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  • Writer's pictureMike and Glenn

Digging in the Dirt – Breaking down the 4th step exercise

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

The more I look, the more I find As I close on in, I get so blind I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes….

Digging in the Dirt: Song by Peter Gabriel

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step recovery program. It is a matter of record that 12-step recovery was born by the founders of this uniquely powerful non-organization. Authored in 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous (often referred to as the big book) succinctly spells out a program of recovery for those afflicted by the disease of alcoholism. According to the Recovery Research Institute and a report that was commissioned and published by the Cochrane Library, “millions” of people have “recovered” from alcohol addiction using the AA methodology.

Important note: The steps are to be worked sequentially. There is no exception to this organized framework.

In this post, we will address the 4th step by taking a slightly different approach. So, follow along as we try to take the mystery out of action and move you toward the magic that happens when we follow the “M’s.”

The Mandate

Let's keep things simple by looking directly at the words of the fourth step:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

We must check inventory, as we would if we were a business counting our assets and inadequacies as a balance sheet. This is pretty straightforward. The authoring of a novel is not mandatory. What is obligatory is that we list a personal inventory in some semblance of order. Making sure to list ALL our resentments, causes, and affects. (There are a plethora of worksheets and templates available online and in our Resource Room for structure support. - But nothing is more helpful than deeply digging into the copy of the big buck of Alcoholics Anonymous and finding the pages that talk about 4th step practices and approaches)

The linchpin of success or failure depends on authoring a completely thorough and honest list. We beg of you to be completely vulnerable, completely thorough, and completely honest. It is then that your list will be complete.

Two important caveats: 1) We are more than our mistakes. Make sure to list your achievements, your successes your joys. Everybody has those. Do not discount happy moments from your inventory. And 2) Nowhere does it say you do this alone. Work with your sponsor, your sponsee, and others in the program. Don't isolate. Isolation never seems to work out well for an alcoholic.

The Mindset

Having bought into delivering on the mandate described above. Motivation should drive our mindset. And that motivation can be found in the promise of creating a searching and fearless moral inventory that will move us closer to the point of complete healing.

Park on that for a moment.

What if all the things that “caused” us to drink are laid out in front of us like a kid’s Christmas list? Trust us, there will be more work to do after Step 4, but the importance of a complete and thorough list will give us the base to begin the healing process. Vulnerability and dedication to completeness will bring absolute value to this list.

This whole exercise aims to clear out the causes of our drinking problem. Motivation is straightforward: A proper Step 4 can keep me from a future drink. For this alcoholic, I'm all in.

The Manufacturing

This is where pen meets paper. And we recommend from our own experience that pen and paper are precisely the tools you need. We caution against keyboards and spreadsheets or memory makeup. When you write it down, it becomes real. Tackling life sequentially is one way to go. Confronting the list by piling the big resentments up first and moving to the lesser grievances is another option. Again, many resources are available if you invest, and in searching for and finding them, you will be investing in your new life. Remember, this is a paper that you want to score an A+/100% on. Average will get you an average return. All-in will produce an all-out result.


Yes, we believe this is the differentiator. This is all about writing, reading, and then owning it. Reconnect with the experience intensely. Relive the moment to its most-total, making sure to connect emotionally. This will not only help you cleanse but will also assist in prioritizing a practical course of action. We have also found that more will be uncovered if one leans into a memory intensely. It is the uncovering process that provides the magical outcome.

Manifesto completo

Only after a novel is written is it sent to an editor for proofing. Are all things as they should be? We recommend that one sits on their inventory for a couple of weeks, rereading, reconnecting, and tweaking the final document. Mind you; some might have differing views on this process. This is just what worked for us. The point is to call the document complete when it is complete. Or, as our Spaniard friends say, “manifesto completo.”

the importance of the Mirror

Because we all know there's a step after the 4th step - the 5th step - there may be some hesitation to produce detail that will ultimately have to be disclosed to God and another human being. This could be where the men are separated from the boys. We implore you not to hesitate in laying out the detail, good or gory, because of one's ego or self-esteem. Please trust us when we say that voids will only cause delayed pain. The process is the process and needs to be followed thoroughly. Remember our commitment to full-searching and fearless. Sticking to our guns will produce a priceless experience. We promise!

We leave you feeling encouraged that following these pillars produces a life-changing result. It did for us and millions of others. If we have left you with questions, please reach out to us via email at, and we will do our best to point you in the right direction or connect with you to coach you through the step. We do this with our whole hearts, free of charge, as it is our responsibility to pass on the gift of recovery to those who desire this lifestyle.

Now get writing.

Something in me, dark and sticky All the time it's getting strong No way of dealing with this feeling Can't go on like this too long….


Thoughts and ideas for this blog post were taken and built upon from podcast #5 Titled: Step 4 - Moral Inventory” The podcast dropped on 5/5/2021 click here to hear the podcast


Alcoholics Anonymous and AA are registered trademarks of Alcoholics World Service. Inc. References to AA, the 12 steps, and 12 traditions does not mean that AA has reviewed or approved the contents of this publication, nor that AA agrees with the views expressed herein. This publication is intended to support personal growth and should not be thought of as a substitute for advice of healthcare professionals. The authors advice and viewpoints are their own.


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