Eating Disorder Recovery and the 12 Steps: Step Four, Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves.

The purpose of Step Four is to carefully review your past-mostly the bad and the ugly. This self-searching will show you who you are and who you are not. It will show you the relationships you have jeopardized. You will see your failures. You will wonder what happened and how you got this way.

So maybe you didn’t crash the car, lose the house, or end up in jail as many alcoholics and drug addicts have, but that doesn’t mean eating disorder sufferers haven’t wreaked havoc on the lives of those around them. We’ve caused pain and worry in those around us, we’ve been emotionally volatile, we’ve stolen food, we’ve prioritized ourselves and our addictions over those we cared about.

Addicts realize that they can’t live sober and comfortably in the world if they are plagued by haunting memories of their own anger, selfishness, resentment, dishonesty, jealousy, and wrongdoing. Getting well means not only putting down the food and the addictive behaviors, but also cleaning up the mistakes and wrongs of the past.

While we know that God knows all of our past sins and He loves us still, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be honest. Is this so we can wallow in guilt and shame over our past wrongs? Absolutely not. But we cannot truly be free if we are not willing to look at the totality of our life and confront the consequences. It is a humbling process. That is the point. While it may not seem pleasant in the journey, the freedom that is experienced following the taking of this step is incomparable.

When it comes to the Fourth Step inventory, the best advice is the simplest: just do it! Many recovering addicts and compulsive overeaters will sidestep, procrastinate, and look the other way, but there is no way to proceed in recovery without crossing this bridge. The great thing is that you are not alone and it will not last forever. Unless of course, you keep starting, stopping, and avoiding, in which case it may last forever. Wouldn’t it just be better to have it over with?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous gives the best outline of how to approach your work. Some groups have detailed and instructional printouts that can help you with Step Four. These are helpful, but the same work may be done in a notebook or in an electronic spreadsheet. Use whatever is most comfortable to you as long as you keep at it.

Start with your resentments. For most addicts this is an easy one. Think of everyone you’ve even been angry at or against whom you hold resentment toward. No resentment or irritation is too small. List their names and every angry memory you can think of. Be specific. The Big Book will then ask you to identify whether this resentment affected your self-esteem, pride, financial security, ambitions, sexual intentions, and whether fear was involved.

The next step is to pray for each individual on your list. You may not feel especially loving or that you really want God to give them all of the good things you would want for yourself. But you will find that even going through the motions has powerful results.

Lastly you are to look at yourself and your part. Where have you exhibited selfishness or dishonesty? How have you been resentful or angry? How have you acted out of fear? You will be surprised how the sins and offenses of the other people often pale when we begin to look at our own. Continue this process for each person on your list.

Accountability is essential. If you intend to get well, by this time you have chosen and begun to work with a sponsor. If sponsors are not available in your area, search the Internet for different Overeater’s Anonymous groups and find out if they have available sponsors. Then talk to him or her about reasonable progress goals. You should not wallow in the process any longer than necessary. Decide how much time you are going to spend on it per day or per week and then set a date by which you will be finished. Step Four is essential to your ongoing sobriety. The amount of time you put into it is a most valuable investment.

There is hope. Remember, no one is expecting you to fix yourself or other people-that’s God’s job. But the addict must be willing to take honest account of the past if he or she expects to enjoy future recovery.

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