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Personal Inventory and Why it is a Good Idea Whether you are in AA ( Step 4 ) or Not

Whether you are part of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or not is something of personal choice and there is more than one route to sobriety. As you may know, it wasn’t for me but I did go through most of the steps and from my experience I gained the most value from step 4 and I want to explain why I think it is a good idea for anyone to take a personal inventory (of some kind) and what is required:

For info, Step 4  from the Big Book in the Alcoholics Anonymous program is defined as: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, but from hereon I will use Personal Inventory, but what does this mean?

Taking a personal inventory means taking stock of what makes us who we are by reflecting inwardly and honestly (key point). As humans we have basic natural instincts which drive us and when these instincts are not balanced, we can go off the rails. Personality types, moralistic values and interests are the truths that define you as a person but taking time to understand our raw intrinsic makeup gives us a better understanding of our flaws and thus how to manage them so we need not turn to alcohol.

In Layman’s terms, you are basically having a clean out of your emotions, and it will also serve you well to get thoughts that may be going round in your head out of your mind to free up “hard drive” space. Really understanding how your personal instincts and emotions affect your actions could set you on the road to a happier future.

If you are still unsure, lets use an analogy; If you are a business of some kind selling different products, you have to take inventory of your stock regularly to make sure you clear out old stock and update where required etc. If you do not then the business will likely go bust because whilst they are going through the motions on the outside, in the front of the shop and selling, behind the scenes is in chaos and eventually they will begin to crack and will eventually crumble.

We are no different, we are looking to address our character flaws by fact finding and fact facing.

I have said in my “About me” (My Story) that drinking is the tip of the iceberg and the part that is visible. Within those who have a drinking problem there is usually something emotionally that has happened or is happening to them which puts them off balance and leads them down the wrong path.

The Options: For some people taking a moral inventory of ourselves can take weeks and others can do it in a day and much depends on whether you opt to write a short life story of sorts (see below) or do a list format respectively.

We can ask ourselves questions to help us with inventory such as: Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead?

What I did:

For my personal inventory, I wrote and filled the pages of a whole book with (old school) pen and paper about my life based on the following question with the following topics in mind:

Recall the times in chronological order where you felt fear, anxiety, anger or guilt for the following instincts:

  • Sexual (doesn’t have to be the actual acts and could be feelings or desires)
  • Material Aspect (for example when you have been jealous or felt you deserved better)
  • Social Aspect (i.e. if you were ever left out of the football team or felt lonely)
  • Emotional (any times that made you sad or feel low – links into the others)

From the information I had brought to the paper I then made a list of resentments that I had for people, places or situations that I felt anger or other emotion towards. This is important in the AA circle as resentments are thought to be key to encouraging drinking, something I also agree with. There is more on resentments below.

This exercise took me about a Month, although it could be done in less, and as it is personal, there are some things in there that I wouldn’t want others knowing so it is important that it stays this way. Also, it is important not to justify your actions, for example if you had harmed someone physically or emotionally, by suggesting they deserved it. Its important to write down how the episode made you feel at the time.

WARNING: Doing this can bring back many emotions that you thought had been locked away and you can become quite emotional if you do it correctly. But don’t see this as a negative, in fact it is releasing hidden negative emotions that you have held on to for so long….

You are having an emotional clear out!

Finally, I shared my personal inventory with my Sponsor at the time, whom I trust and although I am not in the program anymore, I still hold him in very high regard.

personal inventory

Another way to take personal inventory:

The important thing is that the information is there in black and white and it could be that you want to do it quicker so to make things easier it is suggested that you could make a table starting with the particular moment (or incident) and four other columns to include resentments, fears, sexual conduct and harm caused to other people.

Incident Resentments Fears Sexual Conduct Harm Caused

As mentioned above, in chapter 5 of the AA Big Book, resentment is mentioned as the most serious of all character flaws for alcoholics. Therefore, time should be spent on this and here is an example of how you could feel any anger towards someone and record the exact reason for the anger:

Jack might always be angry with his wife because she nags him so much and he feels she is having an affair. This hurts his self-esteem, pride, and personal relationship with her.

Resentments are key for anyone wanting to live a happier life, not just someone with a drinking problem, and we need to let go of them because if we don’t we will continue to suffer and find it difficult to build a good life in recovery. It is easier to forgive other people by giving them the benefit of the doubt or understanding that other people can behave poorly because they too may be emotionally distracted perhaps.

What’s next and a word on confidentiality

Once we have taken our personal inventory we should feel a sense of relief, but if you wanted to go one step further, as in step 5 in AA, then we can admit our flaws, or as I prefer to put it, confide in someone our findings. Personally I would definitely recommend doing this too as it helps further get things out, but we should be careful because the information you have written is extremely personal to you and a concern is that this private information could fall into the wrong hands. Therefore:

  • Choose someone with whom you completely trust. In AA this is usually your sponsor but can be anyone you choose. It is advisable not to choose your spouse.
  • Never leave your inventory lying around where anyone can pick it up to read it. It should be kept safe somewhere and hidden from prying eyes.
  • If you use names think about using nicknames or disguise the names of the individuals mentioned, specifically if there are any concerns over the security. This is particularly the case if you have some events that could have legal consequences or be of particularly huge embarrassment.
  • If you use a computer, which I would advise against, use a password that only you know.

 

In summary, doing a personal inventory allows you to draw a line and start a fresh with clean emotions and thus help with sobriety. The philosophy of the 12 Steps views alcoholism as a symptom of a deeper emotional insecurity or problem (or spiritual disease) where the real problem is not alcohol itself but character flaws that need to be faced and addressed. One thing for certain, if you go through this exercise honestly and thoroughly you will have a better chance of continued sobriety, gain more respect for yourself and ultimately, from the changes you make, live a happier life.

 

Take care and feel free to leave me any comments…… Darren

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