStage 2 – Online form

Stage 1 – Journaling answers to questions

The first stage of this Step 4 inventory journey is to write about our resentments, fears, and harms. Often just writing in our journal for page after page will release us of much of the shame and anxiety that we have carried in our bodies for our whole life. Read the questions in these guides as a prompt to what to write about. Others have found the questions provided in the NA workbook to be helpful.

Stage 2 – Worksheets

Once you have completed the first stage of the Step 4 inventory journey, which is to write about our resentments, fears, and harms in our journal, you are ready for stage 2. Once you have spent time journaling, it will become clearer which of the resentments, fears, and harms have more ‘energy’ and need to work through in the worksheets. For an online version, see the next tab.

Stage 2 – Online forms

Use these form templates available at Jotform to help you in creating your various step 4 moral inventories.

Jotform is very versatile, with apps for iOS and Android (can be used offline) – even with a only a free account. Form entries can be printed in lovely PDF versions, sent by email, exported to Excel / CSV. You can edit and re-edit as often as you want / need.

First, sign up for an account at jotform:

  • The referral link will get you five free forms to use. 
  • Complete your own details so the forms are sent to your preferred secure email account.

Then use these forms as templates for your own forms. Make sure you have a look at the list of character defects to make sure they capture your own likely defects. It is suggested that you begin with resentments for your parents, then wider family, then other childhood resentments and on through your life, before continuing with fears, and then your harms.

Once you have completed adding all of your resentments, fears and harms, then you can continue writing about the more significant ones in more detail using these forms:

You do not need to complete the form in a single sitting. Indeed, you could begin each form by completing the first one or two fields, save them and return to complete the next section of fields later on. Both the apps and the Jotform website makes it easy to make edits to every completed or partly completed form later on. All of the fields are optional – just complete what needs to be completed.

The forms use this list of 40 common character defects – edit them if they are not yours.

Step 5 Ceremony

It is a huge thing to make it through Steps 4 and 5. It is often the stage of the steps that can trip up sponsees and cause long delays. So when you do make it through these steps it is worth celebrating! There isn’t an official ceremony, but this document is one suggested by Patrick Carnes.

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