The Danger of an Overly Thorough Fourth Step

The first time I did a Fourth Step, I got loaded before getting to do my Fifth. It was not because I kept putting it off—it was because I was far too “thorough” with it.

See, I took How It Works very literally. “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our steps.” Coming off of a binge in which my days lasted several days long, I was not really in a rush to relive that experience. I was determined to do this sobriety thing right from the start.

“Yeah, I had about 376 resentments on my Fourth,” my friend told me. I remembered thinking, No wonder it takes people so long to get it done. “Yeah, all of it was pretty heavy stuff, too.”

I was too new to realize that this was just someone slightly less new than I was trying to get an ego boost for whatever reason. He meant well in trying to convey the importance of being thorough on the Steps, but the secondary motives could have taken me out for good.

Hearing his description, I thought that everyone was supposed to have hundreds of resentments, and all of them had to be major. My instructions from my sponsor at the time were, “Put down anything that gnaws at you consistently.”

Well, as a newly clean and sober tweaker and alcoholic, that was just about everything.

So, I began to put everything down. Parents, teachers, friends, police, my sponsor, people in traffic, the guy that did not hold the door open for me when I went to buy a Red Bull at 7-Eleven. All of them made it on the list because I did not know any better, and I was afraid of not being thorough.

Needless to say, the thing never got done. I was about 287 “resentments” deep—some of which were not even resentments—before I thought, Man, screw this.

I dodged my sponsor, stopped doing the work, and started falling back into old behavior (not realizing it was old behavior at the time). Eventually, when a cute girl who wanted to eat mushrooms together brought up the idea, it was go-time before she even said a word.

A few years and a whole lot more legitimate resentments later, I came back in. When it came time to do the Fourth Step again, I told my new sponsor what my previous experience was.

“Dude, just get the crap out that seriously messes with your head on a regular basis. Put the all the stuff that makes you want to use and/or heavily impacts your sanity. The rest of it we will deal with in Step Ten.”

With those instructions, I had my Fourth knocked out in a matter of weeks, and completed both my Fourth and Fifth in under a month.

I did not know it at the time, but the fear of going out is eventually what took me out, and the fear of not doing my Fourth right was just another excuse for procrastination and self-delusion that I “wasn’t as bad as some other people.”

That is drug and alcohol addiction for you, though; my own best ideas can just as easily be my worst.

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