AA’s Step 4 (Part 2)—Getting Started

“Few people have been more victimized by resentments than have we alcoholics. […] Anger, that occasional luxury of more balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely.  These ‘dry benders’ often led straight to the bottle.”     Bill W., Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Because “an unexamined life is not worth living” and our drinking is a symptom of other, deeper problems, we look at ourselves in Step 4 to get down to those causes and conditions that led to our problem drinking.  While there are many ways to do this, the inventory as laid out in Chapter 5 of the BB is simple and effective.

First Things First

Angry Penguin

Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve ever wondered why AA seems so fixated on anger and resentments, well, there’s a saying that goes–shoot the ‘gators closest to the boat first!–and that’s what we are doing here.  AA’s founders discovered that resentment is “the number one offender.”  Unresolved anger and resentments can kill anyone, if only from the stress they add to our lives.  They’re especially toxic for us alcoholics, and so we list everyone and everything we’re angry with, and take a close look at why we’re angry.

Do not beat yourself up while making this list!  There is no need for judgements or blame-fixing.  To judge ourselves at this point is to miss the point of the entire process.  Be non-judgemental as well as honest and thorough.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”  Gautama Buddha

Steppin’ Fourth

I’m not going to duplicate the instructions here.  If you don’t have a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, you can read it on-line atAA’s official website.  This link  will take you to Chapter 5, where the instructions for Step 4 are found.  When you get there, or if you have a copy of the book in hand, the instructions for the inventory begin on page 64, first full paragraph.

Read carefully for understanding.  The authors were writing about themselves in the past tense, so where it says “we wrote,” write;  if it says “we referred back,” you should refer back to the same place.  Whenever it says they thought about, considered, contemplated or whatever, you should take the time to do the same.

Before you even get to the bottom of page 64, you’ll come to this:  “In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper.”  Hey, sounds like they just ‘did’ something!  Since we are going to do what they did, grab some paper and a pencil/pen.  What to write?  The very next sentence says “We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry.”  So start writing them down.  This list will become the first column in your “Grudge List.”  There are two more columns to the grudge list that you’ll discover in the instructions.

To help get started, here are some suggestions for the list:  The ‘people’ referred to can be literally anyone you know, have known, or know about–relatives, friends, exes, celebrities, politicians, the jerk who cut you off in traffic yesterday, even yourself.  Examples of institutions that might make your list could be AA itself, Child Protective Services, church (religion), correctional system, education system, any government agency, marriage, health/mental health system, society-at-large.  Some principles that you could be upset over could include:  abortion, death, disease, honesty, humility, justice (as in lack of), poverty.   Bottom-line is that if it is someone or something that angers you, write it down.

“I had a lot of resentment for a while toward Kim Novak. But I don’t mind her anymore. She’s okay. We’ve become friends. I even asked her before this trip for some beauty tips.”    Kim Novak

  1. Very timely for me as I am having to do another 4th Step, this time on a girl I sponsor. It isn’t what SHE is doing that is the problem; it is was I am doing that is. That is the whole point of any 4th Step, what am I doing that I need to change.

    I have a tendency to be a very controlling person and that is a hallmark of a true alkie. Unfortunately, it seems to have gotten me in a pickle with my physical health and I have to literally let everything go. I have been ‘working’ this program far too long to allow anger, resentment or anything that smacks of ill will to take up residence in my head. All I can do with anyone I sponsor is guide them and show them what I did. If they don’t do it, well fine, go on to the next suffering person. Being the caretaker that I have been all my life, since childhood, I don’t know when to let people, places and things go. So, I have to do a 4th Step to relieve me of the bondage of self and let everything go.

    I love all the little reminders of what anger actually does throughout the reading: it kills the person who is angry not the person one is angry with. My whole goal in AA is to be a more compassionate and loving human being. I am more willing today to write down what causes and conditions are bothering me and what it is that I am doing that needs to be adjusted. Lots of people don’t get the idea that they have to learn to love themselves to really ‘get’ AA and they do just the minimum of work. Then something eats their lunch and they have to do more work or return to the old life. Some drink, others just take a gun and go out with a bang.

    I know that after all the 24 hours that I have been in the rooms, that I have to do the work or I will die. The 4th Step isn’t so bad to do; as my first sponsor said “Just Do It!”


    • Hi, Mary. Another wonderful comment—thank you! I wasn’t looking to become more compassionate or loving when I began the journey, but I did. I think it’s a natural result of doing the Steps. I agree that it starts with loving ourselves.


  2. I have so much to say and yet I am still so new!

    It is imparative I find a meeting, I am so ready!!!

    First, The Kim Novak quote makes me think of Step 9 (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.)
    When I get there the first person I am going to make amends with is MYSELF!

    Secondly, I have found my strength from a book called:
    “I Want To Change My Life” How to overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction.
    Written by: Steven M. Melemis

    My favourite story in this book is about relapse. It goes like this:

    “A Story of Recovery in five Short Chapters”
    Chapter 1
    I walked down a path. There is a deep hole, and I fall in by mistake. It takes me a long time to get out.
    Chapter 2
    I walk down a path. There is a deep hole. It’s the same hole, but I fall in again.
    Chapter 3
    I walk down the same path. I see the hole, but again I fall in. This time I know where I am, and I get out quickly.
    Chapter 4
    I walk down the same path. The hole is there. But I walk around it.
    Chapter 5
    I take a different path where there is no hole.

    These were my thoughts I wanted to share, I hope you see the same wisdom that I did.


    • Nice to meet you, Heather! I haven’t seen the book before, but the story is familiar. It’s a good analogy of relapse. I have the Kim Novak quote in my ‘keeper’ file because it reminds me that when I was taking the Steps and going to counseling at the same time, I complained to my counselor at one point that I’d forgiven everybody I could think of plus more just in case, and she just looked at me and asked if I had forgiven myself. Well, no. The thought never occurred to me until she mentioned it. Also, the quote is a good reminder to stop beating myself up when things aren’t going the way I’d like.

      Thanks for sharing with us! Please feel free to comment when the spirit moves you. Have you started taking the Steps?


  3. Hello there. I love what you have here!

    The 4th step is, or can be profound. Tough but life changing. My sponsor MADE me add MYSELF to the list and for that I am eternally grateful. By the time I was working on the 4th step I was well on the way to sobriety BUT not emotional sobriety. When my sponsor forced my hand and really had me focus for months on how I had harmed MYSELF, I was able to just bust open. I am also an Adult Child Of Alcoholics (ACA) and working the 4th with me in mind helped me come to terms with my childhood and my family of origin. ALL of that is what really led me to seek not just Sobriety but Emotional Sobriety.

    Most of my amends ended up being to me. Weird.

    I finished my 5th step with her in AA and moved to ACA. My 4th and 5th steps showed me that the past had harmed me. That alcohol had done me harm AS A CHILD. I am sober over 20 years and continue to work on my journey through a childhood with alcoholics.

    We kick ourselves HARD. I need to remember to STOP! My anger and resentment are almost entirely based in my childhood. You are right. They will Get Us one way or another.

    I look forward to MORE posts!

    Peace, Jen


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