Back to the Basics of Recovery Step Four (Continued)

By Wally P.

Basics of Recovery

For those of you who are reading The Sober World for the first time, Wally P is taking us through the steps each month. For those of you who would like to read the previous Steps, please go to and you may read them online.


Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. In the last article, we examined the assets and liabilities checklist used by the A.A. pioneers to take newcomers through the Fourth Step during the early days of the fellowship. Together, the sponsor and newcomer determined what was blocking the newcomer from a spiritual solution to his or her problems and together they compiled an amends list that was used to help overcome these problems.

This is how Bill W. took the Steps when he was at Town’s Hospital in December of 1934. On page 13 of the “Big Book,” Bill describes the inventory and amends process his high school friend Ebby guided him through.

“. . . I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch.

“My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment.”

Bill doesn’t say, “My schoolmate visited me and I read him my inventory of shortcomings.” He also doesn’t say, “I made a list of people . . .” Rather, Bill writes, “WE made a list of people . . .” So, together Bill and Ebby discussed Bill’s “problems and deficiencies” and together they made an amends list.

As previously explained, the assets and liabilities checklist was used throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. There is no mention of the “three- column inventory” in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written thirteen years after the “Big Book.” The eight liabilities listed in the “Twelve and Twelve” are: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth and fear. These are very close to the eight liabilities listed in Chapter 5 of the “Big Book.” Dr. Bob also used eight liabilities to take newcomers through the Steps (page 263: selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm and resentment) as did the authors of the “Little Red Book,” which was written in 1946 (resentment, dishonesty, self- pity, jealousy, criticism, intolerance, fear and anger).

We will now go through the “commercial inventory” as described in the “Big Book.” In the second paragraph on page 64, the authors ask us to look at the liabilities side of our checklist first:

“. . . First, we searched out the flaws (liabilities) in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.”

On pages 64-69, the “Big Book” authors list the “common manifestations” that prevent us from developing an intimate and personal relationship with “the One who has all power.” In the third paragraph on page 64, they ask us to look at our resentments:

Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. . . . In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry.”

The “Big Book” authors describe the fear inventory at the top of page 68:

“We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them.”

Then on page 69, the authors present us with a list of harms that consist of selfishness, dishonesty, inconsideration, jealousy, suspicion, and bitterness:

“We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.”

Please note the word WE is used throughout these pages. Nowhere does it say the newcomer makes a “solitary self-appraisal.”

The “Big Book” authors ask us to look at our assets as well as our liabilities. On page 124, they write:

“. . . We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors (liabilities) and convert them into assets.”

The “Big Book” authors also list assets throughout Chapters Five. They tell us that we overcome resentment with forgiveness. On page 66, they write:

“. . . We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. . . . We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.”

According to the authors, we overcome fear with faith. On page 68, they explain:

“. . . The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. . . . 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.”

We overcome harms with amends. On page 69, the authors’ state:

“. . . 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 the next article, we will describe some of the duties and responsibilities of the “partners” as they share a Fourth Step inventory.

About the Author

Wally P. is an archivist, historian and author who, for more than twenty-three years, has been studying the origins and growth of the Twelve-step movement. He is the caretaker for the personal archives of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith.

Wally conducts history presentations and recovery workshops, including “Back to the Basics of Recovery” in which he takes attendees through all Twelve Steps in four, one-hour sessions. More than 500,000 have taken the Steps using this powerful, time-tested, and highly successful “original” program of action.