We who have had the great experience of sobriety know the value of inventory. Several newer members in my sponsorship have progressed to their own position of sponsorship. The ideas contained here represent topics which have come up in our conversations concerning their sponsees. Some represent fairly standard AA ideas, some are more subjective, based on specific situations dealing with their work. Sponsorship is a very high ideal --one that all of us take very seriously. These suggestions are intended as shared experience (remember “experience, strength and hope?”).
The importance of a thoughtful understanding of Steps 4 & 5 was emphasized by my own early sponsors. To John O. in Anchorage, 1983, to Chris D. in Denver, 1988, and to Jackie P. in Kauai in 1994, I owe an unending debt of gratitude for their patient determination. These sincere, sober men knew the incredible importance of the inventory steps and spared no effort in sharing all of it with me. I cannot claim that I needed this work any more than any other alcoholic in AA, but I am certain that I didn’t need it any less!
Of course, everything here is meant to only augment what AA literature provides to those seeking sobriety. Some parts of this may be beneficial and others quite irrelevant. Take what will help in your sponsorship and disregard the rest. There will be no hard feelings thanks to our program’s wonderfully useful anonymity. It is hoped that this short paper will assist those great young AA’s in my sponsorship as they, in turn, lead others in their sponsorship through the inventory steps to the opportunity of a successful life in recovery from alcoholism.
A close and frequent reference to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous found in parentheses. (BB p42) will refer the reader to page 42 of the Big Book. Likewise, (12X12, Step 6, p64) will refer the reader to page 64, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Twelve By Twelve) discussion of Step 6. Some notes from dictionary definitions are extracted from Webster New Collegiate Dictionary at obvious reference entries. The great majority of references to AA literature lead back to the Big Book. The discussion of Step 4 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is perhaps the most thought provoking and beneficial of all -- deserving another entire paper in its own right. Indented paragraphs in an alternate font are my direct, personal comments. There is no claim that these represent ideas from AA literature.
Step 2 and Step 3 are fairly abstract, although each requires definite action on the part of the new member and each must produce a concrete transformation. By the point where inventory becomes the next work, Steps 2 and 3 should have enabled the new member to form a kind of working model of the spiritual side of our program.
This is important because the new member will need an easily understood model of himself and his Higher Power to go forward. It will be a combination of these two new ideas which will spell out the way he progresses in his step work. This is rarely a complex matter, but caution should be taken not to accept a string of platitudes which have been extracted from various sources in meetings.
Step 4 can be characterized as a place in step work when things become much more personal. The consideration of inventory is "all about me."
A new member who is encountering serious problems beginning inventory is probably expressing “unfinished business” in the process of Steps 2 and 3. Just as Step 4 begins to involve the new member in a personal way, the sponsor should not fool himself about whether or not the spiritual development in Step 3 has also finally become a personal matter. “The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.” (BB p55)
An impersonal or “theoretical” Higher Power is hardly a good foundation for durable sobriety in one’s future lifetime. It can hardly be called a consciousness of your belief!”
The sponsor’s role here is focus on ways to help his new member in getting ready for inventory. The door knob idea seldom works. Pressing ahead no matter what can leave a new member in a grave problem later. Waiting too long or being too demanding about his spiritual development before starting the inventory steps can undermine his sobriety even sooner.
When a dedicated, sincere sponsor is determined to do his very best possible job with this, he will probably be supported, as usual, by his own Higher Power lighting the way. The “Think. Think. Think.” sign is not always a good idea for a new member. When it is adopted as a necessary part of sponsorship, it is an incredibly good idea.
“Inventory is really hard work.” “Inventory brings up things from the past that are just too painful.” “Doing inventory makes me want to drink.”
The AA program, as it is described in our book, rests on the idea that sober living is easier than alcoholic drunkenness. There are many sides to the act of writing inventory, but, like most things in AA, the most important side of the process has to do with pencil and paper. In the most basic sense, comment number one can be resolved with a simple question: “Which is harder work: getting slammed over and over by untreated alcoholism or writing things down on a piece of paper?”
Odds are good that this new member has had enough “broken bones” or, at least, enough “bruises.” If this were not the case, he probably wouldn’t be here. Inventory is for folks who are entirely willing whether they are entirely ready or not. “Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.” (BB p76)
Comment number two mentions the “pain” of things from the past. Remind the new member that the things of the past must be in his memory anyway or he wouldn’t remember that they were painful! This inventory is not based on some kind of detective work which suddenly reveals new horrors, unknown before.
This is a “fact-finding and fact-facing process.” (BB p64) It is possibly the only course of action which can start to defeat the hopelessness and pain locked up in the memories of an alcoholic. It is designed to transform the pain of the memories into an asset for the future. The contract in the 3rd Step Prayer says that this is exactly what we have to do to become useful. (BB p63) Emphasize the “pain to asset” idea to help your new man clearly see the great possibilities so close at hand in inventory! The usefulness idea in the 3rd Step Prayer is not simply another bloom in the bouquet, either. It turns out to be more like the vase that holds the whole bouquet of sobriety’s gifts.
As to the third comment, the actor described on the second page of the Sixth Chapter can answer the question. Painful memories arise from past “painful” actions. The new member can run ahead through life and claim that they are not painful, that these actions weren’t really that bad, that he didn’t even do whatever it was, that what happened wasn’t fair or that it was someone else’s fault. However, it is pretty clear that none of these arguments ever really “sold very well,” that is, well enough to comfort him. As the actor in Chapter Six said, trying to handle all of them this way just made the drinking worse. (BB p73)
Although no one thinks that Chapter Five can get us sober all by itself, it remains one of the most compelling parts of our Big Book. If AA is “basic training” for living life, Chapter Five is “basic training” for doing inventory! Only the most uncaring sort of sponsor would send an unprepared recruit right into combat if there were any other possible choice. Emphasize that inventory is the very best action we can take to start a life of successful sobriety. Done well, that is, as it is shown in our book, it can work wonders!
Prepare the new member. By inventory time, the new man has already read pages 83 through 88 every morning for a month. Switch him over to Chapter Five. The whole thing! Including How it Works, the example inventory and all the rest of it right through the sex inventory. He needs to read it five or six times. It will be worth every minute of it if this reading can keep him pointed at the AA ideas in play and away from the other ideas about inventory he might hear in meetings.
Doing inventory just gets more difficult if he doesn’t know what he is doing. Doing something else and thinking that it is doing inventory in downright dangerous. You would never train a new recruit to fire a rifle so he misses the target every time!
Remember: this new man came to you because he needs relief, not busy work and not humiliation disguised as humility through losing at arm wrestling with his sponsor. Sponsorship may have many different moments, but in the long haul it will be coexistence, support and cooperation that carries the day. It might not hurt anything to read Chapter Five a couple of times yourself before you begin leading the new man through this work.Don’t Overlook Important Points on Pages 63, 64 and 65 -- Part 1
A determined sponsor will take full advantage of the incredible “ramp up” pages just before the Example in Chapter Five. (BB p63,64,65) Take your time. everything written in these short section needs to be made personal to the new man. This is a great time to share about yourself. Part one is what the book says. Part two is exactly how it related to my thoughts and my feelings when I was here. Part three is how it relates to similar, definite examples in the new man’s thoughts and feelings because he is now here.
Discussing the consequences of untreated alcoholism (car wrecks and train wrecks) is absolutely a part of inventory, but remember that alcoholism is not consequences! Alcoholism is our special way of seeing everything that causes us to act in ways that ultimately create consequences! “Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.” (BB p64) “We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. ... Ma. Ain’t it grand that the wind stopped blowin’?” (BB p82)
The 3rd Step prayer includes “take away my difficulties,” but AA is not simply a consequence management self-help group. Inventory is the beginning stage of growth which will help the new man “see better!” Now, to the important points. “One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret.” (BB p64) The new man must come to comfortably accept this idea as he can now see what “damaged” means and exactly which of his “goods are damaged.”
This means, using his new model of himself, his Higher Power, and the experience of his sponsor he can see these things in a new, more constructive light. Inventory is not an invitation to a “dog beating party” where the new man is the “dog.” Looking at “unsalable goods” is best done with serious detachment on the part of the new man. This is the fearless and thorough part of Step Four. (BB p59) “We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future.” (BB p66)
An auto mechanic doesn’t get emotional about a broken starter. He simply knows that it must be replaced if the car is to ever be competitive with all the other cars driving by his shop. This is a great attitude for the new man to take with the “damaged” goods listed in his inventory. Inventory is a time when we can quit complaining about all the unmanageable things in our past. Crying and self-pity won’t “change the starter” or us.
Step Three gives the new man the strength to make inventory. Encouraging a little detachment can help a lot. Falling apart during inventory usually doesn’t help.
“First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure.” (BB p64) What do we mean by “failure?” The car with the broken starter failed to start. What did the new man fail to do? Doesn’t it make sense to be a little more specific than to simply call it a failure?
The sponsor must constantly reinforce the idea that the disease of alcoholism is not simply a collection of nasty consequences. This is the right time to avoid building his personal idea of “failure” on a foundation of “consequences.” To get the maximum “juice” from the inventory process, the new man will have to be able to trace his “failure” squarely back to the disease of alcoholism. (BB p18) That is, the disease of alcoholism in him! His very own case of the disease of alcoholism. For the new man the history of these alcoholic traits will be personal, secret, intimate and probably crushing. Be careful and kind.
Non-alcoholic people can also be failures. They can create consequences, even consequences from drinking. People like us (who do have the disease of alcoholism) are, according to our book, simply exquisitely better at it than they are!
This idea of failure continues in the next important sentence. “Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.” (BB p64)
Returning to the discussion of Step 3, our book details exactly what “its common manifestations” might be. This list fits every variety of alcoholic who comes to AA regardless of his story or the consequences which have brought him. There are five central descriptions of these “manifestations” and a few extras interspersed among them which can be considered “extra credit.” The five central issues of “self” are usually a big part of what will be contained in one form or another within the inventory sooner or later.
The “extra credit” issues of “self” are very often considered after step work has proceeded beyond inventory. They are sometimes helpful when the new man goes back to fine tune his understanding about our book’s description of the “common manifestations” of self.
The “selfs” are quite easily located. Some are included more than once. A determined sponsor will make certain that these important ideas are explained and available to the man who is making inventory.
We can call these
traits the “coping skills,” especially the five noted above in
bold type. Instead of going to work on the challenges which
confronted us in our lives, we seemed to always direct our energy
toward the use of these “coping skills” instead of trying to do
something about the challenges, instead of trying to solve the
problems. When we tried to use these alcoholic “coping skills,”
to solve our problems, alcoholic consequences were almost
Our book continues from “common
manifestations” [of self] to: “Resentment is the number one
offender.” (BB p64)
“From it stem all forms of spiritual
disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we
have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we
straighten out mentally and physically.” (BB p64) This, the
sponsor should emphasize, is another one of those simple ideas in our
book which are easy to agree with, but also extremely important for
the new man to consider very thoughtfully. It is central to the ideas
of the AA program. As such it deserves a sincere and complete
discussion between the sponsor and the new man. A nod of agreement on
the new man’s part before moving ahead may be convenient, but not
be the foundation of good solid progress.
Step 4 inventory, although it says exactly the
opposite in our book (“The inventory was ours, not the other
man’s.” BB p67), can start out as a process of taking
everyone else's inventory. It may be useful to think of
it as his final, ultimate alcoholic tantrum, exactly detailing all
the crimes against him and the criminals who committed them.
Hopefully, the new man will grow enough in Steps 4 & 5 that this
will be his last alcoholic tantrum!
How will the new man select which events and
people in his life to place on the inventory? Where will these people
and institutions in column one (“I’m resentful at”) come from?
What does someone need to do to get on the list?
A Nazi SS officer has the job of shooting Jews all day. He is an alcoholic in AA, and he is writing his inventory. We are all certain that he is drinking because of the terrible remorse he feels about his horrible job. The fact is, however, that his alcoholic resentment is toward his wife! He resents her for preparing bratwurst for dinner every night! Whatever our thoughts might be, the wife is the name which must go on the list!
Perhaps the most significant thing about the
second column of the sample is the focus and brevity of the listed
causes. The longest (wordiest) cause shown is found in the “Mrs.
Jones” resentment. There are three causes listed. The first is 13
words in length. The second and third are 3 words each. It is a very
good idea for the sponsor to set a limit on the length of cause
descriptions. Fifteen words should be plenty. These are not the
briefs of a defense attorney trying to justify a resentment in some
Of course, it may be that the man writing inventory will complete the third column on his own. In any event, the sponsor must remember for himself and emphasize to the new man that alcoholic thinking may lead to important omissions, especially when the new man considers the seven choices to be inappropriate or too limiting for his case.
Remember the two paragraphs immediately before the sample inventory. The two words “hurt” of “threatened” (BB p64 & 65) describe the path to alcoholic resentments. The seven choices for the third column describe the tender vulnerabilities which allowed them into the thoughts of the alcoholic, that is, the signs above the “doors” through which the “hurts” and “threats” entered his thoughts.
Self-esteem , security , ambitions , personal relations , and sex relations  were the general areas where “hurts” and “threats” could reach the new man’s alcoholic fears  and false pride  the most seriously and the most deeply. (BB p65) The “crimes” were committed by “hurts” and “threats” which were seen through the deception of alcoholic thinking to be aimed at these targets.
What a wonderful set of invitations to scare the hell out of the alcoholic drunk who has become our new member, to make him angry (BB p64) and foster alcoholic resentments!
“How is it going?” “Do you have any questions?” Don’t discuss anything that is on the inventory. Discuss only any problems which have come up about the process of the inventory. Remind the new man that Step 5 will deal with the contents of the inventory.
A good suggestion is to set an end date for this work. The best way to set it will be with an agreement between the new man and the sponsor at the very outset of Step 4. (BB p64) Allowing inventory to go on without a limit might provide an excuse for not staying with the project once it has been started. AA experience provides ample caution about the results of inventories never finished.
A month should provide plenty of time for even the “busiest” alcoholic. In drastic cases, even less time may be better. A sponsor who has brought a new member to Step 4 will be responsible, and will remain responsible, for the completion of the inventory no matter what may develop. Writing inventory is a vulnerable period. Who could, in good conscience, encourage it to begin before the new man is ready to complete it? Who could, in good conscience, leave him there in Step 4 regardless of what irritations or frustrations should surface in the process? Throwing your hands up and walking away is not an option once it begins! Sponsor: “Remember who you are working for.”
“But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived.” (BB p66) Some of the misery of the events on the inventory simply came home and sat there. Others inspired us alcoholics to seek vengeance. If it turned out to be pathetic alcoholic revenge, it made matters worse, not to mention the consequences of the revenge. If our vengeance took violent or other criminal forms, the tragic consequences could easily have included prison.
The sponsor must be prepared to handle inventories which contain this type of serious violent or criminal history. Should such events be included in the new man’s inventory, the sponsor needs to do whatever is necessary to avoid judgement. Seeing fear, shock or intolerance in the face of the man he has trusted to help him with Step 4 will be a grave setback. No matter what the sponsor may feel about what is to be shared with him, he must remember that the new man has been living with the same thing day and night, perhaps for years.
If the new man has been sitting in a prison cell with untreated alcoholism perfecting this resentment for years, his sponsor must honor his bravery at putting it in his inventory. Everything is serious. Immense spiritual strength is close at hand. The new man must not shy away from anything. The sponsor must not either. (See pamphlet from this series: Sponsorship Tips; number 20; “Depression Is Not Always Whining” about sponsorship through physical and mental problems)
Continue to emphasize two important ideas. “But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave.” (BB p66) It is the task of the sponsor to make absolutely certain that the new man understands the connection between spiritual growth and the work of honest inventory. Anything less is going to be a repeat of the “dog beating party.”
The second thing to emphasize will be: “The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again.” (BB p66) The new man must understand that this insanity may appear as a drink, but that it might also appear as untreated alcoholic thinking. It will almost inevitably become a drink, sooner or later, no matter how it might begin. It cannot be the purpose of inventory to convince either the new man or the sponsor that some resentment is actually a reasonable response. It may begin this way, but it should not end this way.
“We avoid retaliation or argument.” (BB p67) The sponsor might suggest that this argument idea includes persuasion. If the new man continues to see his own defense as the central issue, there will be no better place than Step 5 to constructively address it. Better for it to start and end there than out in the world where it can produce more damage. There is nothing at all incorrect about discussing the “righteousness” of a resentment during inventory so long as a sober, recovery side prevails.
“In that state, the wrongdoing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill.” (BB p66) Some of the “crimes” going into the inventory are quite physical. Others are not. They exist in the mind of the resentful alcoholic. Emphasize to the new man that both types will go on his inventory, “fancied or real.” Nothing is too sensitive, too silly or too imaginary. If it hurts, it counts. Onto the inventory it goes!
It may be necessary to build a connection between the word “wrong” and the equally suspicious word “unfair.” First, back to the dictionary.
“Fair” the adjective: marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism.
The use of the term “wrong” in our book is entirely accurate. We can see alcoholic resentment running all through these definitions. However, we have previously agreed to a “personal housecleaning,” (BB p63) “causes and conditions” (BB p64) and the idea that “Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.” (BB p65)
So, given this, we might reasonably expect the question, “Wrong compared to what?” Are there rules against which these wrongs can be judged? Are they really “crimes” which have been committed against the alcoholic?
Some of the inventory will probably lead the other direction, that is, to the “crimes” the new man committed. [about the alcoholic] “Even when he wanted to assert himself he could not, for his drinking placed him constantly in the wrong.” (BB p130-131) Practically any member of AA could accept this without so much as blinking an eye, but what sort of wrong is meant here? Is there some sort of list?
Of course, there is no list. There is no set of specific actions which defines what is included or excluded from “...his drinking placed him constantly in the wrong.” (BB p130-131) The same holds true with “...the world and its people were often quite wrong.” (BB p66) and with “...others were wrong...” (BB p66) and with “...people continued to wrong us...” (BB p66) and with “...people who wronged us were spiritually sick.” (BB p66) and even “We admitted our wrongs honestly...” (BB p67). If the details are not unique or important, what are we talking about here? How will these ideas fit into a resentment inventory?
Once again, this part of inventory must become personal before it will make sense to the new man. Step 4 is a short movie about every one of these situations and people. The important big picture to the new man’s new understanding of his history is that the nature of the “wrong” is far less important than is the fact that he saw it as a “wrong!”
A good sponsor might discuss exactly what constructive options were available at every one of these events. This resentment inventory is all about what he felt when he experienced these things, that is, the new man’s perception of his experiences may very well seem to be “an injurious, unfair or unjust act; action or conflict inflicting harm without due provocation or just cause; conduct contrary to justice, goodness, equity or law.”
Instead of thinking about any positive solution to these problems, his untreated disease of alcoholism instantly resulted in an alcoholic picture of the event. His alcoholic thinking immediately stepped in to create an alcoholic resentment instead of some approach toward a solution. By the end of the day he had invested his life energy into creating another resentment rather than toward a possible solution to the challenges of his life.
For the alcoholic, “wrong” is a concept which depends heavily on exactly the out-of-control drive of “self.” (BB p62) “Selfishness and self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” (BB p62) The alcoholic self is elevated in importance by the untreated disease of alcoholism to a point where it can judge the actions of others to be “wrong.” Once that happens, alcoholic thinking and alcoholic behaviors seem to make perfect sense. The value of a solution is set aside in favor of the misery of an alcoholic resentment.
It is all based on the idea that this resentful alcoholic, thanks to his ideas of “self,” is somehow in the position of a judge, empowered to rule over these “crimes” committed against him. Emphasize to the new man that the trance of self is making this authority as a judge seem necessary or reasonable, no matter how far from reality it might fall. The other people around him don’t think he is a judge! Recovery from alcoholic thinking will require an end to the judge idea. AA is a place where everyone can ultimately discover that we are all the same size, at least in all the important ways.
This “wrong” idea is explained by the phrase describing the alcoholic as “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” Judging things this way won’t work because we don’t really believe we qualify as judges! The new man must come to decide that the actions of others are simply what they are! An alcoholic may be “hurt or threatened” (BB p65) by them, but nothing is accomplished by deciding that these actions are “wrong,” especially when that “...was as far as most of us ever got.” (BB p66)
While “self” is directing every thought of an alcoholic, the “...world and its people really dominated...” (BB p66) every important part of his life. The new man must come to see this fact as it is revealed in his resentment inventory.
The first phrase of the Fourth Step Prayer tells it all. “When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’ ” (BB p67) Even before the prayer itself, the alcoholic is instructed to speak to himself. The prayer is not going to help much if the new man does not hesitate when offended.
Inventory will probably describe better than anything that these moments of taking offense were invitations to destructive alcoholic thinking. The version of this we used when we were drunks is quite different. Instead of saying this prayer to ourselves, we usually thought of an alternative something like this:
“This man has offended me. I am hurt, threatened and afraid. How can I hurt him back? Taking care of myself and my self-interests is the most important possible thing I have to think about. If I can’t get even with him, I will suffer because he has made me appear to be less of a man than I was. I have been injured by his ‘crime.’ He is wrong to do this cruel, unfair thing to me.”“The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.” (BB p63) Taking this single sentence out of its context gives this alcoholic version of the Fourth Step Prayer a chilling seriousness.
“We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.” (BB p67) The new man will see, from his inventory, that he needs to quit dreaming that he is a judge and start seeking a new spiritually powered style of kindness and tolerance. The sincere sponsor will freely emphasize this new spiritual approach to resentments not because it represents some particular virtue (although it might) so much as because it is the real road to recovery from the misery of “self” and the disease of alcoholism. “Good actions lead to good thinking, not the other way around. Act decent. Live well. It works!”
[Among recovered alcoholics] “Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others. Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” (BB p19-20)
The sponsor will probably be able to help a great deal with the fourth column of the inventory. It will be the description of the alcoholic thinking that has been the driving force of what is in columns one through three.
It is generally accepted that Chapter Five describes three separate parts in the Step 4 inventory. Whether these are so distinctly separate or not isn’t really too important, but the idea of dividing them is usually helpful to the new man. In some ways it simplifies the inventory process to consider them individually. Good sponsorship will continue to give great importance to simplicity in the process as a means to support the new man’s concentration on one area at a time. Confusion and over-complication can be very counter productive.
Our book dedicates significantly more of its discussion about Step 4 to resentments, the first of the three inventory sections. (BB p63-p67) The fear inventory is described on part of only two pages, (BB p67, p68) and the sex inventory on part of three pages. (BB p68, p69, p70) Still, the book’s description of each of these three forms of inventory is complete and sufficient so long as attention is paid to exactly what is written.
Fear. “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve.” (BB p67) Again we have one of the book’s incredibly understated ideas. Literally pages and chapters could have been written about the same topic without adding much.
Nonetheless, these lines from the book describe yet another task for the sincere sponsor. It is relatively easy for the new man to agree with the “...we didn’t deserve.” idea, but as we approach the idea of “setting the ball rolling,” it will be worth the effort to understand our new man’s idea of exactly “what did he deserve?”
Steps 4 & 5 mark processes in which we all had to start being more responsible for our own actions and feelings. Sponsorship at this point might include some discussion about deserving anything! Fear-wise, some new AA’s seriously believe that fear appears in their lives in much the same way as a thunder storm’s rain falls innocently on the righteous and the weak, unpredictable, unavoidable and, perhaps, unfairly. Those of us with more experience with sobriety suspect that our fears are more like something we drive across town to order specifically for ourselves at a drive through window.
Inventory does little to change our fears of tigers, earthquakes or invasions. The target here will be the crazy fears which arise from alcoholic thinking and then seem to take a permanent place in our every thought and feeling afterward. The “evil and corroding thread” (BB p67) concept hits home. Inventory can expose the misery these fears can cause, especially when they become an unseen part of everyday life. The new man should understand the difference between having fears and accepting them as fact, and on the other hand, having fears without realizing it, being driven by them blindly.
There exists an ancient AA explanation of fear. “Fear is being afraid of losing something you have or not getting something you need.” The sponsor, at the place of the fear inventory, may find that this saying has an uncanny accuracy as it is applied in Step 4. It is fairly clear, however, that for it to have its full meaning, the new man must be ready to prepare a list of what he thinks he has which might be lost and what it is he needs which he will be unable to get.
Remember, inventory is personal. This list of possessions and needs will be his. It is protected from any other opinion by the same “...fancied or real...” (BB p66) test which governed his resentment list. If it causes fear in his thoughts and feelings, it goes on the list. It may seem “fancied or real” to his sponsor. To him it will all be real! It will all be important!
The discussion of the fear inventory, as it continues in Chapter Five, suggests writing it on paper. “We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them.” (BB p68) The sample inventory (BB p65) includes many references to the idea of fear as a part of Column C, “affects my.” There is no clear reason why these fears noted on the new man’s resentment inventory should not also appear in some form in his fear inventory. When a fear is a driving presence in the new man’s thoughts and feelings, it should naturally become part of his fear inventory.
The spiritual side of the fear inventory has everything to do with the idea of self-reliance. The new man will have, quite predictably, relied on a number of quite reasonable sources for help during his lifetime. These might include parents, friends, extended family members (“My uncle George really helped me getting the business started.”) In most of these external things, relying on others was not anything particularly sinister. However, somewhere along the line, this new man began to rely on himself in unhealthy alcoholic ways, usually with the result that he denied himself the incredible benefit of a Higher Power.
Emphasize to him, the help we need from a Higher Power doesn’t deal with paying the rent, winning the nice new girl friend or not losing a mother to death from some disease. Trouble in these areas is always a consequence of the pitfalls of alcoholic thinking. “So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.” (BB p62) Uncontrolled and unmanageable fear is the product of how alcoholics handle the challenges of life. Those who are not alcoholics must face all the same problems in life. Although these non-alcoholics may not always meet these challenges in perfect fashion, they seem to generally do better than alcoholics at the task. AA helps alcoholics get much better at this.
The “self-reliance” idea also seems to extend into another well used AA phrase. “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Any alcoholic, driven by his nature as an “egomaniac with an inferiority complex,” would love to trick everyone into thinking that he is so grand, strong and intelligent that he can handle life without any help. Chances are good that the new man, just like most of the rest of us, has an idea, driven by the alcoholic’s crazy notions of “self,” that he will appear weak or foolish if he acknowledges a reliance on a Higher Power.
During the time of alcoholic drinking, most new AA’s seldom spent much time wringing their hands about matters concerning life and a Higher Power. The disease of alcoholism deceived the new man into thinking that he faced much more important immediate problems, usually problems arising as consequences of drinking and alcoholic thinking. “Sometimes AA comes harder to those who have lost or rejected faith than to those who have never had any faith at all...” (12X12 S2, p28) Modern sponsors must not only accept but plan for work with new men who arrive in AA without having ever “wasted” any time at all on spiritual matters. The fact is, many of the new members coming to AA are neither “atheist, agnostic or those who have fallen from faith.” These terms describe those who have been exposed to some kind of religion. In the 21st Century, AA and its sponsors will have to find a place for those who have never been so exposed, much less fitting into one of the categories mentioned above.
Here, self-seeking also comes to play. The alcoholic would prefer to enjoy a reputation as being a man who can handle any difficulty on his own. This alcoholic trait is common, and should not be overlooked in the fear inventory. The new man’s history of “... meeting calamity with serenity...” (BB p68) may suggest those specific points. The strange hope of appearing to be able to handle everything on one’s own strength and will (“self-strength and self-will”) while cowering in secret fear and its alcoholic misery in the knowledge that this is no more than a show, can be the foundation of almost continuous, invisible dread.
“Perhaps there is a better way -- we think so. For we are now on a different basis; the basis of trusting and relying upon God.” (BB p68) The new man must come to understand that this is the wonderful alternative to self-reliance.
The sponsor, most likely, knows that this secret hopelessness is a perfect recipe for a life filled with fear about the aspects of life we must reasonably be prepared to face. An alcoholic with fear of this sort can actually become fearful and even paranoid about reality itself, regardless of what it brings into his life. The Creator of the Universe has not set up life for human men to be no more than a cruel test. The new man may find that he has held this point of view without fully realizing its nature or its seriousness. Hence, the fear inventory in Step 4!
Hopelessness seems to be one of the “favorite tools” of the disease of alcoholism. On the other hand, being hopeful seems to be one of the great possibilities that come with recovery from the disease of alcoholism. “When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us to do but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.” (BB p25)
The determined sponsor, during this step, will make a determined, personal and thoughtful effort to be sure that the “simple kit of spiritual tools” is, indeed, placed at the feet of the new man. It all goes together. One important part of the “fourth dimension” is going to be the great spiritual comfort that becomes available when the basic hopefulness of life is restored.
Column B of the fear inventory might describe exactly how “...we, ourselves, set the ball rolling...” (BB p67) The problems with the “self-reliance” idea will probably appear pretty quickly. The sponsor might, at this point, suggest that the new man rethink the decisions in Column B with the idea of how they would have been if handled with more “trusting and relying upon God” and less “self reliance,” fancied or real. (BB p66)
Column C of the fear inventory focuses on a single important word. That is, the word “be.” The sponsor must emphasize to the new man that this word is not “do.” Our book says “We never apologize for God. Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do. We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be.” (BB p68)
It will be clear, after his work on the fear inventory, that the new man will have the opportunity, in sobriety, to find for himself how public his reliance on spiritual strength will be. Sponsor: “No need to worry or be impatient. Actions speak louder than words. Go ahead and tell him. Constantly trying for actions which are based on these new spiritual principles will gradually create a new life which is not riddled with alcoholic fear.”
The fear inventory is a great chance for the new man to sincerely decide what he assumes "God will want him to be," or, in a more secular sense, what the destination of his real spiritual progress will be. And, alternatively, he can frankly and honestly look at what he has been and the fear problems that came along with it. Our book very clearly suggests that alcoholics should probably avoid answering “What does God want me to do?” in favor of “What does God want me to be?” Once the “be” part is underway, the “do” part will work out on its own. This idea comes from AA experience, but the main reason we believe it comes from our new relation with our Higher Powers! Going directly to the “do” idea is an invitation to reach for the alcoholic “coping skills” and the mistakes and consequences of alcoholic thinking. Better actions lead to better thinking.
So, what seems to have changed, and what will the sponsor need to take into consideration to bring the timeless, yet rather socially dated, message of our book to the contemporary AA member? First, new members are apparently far more comfortable in talking about their sex lives. In 1940 discussions about sex were likely to be fairly academic. Sex, in or out of marriage, was rarely a comfortable topic, especially when it was conducted at a personal level. A relatively casual conversation about sex with a 21st Century teenager might be profoundly shocking to a man living in the 1940’s.
What all this suggests in terms of sponsorship is that a new man’s inventory in our modern context will need to be just as frank and forthright as the rest of his inventory has become. Good sponsorship will probably not be well served by a polite timidity. As with the other two parts of inventory described above, the conduct of the sex inventory will be tested by the same questions.
Will the new understanding (of sex and alcoholism) and the recovery connected with it be clear, personal, specific and useful? Confusion and inhibitions, from either the sponsor or the new man, not squarely addressed in the sex inventory will almost certainly become trouble later. Remember, the pursuit of sobriety is not necessarily the pursuit of virtue (especially not when it is another man’s idea of virtue). It will have much more to do with honesty. (BB p58) We are in this Step 4 work for results, not someone’s idea of being polite or respecting secrets! “Nothing counted by thoroughness and honesty.” (BB p65)
Sponsorship through the sex inventory seems to be an outright invitation for alcoholic self-righteousness. Sometimes thoughts about right and wrong (BB p66) arise in the mind of the sponsor. Sometimes such questions come from the new man as he repeats the idea that if he can only persuade his sponsor (and usually also himself) that some aspect of his sex history was justified, short cuts on his sex inventory will be acceptable. The sponsor will remain focused on the consequences of crazy, self-driven alcoholic thinking. The new man will discover that he has always had his own personal ideas about right and wrong all the time. Most likely, his sex problems are consequences of his own abandonment of his unrecognized or unrealized sex ideals in favor of fear, selfishness, opportunism and other pitfalls of alcoholic thinking.
The new man is going to receive the incredible spiritual help of the AA program to make sense of his own sex life. Regardless of how far afield his ideas may be in the eyes of his sponsor, AA’s business continues to deal squarely with sobriety, escape from the pitfalls of alcoholic thinking and successful living, not someone else’s morality. This includes his sponsor. Bite your tongue, and keep going. He came to you for help, not judgement.
I cannot count the times when a new member, perhaps a young man who is new to AA thinking, brings in a sex ideal extracted directly from the stories and photos of some racy magazine. “She should have a thin waist, big boobs and long red hair. She should be cheerful. She should be constantly eager to please me in sex matters, and she should be able to cook my favorite meals just like my mother did. It wouldn’t hurt for her to have a good part time job so long as she still has time to clean house ( not the the AA style “... to clean house...”). In fact we could probably get along better if she didn’t have much discerning judgment, you know, if she was sort of gullible in a happy sort of way.”
This approach is pretty clearly not what our book describes as a new, sober sex ideal. Nonetheless, a sincere sponsor will, with a straight face, take full advantage of such an idea to re-emphasize his important points about selfishness and alcoholic thinking.
When Step 5 brings the new man and his sex inventory to the table, there may be homosexuals, sadists, prostitutes -- male and female -- and plenty of other victims. There may be gut-wrenching, heart breaking disappointments, obsessions, resentments and accounts of sterile, anonymous drunken encounters of opportunity. It may include accounts of his sex history which include sex as cruelty, revenge, alcoholic confusion, pederasty, incest with fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, neighbors and pets.
The sex inventory may provide the sponsor with a great example of the strength and usefulness of AA’s idea of anonymity. It might very well include sex events where the new man does not even have a name for the first column -- just a painful memory. When we are deep in the cunning of alcoholic selfishness, formal introductions may have seemed no more than an unnecessary delay.
All these affairs have already been judged by the new man. If he had not judged them this way and found his own actions somehow lacking, they would not appear on his inventory. No further judgement is required from his sponsor. AA’s recovery interest here is to help him make a clear and concise connection between these heartaches and the inevitable misery of alcoholic thinking. As sponsors, it will be our job to make certain he is offered AA’s idea for a better, less painful and more successful new approach to his sex life. Of course, this means the soul shaking miracle available to him by working our 12 steps, including Step 5, “whole hog plus the postage!”
Apparently, no sober, successful member of AA has ever complained about working through the steps of our program too thoroughly. We don’t hear the suggestion that steps work best when one omits troubling details or warnings to new members to “just skim along the surface.” Whether it seems to be the case or not, any new member who makes the Step 4 inventory with a sponsor he can trust has brought his shovel! That sponsor must continue to encourage him, but he must also let the new man work on his own swamp using our time-tested ideas.
Now to the exact process of the sex inventory.
Column A is the list of sex partners or sex events in which the new man was “hurt or threatened.” Yes, it will be the same test as the one mentioned before the resentment inventory example. (BB p66). Another inventory idea which can be borrowed from the discussion of resentments will be “fancied or real.” (BB p67) There is no generalization about the sex histories of alcoholics entering AA
In some cases every sex partner in the entire career of alcoholic drinking may be listed. In others, the list may be very short. The sponsor may find it helpful to have the new man list all of his sex partners and events, dividing them into those which were painful or disappointing and those which were not. If the specific new man lists some successful sex episodes, these might represent some useful information for his later description of a “sex ideal.” Our book: “In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life.” (BB p69)
Of course the usual caution should be taken by the sponsor at this point. Some of these successful memories may have actually been unduly categorized as such with the help of his alcoholic view of things. Coping skills such as self-delusion, self-seeking and, perhaps, self-pity may have given such memories an undeserved place on the list of his “successes.”
The suggested inventory form names Column B as an honest list of the new man’s initial thoughts, that is, his thoughts which eventually led to the sex event. The following questions may be helpful. There are no questions which are always the right ones.
"Did he think this sex partner was a “step above” or a “step below” what he saw as his own place in the sexual competition? Did it seem to be similar to an athletic contest?"
"Did he look for other sexual commitments in his partner’s position which should have tempered his advances? If these were there, did he honor them as being valuable to this person? Valuable enough that perhaps he should move on?"
"Was he attracted by some form of opportunism? Did his own sexual gratification simply find a means to an end in this partner? How afraid was he that he might be rejected? Were any of his feelings involved?"
"Did he proceed with his advances only to be surprised to discover that he had seriously misinterpreted the interest of the other person? If so, what feelings did he have about himself and the other person when this came became obvious?"
"Did the excitement of the process lead him to a state of confidence and anticipation? Was it a reasonable state, or was it over-enhanced or self-delusional? Did he feel a need to over-represent himself? (There are never as many airliners as there are 'airline pilots.')"
The purpose of this column of sex inventory is the seek out the thoughts and feelings the new man used as he used his self-will in sexual situations. This inventory is headed for Column D as it moves toward Step 5, that is, “How would things have been different if his sex ideal had been in place?” His memory of how he handled this affair and how that made him feel later has placed this on his sex inventory, but did these same memories ever really inspire him to think about how he could have done better? With most alcoholics, self-examination and a serious desire to do better were sacrificed by alcoholic thinking in favor of getting even, frustration, opportunism, hopelessness or some other crazy notion powered by thoughts of self. There was little thought about becoming the person he would need to become to realize progress toward a sex ideal.
If there were alcoholic “coping skills” noted in the resentment inventory, these may also represent some of the main strategies, thoughts and feelings used in the very beginning of sex events (Column B). As such, both the sponsor and the new man can expect these traits to help define the answer to the question in Column D. The sex inventory will suggest some necessary changes which may not have been possible before a new spiritual energy could now be added to the effort.
The questions mentioned above are only a few suggestions. The right questions for this specific new man must be personal to him. The sponsor can generously share his own experiences if there is some reluctance or difficulty beginning the project. Remember that the new man has asked for your help. Remember that AA’s message is given in the language of the heart. Remember the great spiritual strength found in our tradition of anonymity. Remember to sincerely honor his bravery, hope and trust. You may be a distinguished veteran, but he, at this moment, is deep in active combat.
Column C will represent the other part of Column B. In Column B the new man had an opportunity to look at his motives, thoughts and feelings as he entered into a sexual event. In Column C he can consider his conduct during the affair and how it ended, again examining his motives, desires and feelings for the disastrous underpinnings of alcoholic thinking. Questions to be addressed in Column C will run along the same general lines as those used in Column B only, of course, dealing with the thoughts and feelings of the new man at the ending of sexual events in his inventory.
The sponsor has made a big deal about self-will following the prayer used in Step 3. It may seem to be a paradox in the sex inventory. Experience there strongly suggests that some sort of self-will is going to be a necessary part of the new man’s sex affairs, but his sex inventory will reveal the miserable consequences of the “dishonest motive” part of the alcoholic coping skills. The new man knows better than to think that sitting on the couch in some form of spiritual serenity is going to become as sexually successful as his old plan based on unbridled self-will.
Comparing these old events in his sex inventory to what might have been possible with the new idea of his sex ideal maps out an approach to these matters much more in the lines of sobriety and recovery from his disease of alcoholism. Spiritual progress can mean that the next time this comes up he can act in a much more decent manner. Recovery from alcoholism can provide him with honesty, realistic confidence, concern for his sex partner and much better manners all based on the spiritual idea that his needs -- including sex -will be met. Desperation, hopeless panic, opportunism at the expense of others and the crazy drive of self-will in the sex arena have turned truly pleasant possibilities into horrible consequences and misery. The sponsor brings the good news: “He can do better if he just follows a few simple rules!” (BB pxxvii)
The final section of the inventory headings deals with more consequences of his history of “sex driven by self.” Our book asks: “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 his all down on paper and looked at it.” (BB p69)
This part of the sex inventory will direct the new man’s attention two ways. The list of those who suffered because of his “sex driven by self-will” may require amends work in Steps 8 and 9. A good sponsor might mention this, but too much attention to it now can become a distraction. There are twelve wonderful steps in our program of recovery. Each has a number. Each will always seem to be a miraculously good idea when its time comes in order.
The other direction is toward the new man’s inner self. We have all heard AA’s speak about “being resentful at themselves” when they discuss Step 4’s resentment inventory. Although every member can make of this what he wishes, it doesn’t seem to make much sense under careful examination.
The sex inventory may, however, represent a valid exception. The “hurt or threatened” (BB p65) and the “jealousy, suspicion or bitterness” (BB p69) mentioned in our book may very well have visited on our new man himself as a result of his repeated efforts at “sex driven by self-will.” Until Step 4, suffering through these feelings may be as far as he got. Yes, there may be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, neighbors and pets out there who have plenty of “jealousy, suspicion or bitterness” as a result of the new man’s previous alcoholic approach to sex, but in the sex inventory the sponsor will suggest that he has even inflicted these same awful feelings on himself, placing himself right into the list with the others who got hurt, hence this final part of the sex inventory.