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What it Means to Really Take a Personal Inventory and Admit Our Shortcomings

What it Means to Really Take a Personal Inventory and Admit Our Shortcomings

The process for completing any Twelve Step program for addiction or alcoholism is full of many challenges. One of these is determining what it means to really take a personal inventory and admit our shortcomings. Difficult or not, self-inventory is a crucial element of addiction recovery. But what does it actually look like?

Step 4 of AA as an Important Part of the Recovery Process

Step Four of Alcoholics Anonymous may be just one of the Twelve Steps – but it is simultaneously one of the most crucial and most difficult steps to complete.

Step 4 of the Twelve Steps: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Is there anything scarier than promising to make a complete moral inventory of ourselves – without fear and without holding back? This is what step 4 of AA (and that of other Twelve Step programs) requires. In fact, it is a crucial part of addiction recovery as a whole. But what does taking a personal inventory and admitting our shortcomings actually look like in recovery? This is one of the major questions we are here to address, along with:

  • What is step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous?
  • What is self-inventory in recovery?
  • Why is taking self-inventory and admitting our shortcomings such an important part of the addiction recovery process?
  • How do you take personal inventory in recovery?
  • Are there tools for taking personal inventory in recovery?
  • What are some examples of step 4 – taking personal inventory?
  • How does taking personal inventory fit within addiction recovery and treatment?

We may not be able to provide an exhaustive answer to all of these questions, but at the very least we can get you pointed in the right direction.

What is Step 4 of AA – Personal inventory?

Alcoholics Anonymous is based on the12-step process of recovery. These twelve steps bring an individual struggling with addiction from the point of admitting that they have a problem to empowering themselves to overcome the negative effects of addiction in their life. Essentially, AA (as well as other twelve-step based programs, like Narcotics Anonymous) seeks to empower individuals to overcome addiction through social, emotional and mental support. To give you an idea of the approach, here are a few of the twelve steps:

  • Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 9: We made direct amends to people we had harmed wherever possible.
  • Step 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

A major theme emerges just from these three examples of the twelve steps toward recovery: namely, that recovery is all about taking responsibility for both your past and your future. This means both admitting your past mistakes and recognizing your potential for change.

Step 4 as the Foundation for the Recovery Process

The Twelve Steps of AA focus in on empowering the individual. In order to be empowered, an individual who struggles with addiction must be honest. In order to be honest, they must look inside themselves. It may sound cheesy – but it’s true. “Taking one’s personal inventory is a pivotal aspect of the recovery process, allowing the recovering addict to recognize what he or she has been through and how he or she wants his or her life to be from this point forward. If done truthfully and thoroughly, the inventory process facilitates honesty with oneself and responsibility toward oneself and others, in turn fostering greater self-acceptance.” ~ The National Institute on Drug Abuse Because honesty is a crucial element of the twelve step program and for addiction recovery, AA’s Step 4 stands out as a particularly important part of overcoming addiction. But what does it actually mean to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves? In the most basic of terms, self-inventory is about means admitting to your past mistakes, acknowledging your strengths and your weaknesses, and acting on your potential to make a change in the future. This is where the National Institute on Drug Abuse definition comes in: self-inventory is about fostering honesty and self-acceptance.

What is Self-Inventory in Recovery?

Even if the National Institute on Drug Abuse has provided a precise definition for personal inventory, at least one question remains: what does this actually mean for personal recovery? “Alcoholics and addicts, time after time, would rather get loaded again than have to face some inner truths. The freedom from self is made impossible by holding on to fears and secrets we’ve harbored all our lives. The way of strength, paradoxically, is in becoming vulnerable.” ~ The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous As part of the recovery process, taking self-inventory involves several different steps:

  • Self-inventory involves listing people, things, places, institutions and even ideas that you feel resentment toward or hurt by.
  • Self-inventory requires identifying the root cause of these resentments or past hurts.
  • Self-inventory involves recognizing how these events or developments made you feel about yourself and about others.
  • Self-inventory requires identifying how you and your addiction may be to blame for these stresses.
  • Self-inventory involves mapping out how you can respond differently to these people, places, things, institutions or ideas.

In a phrase, taking personal inventory and admitting our shortcomings is an exhaustive and intimate way of examining our life. The only way to overcome addiction is to be honest about the impact it has had on your life and outline specific tools for how to cope with its effects in the future.

Why Are Taking Personal Inventory and Admitting Our Shortcomings Important for Recovery?

Taking personal inventory essentially lays the groundwork for the rest of the recovery process. “I saw more. I realized that the very special person I had imagined myself to be could do nothing directly against the power of alcohol. But I began to see how the person I was beginning to understand could outflank old John and attack the cause of the drinking.” ~ Richard S., writing for the A.A. Grapevine in 1945 Like Richard says, step 4 – taking personal inventory – allows individuals struggling with addiction to see themselves for who they really are. It allows them to cut past lies and misconceptions set up by the power of drugs and alcohol. If knowledge is power, then knowing yourself helps you gain power over addiction.

How Do You Take Personal Inventory in Recovery?

There are many personal inventory questions that you can ask yourself. Sometimes these are presented in a support group meeting, but it is also beneficial to take the time to answer some of the following questions on your own:

  • How do I think of myself?
  • How do I think others view me?
  • How do I see my relationships with other people?
  • What goals and plans do I have the future?
  • What is my general sense of personal well being?
  • What fears do I have about the future?
  • What resentments do I have about the past?
  • What is the cause for these resentments? (Be specific!)
  • Where, when and how was I to blame for these resentments?
  • How do these past resentments affect my current self?
  • What can I do to move past these past resentments?
  • What emotions do I feel now? Are these valid?

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to these personal inventory questions. Instead, self-inventory is all about being honest with yourself. The best personal inventory example is one that pulls no punches. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to how to write a personal inventory. Just be honest with yourself and those around you.

Are There Specific Examples or Tools for Taking Self-Inventory in Recovery?

There are many tools online for completing the fourth step of AA. Keep in mind that these tools are meant to help you, not dictate exactly how you go about completing this step. Use these resources for rehab accordingly. We would provide some examples of AA Step 4, but here’s the thing: there are no right or wrong ways to go about this step. As long as you are honest with yourself and those around you, you are successfully completing the step and taking a moral inventory of yourself. What this looks like, exactly, can be up to you and your personal situation.

Step 4 – Personal Inventory – As Part of Drug and Alcohol Recovery

While taking self-inventory is a crucial part of the recovery process, it is important to understand that this is not the end-all-be-all of addiction recovery. Instead, step 4 – personal inventory – is just one aspect of a more holistic approach to treating addiction and just part of the process. Taking a fearless moral inventory of yourself helps you get at the root of the issue. It is not about fixing everything all at once. Instead, taking self-inventory helps you realize that you can’t change the past – but you can equip and strengthen yourself for the future. “For years, I had wanted desperately to do something about my drinking. This, I knew, was impossible. But the 4th step taught me that I could do something about the cause of my drinking. By trying to do something about myself, I found that I did not need to drink.” ~ Richard S., writing for the A.A. Grapevine in 1945 Richard may have written these words three quarters of a century ago, but the truth remains the same: taking self inventory is a crucial part of the entire drug and alcohol recovery process. If you still have questions about what personal inventory in addiction recovery looks like, or would like a free addiction assessment, feel free to contact us today.