| print this
a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
gave us instincts for a purpose. Without them we wouldn't
be complete human beings. If men and women didn't exert
themselves to be secure in their persons, made no effort
to harvest food or construct shelter, there would be no
survival. If they didn't reproduce, the earth wouldn't be
populated. If there were no social instinct, if men cared
nothing for the society of one another, there would be no
society. So these desires--for the sex relation, for material
and emotional security, and for companionship--are perfectly
necessary and right, and surely God-given.
these instincts, so necessary for our existence, often far
exceed their proper functions. Powerfully, blindly, many
times subtly, they drive us, dominate us, and insist upon
ruling our lives. Our desires for sex, for material and
emotional security, and for an important place in society
often tyrannize us. When thus out of joint, man's natural
desires cause him great trouble, practically all the trouble
there is. No human being, however good, is exempt from these
troubles. Nearly every serious emotional problem can be
seen as a case of misdirected instinct. When that happens,
our great natural assets, the instincts, have turned into
physical and mental liabilities.
Four is our vigorous and painstaking effort to discover
what these liabilities in each of us have been, and are.
We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural
desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the
unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering
what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their
correction. Without a willing and persistent effort to do
this, there can be little sobriety or contentment for us.
Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of
us have found that the faith which really works in daily
living is still out of reach.
tackling the inventory problem in detail, let's have a closer
look at what the basic problem is. Simple examples like
the following take on a world of meaning when we think about
them. Suppose a person places sex desire ahead of everything
else. In such a case, this imperious urge can destroy his
chances for material and emotional security as well as his
standing in the community. Another may develop such an obsession
for financial security that he wants to do nothing but hoard
money. Going to the extreme, he can become a miser, or even
a recluse who denies himself both family and friends.
is the quest for security always expressed in terms of money.
How frequently we see a frightened human being determined
to depend completely upon a stronger person for guidance
and protection. This weak one, failing to meet life's responsibilities
with his own resources, never grows up. Disillusionment
and helplessness are his lot. In time all his protectors
either flee or die, and he is once more left alone and afraid.
have also seen men and women who go power-mad, who devote
themselves to attempting to rule their fellows. These people
often throw to the winds every chance for legitimate security
and a happy family life. Whenever a human being becomes
a battleground for the instincts, there can be no peace.
that is not all of the danger. Every time a person imposes
his instincts unreasonably upon others, unhappiness follows.
If the pursuit of wealth tramples upon people who happen
to be in the way, then anger, jealousy, and revenge are
likely to be aroused. If sex runs riot, there is a similar
uproar. Demands made upon other people for too much attention,
protection, and love can only invite domination or revulsion
in the protectors themselves--two emotions quite as unhealthy
as the demands which evoked them. When an individual's desire
for prestige becomes uncontrollable, whether in the sewing
circle or at the international conference table, other people
suffer and often revolt. This collision of instincts can
produce anything from a cold snub to a blazing revolution.
In these ways we are set in conflict not only with ourselves,
but with other people who have instincts, too.
especially should be able to see that instinct run wild
in themselves is the underlying cause of their destructive
drinking. We have drunk to drown feelings of fear, frustration,
and depression. We have drunk to escape the guilt of passions,
and then have drunk again to make more passions possible.
We have drunk for vain glory--that we might the more enjoy
foolish dreams of pomp and power. This perverse soul-sickness
is not pleasant to look upon. Instincts on rampage balk
at investigation. The minute we make a serious attempt to
probe them, we are liable to suffer severe reactions.
temperamentally we are on the depressive side, we are apt
to be swamped with guilt and self-loathing. We wallow in
this messy bog, often getting a misshapen and painful pleasure
out of it. As we morbidly pursue this melancholy activity,
we may sink to such a point of despair that nothing but
oblivion looks possible as a solution. Here, of course,
we have lost all perspective, and therefore all genuine
humility. For this is pride in reverse. This is not a moral
inventory at all; it is the very process by which the depressive
has so often been led to the bottle and extinction.
however, our natural disposition is inclined to self righteousness
or grandiosity, our reaction will be just the opposite.
We will be offended at A.A.'s suggested inventory. No doubt
we shall point with pride to the good lives we thought we
led before the bottle cut us down. We shall claim that our
serious character defects, if we think we have any at all,
have been caused chiefly by excessive drinking. This being
so, we think it logically follows that sobriety-- first,
last, and all the time--is the only thing we need to work
for. We believe that our one-time good characters will be
revived the moment we quit alcohol. If we were pretty nice
people all along, except for our drinking, what need is
there for a moral inventory now that we are sober?
also clutch at another wonderful excuse for avoiding an
inventory. Our present anxieties and troubles, we cry, are
caused by the behavior of other people--people who really
need a moral inventory. We firmly believe that if only they'd
treat us better, we'd be all right. Therefore we think our
indignation is justified and reasonable--that our resentments
are the "right kind." We aren't the guilty ones.
this stage of the inventory proceedings, our sponsors come
to the rescue. They can do this, for they are the carriers
of A.A.'s tested experience with Step Four. They comfort
the melancholy one by first showing him that his case is
not strange or different, that his character defects are
probably not more numerous or worse than those of anyone
else in A.A. This the sponsor promptly proves by talking
freely and easily, and without exhibitionism, about his
own defects, past and present. This calm, yet realistic,
stocktaking is immensely reassuring. The sponsor probably
points out that the newcomer has some assets which can be
noted along with his liabilities. This tends to clear away
morbidity and encourage balance. As soon as he begins to
be more objective, the newcomer can fearlessly, rather than
fearfully, look at his own defects.
sponsors of those who feel they need no inventory are confronted
with quite another problem. This is because people who are
driven by pride of self unconsciously blind themselves to
their liabilities. These newcomers scarcely need comforting.
The problem is to help them discover a chink in the walls
their ego has built, through which the light of reason can
off, they can be told that the majority of A.A. members
have suffered severely from self-justification during their
drinking days. For most of us, self-justification was the
maker of excuses; excuses, of course, for drinking, and
for all kinds of crazy and damaging conduct. We had made
the invention of alibis a fine art. We had to drink because
times were hard or times were good. We had to drink because
at home we were smothered with love or got none at all.
We had to drink because at work we were great successes
or dismal failures. We had to drink because our nation had
won a war or lost a peace. And so it went, ad infinitum.
thought "conditions" drove us to drink, and when
we tried to correct these conditions and found that we couldn't
to our entire satisfaction, our drinking went out of hand
and we became alcoholics. It never occurred to us that we
needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever
in A.A. we slowly learned that something had to be done
about our vengeful resentments, self-pity, and unwarranted
pride. We had to see that every time we played the big shot,
we turned people against us. We had to see that when we
harbored grudges and planned revenge for such defeats, we
were really beating ourselves with the club of anger we
had intended to use on others. We learned that if we were
seriously disturbed, our first need was to quiet that disturbance,
regardless of who or what we thought caused it.
see how erratic emotions victimized us often took a long
time. We could perceive them quickly in others, but only
slowly in ourselves. First of all, we had to admit that
we had many of these defects, even though such disclosures
were painful and humiliating. Where other people were concerned,
we had to drop the word "blame" from our speech
and thought. This required great willingness even to begin.
But once over the first two or three high hurdles, the course
ahead began to look easier. For we had started to get perspective
on ourselves, which is another way of saying that we were
gaining in humility.
course the depressive and the power-driver are personality
extremes, types with which A.A. and the whole world abound.
Often these personalities are just as sharply defined as
the examples given. But just as often some of us will fit
more or less into both classifications. Human beings are
never quite alike, so each of us, when making an inventory,
will need to determine what his individual character defects
are. Having found the shoes that fit, he ought to step into
them and walk with new confidence that he is at last on
the right track.
let's ponder the need for a list of the more glaring personality
defects all of us have in varying degrees. To those having
religious training, such a list would set forth serious
violations of moral principles. Some others will think of
this list as defects of character. Still others will call
it an index of maladjustments. Some will become quite annoyed
if there is talk about immorality, let alone sin. But all
who are in the least reasonable will agree upon one point:
that there is plenty wrong with us alcoholics about which
plenty will have to be done if we are to expect sobriety,
progress, and any real ability to cope with life.
avoid falling into confusion over the names these defects
should be called, let's take a universally recognized list
of major human failings--the Seven Deadly Sins of pride,
greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. It is not
by accident that pride heads the procession. For pride,
leading to self-justification, and always spurred by conscious
or unconscious fears, is the basic breeder of most human
difficulties, the chief block to true progress. Pride lures
us into making demands upon ourselves or upon others which
cannot be met without perverting or misusing our God-given
instincts. When the satisfaction of our instincts for sex,
security, and society becomes the sole object of our lives,
then pride steps in to justify our excesses.
these failings generate fear, a soul-sickness in its own
right. Then fear, in turn, generates more character defects.
Unreasonable fear that our instincts will not be satisfied
drives us to covet the possessions of others, to lust for
sex and power, to become angry when our instinctive demands
are threatened, to be envious when the ambitions of others
seem to be realized while ours are not. We eat, drink, and
grab for more of everything than we need, fearing we shall
never have enough. And with genuine alarm at the prospect
of work, we stay lazy. We loaf and procrastinate, or at
best work grudgingly and under half steam. These fears are
the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of
whatever sort of life we try to build.
when A.A. suggests a fearless moral inventory, it must seem
to every newcomer that more is being asked of him than he
can do. Both his pride and his fear beat him back every
time he tries to look within himself. Pride says, "You
need not pass this way," and Fear says, "You dare
not look!" But the testimony of A.A.'s who have really
tried a moral inventory is that pride and fear of this sort
turn out to be bogeymen, nothing else. Once we have a complete
willingness to take inventory, and exert ourselves to do
the job thoroughly, a wonderful light falls upon this foggy
scene. As we persist, a brand-new kind of confidence is
born, and the sense of relief at finally facing ourselves
is indescribable. These are the first fruits of Step Four.
now the newcomer has probably arrived at the following conclusions:
that his character defects, representing instincts gone
astray, have been the primary cause of his drinking and
his failure at life; that unless he is now willing to work
hard at the elimination of the worst of these defects, both
sobriety and peace of mind will still elude him; that all
the faulty foundation of his life will have to be torn out
and built anew on bedrock. Now willing to commence the search
for his own defects, he will ask, "Just how do I go
about this? how do I take inventory of myself?"
Step Four is but the beginning of a lifetime practice, it
can be suggested that he first have a look at those personal
flaws which are acutely troublesome and fairly obvious.
Using his best judgment of what has been right and what
has been wrong, he might make a rough survey of his conduct
with respect to his primary instincts for sex, security,
and society. Looking back over his life, he can readily
get under way by consideration of questions such as these:
and how, and in just what instances did my selfish pursuit
of the sex relation damage other people and me? What people
were hurt, and how badly? Did I spoil my marriage and injure
my children? Did I jeopardize my standing in the community?
Just how did I react to these situations at the time? Did
I burn with a guilt that nothing could extinguish? Or did
I insist that I was the pursued and not the pursuer, and
thus absolve myself? How have I reacted to frustration in
sexual matters? When denied, did I become vengeful or depressed?
Did I take it out on other people? If there was rejection
or coldness at home, did I use this as a reason for promiscuity?
of importance for most alcoholics are the questions they
must ask about their behavior respecting financial and emotional
security. In these areas fear, greed, possessiveness, and
pride have too often done their worst. Surveying his business
or employment record, almost any alcoholic can ask questions
like these: In addition to my drinking problem, what character
defects contributed to my financial instability? Did fear
and inferiority about my fitness for my job destroy my confidence
and fill me with conflict? Did I try to cover up those feelings
of inadequacy by bluffing, cheating, lying, or evading responsibility?
Or by griping that others failed to recognize my truly exceptional
abilities? Did I overvalue myself and play the big shot?
Did I have such unprincipled ambition that I double-crossed
and undercut my associates? Was I extravagant? Did I recklessly
borrow money, caring little whether it was repaid or not?
Was I a pinch penny, refusing to support my family properly?
Did I cut corners financially? What about the "quick
money" deals, the stock market, and the races?
in A.A. will naturally find that many of these questions
apply to them, too. But the alcoholic housewife can also
make the family financially insecure. She can juggle charge
accounts, manipulate the food budget, spend her afternoons
gambling, and run her husband into debt by irresponsibility,
waste, and extravagance.
all alcoholics who have drunk themselves out of jobs, family,
and friends will need to cross-examine themselves ruthlessly
to determine how their own personality defects have thus
demolished their security.
most common symptoms of emotional insecurity are worry,
anger, self-pity, and depression. These stem from causes
which sometimes seem to be within us, and at other times
to come from without. To take inventory in this respect
we ought to consider carefully all personal relationships
which bring continuous or recurring trouble. It should be
remembered that this kind of insecurity may arise in any
area where instincts are threatened. Questioning directed
to this end might run like this: Looking at both past and
present, what sex situations have caused me anxiety, bitterness,
frustration, or depression? Appraising each situation fairly,
can I see where I have been at fault? Did these perplexities
beset me because of selfishness or unreasonable demands?
Or, if my disturbance was seemingly caused by the behavior
of others, why do I lack the ability to accept conditions
I cannot change? These are the sort of fundamental inquiries
that can disclose the source of my discomfort and indicate
whether I may be able to alter my own conduct and so adjust
myself serenely to self-discipline.
that financial insecurity constantly arouses these same
feelings. I can ask myself to what extent have my own mistakes
fed my gnawing anxieties. And if the actions of others are
part of the cause, what can I do about that? If I am unable
to change the present state of affairs, am I willing to
take the measures necessary to shape my life to conditions
as they are? Questions like these, more of which will come
to mind easily in each individual case, will help turn up
the root causes.
it is from our twisted relations with family, friends, and
society at large that many of us have suffered the most.
We have been especially stupid and stubborn about them.
The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total
inability to form a true partnership with another human
being. Our egomania digs two disastrous pitfalls. Either
we insist upon dominating the people we know, or we depend
upon them far too much. If we lean too heavily on people,
they will sooner or later fail us, for they are human, too,
and cannot possibly meet our incessant demands. In this
way our insecurity grows and festers. When we habitually
try to manipulate others to our own willful desires, they
revolt, and resist us heavily. Then we develop hurt feelings,
a sense of persecution, and a desire to retaliate. As we
redouble our efforts at control, and continue to fail, our
suffering becomes acute and constant. We have not once sought
to be one in a family, to be a friend among friends, to
be a worker among workers, to be a useful member of society.
Always we tried to struggle to the top of the heap, or to
hide underneath it. This self-centered behavior blocked
a partnership relation with any one of those about us. Of
true brotherhood we had small comprehension.
will object to many of the questions posed, because they
think their own character defects have not been so glaring.
To these it can be suggested that a conscientious examination
is likely to reveal the very defects the objectionable questions
are concerned with. Because our surface record hasn't looked
too bad, we have frequently been abashed to find that this
is so simply because we have buried these self same defects
deep down in us under thick layers of self-justification.
Whatever the defects, they have finally ambushed us into
alcoholism and misery.
thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory.
In this connection, it is wise to write out our questions
and answers. It will be an aid to clear thinking and honest
appraisal. It will be the first tangible evidence of our
complete willingness to move forward.
© AAWS Services