Step four of Alcoholics Anonymous states that we “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. While a twelve-step program is not the only pathway to continued sobriety, it is crucial that we examine our character defects and acknowledge that we may have played a role in any negative outcomes that we experienced in active substance abuse. That is not to say that we were the only ones to fall short of moral excellence—there very well may have been wrongs done to us. However, for recovery purposes, we must keep our side of the street clean. The wrongs executed by others should not be the focus. This exercise is cathartic and highlights the fact that we are all human; not one of us is perfect. Once we have delved into the darkest facets of our personality and mannerisms, they do not hold as much weight over us, and we are able to move onward and upward.
Alternatively, we are also asked to identify and analyze our assets and abilities. For many of us, this was surprisingly more challenging than looking at our defects. Years of embarrassing antics and social isolation had us convinced that there were no positive aspects of our behavior. Some refer to this phenomenon as “pride in reverse”. This is where we spend so much time degrading ourselves and exhibiting low self-esteem that it carries the same impact as conceit or arrogance. The bottom line is this: we were thinking too much of ourselves and not enough of others. No matter how far we have fallen, we always retain our innate abilities and talents, even if they become hidden by our defects. Remembering and honing our positive moral aspects like integrity, kindness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, etc… allows us to turn the tables and reach great heights. Remembering what we excel in will help us see where we fit into the puzzle of life without our drug of choice to numb existence.
Contemplating both strengths AND weaknesses allows us to view the complete picture. We are not Gods among men (over-confidence), or hopeless derelicts (low self-esteem), but rather somewhere in the middle, with both strengths and weaknesses, but surely capable of making a positive mark on the world. Again, honesty is an important factor here as well. If we do not take an honest look at ourselves and behaviors, recovery is nearly impossible. It will do us no good to profess we have qualities that we do not actually possess. Remember: be honest with yourself, continue to take inventory, and begin to focus on others to watch your life flourish with purpose and meaning!