12 Step Spiritual Principles List – Courage – Step Four

12-step-spiritual-principles-list-courage-step-fourOut of all the 12 steps on the Spiritual Principles list, people stumble on this step often lacking the courage to take step four: Made a fearless and searching inventory of ourselves. Writing down all our wrongs realizing that we will have to share them with someone else in step five is quite unappealing. We must be willing to take a hard look at our thoughts and behaviors if we expect to recover. In this post we will explore the importance of courage in recovery, how to apply this principle, and how courage develops in recovery.

Why is Courage Important?

When everything is going your way appearing courageous is easy. It isn’t until we fear something do opportunities to act courageously present themselves. Courage is not the absence of fear, but victory over it.

If you are at spiritual principle and step four, you have already made some courageous steps. So far you have admitted that you have lost control over your addiction, gained perspective that it will take divine intervention to help you recover, and decided to let courage be a driving force in your life. Let’s take a look at the courage shown thus far:

Step One Courage

Admitting we are powerless over alcohol/drugs takes a tremendous act of courage. Nobody wants to admit they can’t do something on their own.

This admission is extremely personal, which makes it harder.  It is easy to admit that you can’t dunk a basketball when you are 5’5. This isn’t courageous. However, to admit you have no control of your inner workings after taking one drink of alcohol is embarrassing.

Take a look at Robert Downey Jr. As reported in Vanity Fair, his neighbor once came home to find him passed out in their 11 year old son’s bed. He obviously did not hold on to that forever. He admitted to something that unseemly, which is the essence of the courage required in step four.  When he took ownership over his addiction, even a competitive industry such as acting gave him another change.  After he recovered, he became the highest paid actor in Hollywood!

Step Two Courage

Reestablishing hope is the essence of step two.  If we fail to believe that our lives can improve, there is really no reason to stop drinking or using drugs. For those that are unaware, step two is when we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Admitting that we are incapable of solving this daunting problem ourselves should be humbling. Though, what does it matter if it helps make our lives infinitely better than they were in our addiction?

Knowing a lot of people in recovery, those that display courage here usually make it through next ten steps thoroughly and quickly. It is when we aren’t willing to accept we can’t do this on our own that I see people struggle.

Personally, I make sure to pray at least once a day. At first, it was because I was told it would help. Once I saw that it did, I continued the practice.

Step Three Courage

Step three’s spiritual principle is Faith. It is much easier to demonstrate courage when God has our back. Most people in recovery come to accept some form of God, or a God of their understanding. Those that don’t often struggle or choose their support group as their higher power. Step three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

This takes immense courage. Even atheists are aware that they are not the center of the universe. Before taking this step we worry that we will lose who we are.  If you really like who you are when using, then you either are not an addict or haven’t experienced enough pain to take step three.

I was not happy with who I was, and I imagine readers who are still in active addiction can relate. If you need examples of how courageous men of faith lived, read about the martyr’s in the book of Acts.

When the Rubber Hits the Road

Step four of a 12 step program is when effort is required. While steps one to three have their place, they require very little “work.” Personally, I like the new version of step four presented in Russel Brand’s book “Recovery.”  It states Write down all the things that are f**king you up or have ever f**ked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out. This is his version of preparing a moral inventory.

I like this because it does not put all the emphasis on the correct way to write out your inventory. A lot of addicts and alcoholics are perfectionists, which makes them stressed out, anxious people.

Perhaps this is a major reason for all the drug use. For me, perfectionism certainly plays a role in my addiction.

As stated previously, eventually we will have to share this moral inventory with someone we trust. Writing down our craziness and having to personally look at how screwed up you really are takes courage.

As a blackout drinker I had to rely on stories that I heard about myself to prepare a lot of my moral inventory. These stories would eventually lead to the requirement to make amends in step nine.

As a result, I delayed this step for years to my own detriment. Instead of getting ahead of my addiction, I continuously relapsed when I arrived at this step. I did not see the value in writing down all my misdeeds; this is especially true when you can’t remember what you did or said nearly every time you drink.

From my experience, I advise that you not worry about what comes next when writing out your fourth step. Tomorrow may never come after all. As with anything, we can only deal with what is right in front of us at any given moment.

While we can and should make tentative plans for the future, they may never come to fruition. So, take the courageous step of putting pen to paper. You can either use the typical Big Book of AA or newer methods. By now, you should have a sponsor that can help when you are stuck.

Cowardice Occurs When You Leave Things Out

Without a doubt, many who say they are finished with step four have left a few things out. The things that you leave out are the real problems preventing your recovery, however. If I had a choice of hearing ten pages on all the things you are embarrassed about, or a few sentences of things you swore to take to your grave, which do you think I’d want to hear?

I can tell you that letting go of the information in those few sentences will do more for your recovery than the ten pages combined.

We are able to fill those ten pages with words about how terrible we are, but we hold back on the real feeling, actions, or whatever that are truly holding us back.

These are the things that will keep you drinking; these are the things that in your heart of hearts you wish every day that you could undo. Well, you can’t undo them, but you can FACE THEM. Remember, those things are not the real you, they are just things that happened or  atrocious thoughts you had.

Every person has skeletons in their closet. Luckily, in recovery, we get the chance to actually identify the things that keep us from living happy, joyous, and free. Once step four and five are completed, the road ahead becomes much easier. Remember, you don’t have to make the decision of who you are going to share your inventory with until after completing this step. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Let the dead bury their dead.

Other Implications of Courage

Courage will be a big part of your life in recovery. It is often said that the only thing you need to change is everything. The first thing I thought when I heard this was, “NO, I just need to stop drinking.” I believed that was my only problem.

I had to admit that may attempts at sustained sobriety had failed in the past. When things began to get good for me, I used alcohol as a celebration tool. Contrarily, if things were going poorly for a week, I convinced myself I deserved a “break.”

It takes no courage to constantly look for escape in drugs and alcohol. We may believe we are solving our problems, and it might seem so in the moment, but we are really just piling new ones on top. The opposite is quitting, seeking assistance, and helping others. A few reasons why recovery takes courage:

  • Mistakes of the past will have to be rectified. This will often be a humbling experience resulting in many amends.
  • Because recovery in not an event, but an ongoing process, there will be challenges to face throughout the remainder of our lives.
  • In the early days of sobriety, drugs and alcohol can look like the quickest solution, so it will take courage to use our recovery toolbox to avoid falling back into that trap.
  • We are forced to use our given talents and abilities to our utmost ability. No longer can we hide behind being a drunk or addict.

Inspire Others Through Courage

I tried my best to hide the fact that I had a problem for as long as I could remember. I never wanted to hear anything about my drinking or my behavior because it was usually all bad. I finally had to accept my problems and face them. This was what gave me the idea for this site.

Starting a website like this and putting my picture on it was difficult for me at first.  At first, I thought I should just help people anonymously and not even use my first name. However, that would deny my truth that I am an alcoholic, have no business drinking, and have experienced and learned a lot.

It would be selfish and cowardly of me to hide behind a pen name or some fake picture. I enjoy sharing my experience, strength, and hope in a forum such as this more than talking in meetings.

Everyone is different, but any addict can help someone with the same problem.
Please leave your thoughts about courage, stories about courage in recovery, or something of the like in the comment section below.

Please share this post if it has helped or will help others.




  1. There can be no doubt that Step Four of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program is where the action is! However that action can’t be truthful, engaging, and of much use without the first 3 steps being taken quite seriously.

    I’ve been around for over 30 years and didn’t find AA until I was in my 40s. There’s two things I am sure of

    1. People are diluting the AA message by changing the message and making it a business opportunity with selling books with their own versions and connecting it to AA……

    2. When step four is taken as seriously as possible (which becomes more serious over time) it is the step that serves to actually continue character growth throughout a lifetime. Without a thorough examination in step four, step 11 is not very powerful.

    This is really a great website with a lot of really great articles. Thanks

    • You make some great points here Mike.  AA is anonymous for a reason.  It isn’t an opportunity to push other products if you believe that AA is truly the solution.  I think there can be many different solutions, but they are revolve around the tenants of admitting we have a problem, clearing away the wreckage, and helping others.

      You are very correct that step 11 is just nonsense if we didn’t put any work into a thorough examination in step 4.  He is aware that we haven’t admitted our most glaring defects to another person in step 4.  He would probably forgive us if we admitted them to Him, but there is a reason confession, for example, was created.  It helps us let go and move forward.

  2. Great site! As a mother of a recovering heroin addict, COURAGE is so vital. My son turned to drugs when he couldn’t deal with what life threw at him. No matter what. He would say, “it takes me away for awhile.” and I would say, “But life is still there when the high is gone.” Recovery is an ongoing process. He will always be an addict whether using or not. But it took courage to admit himself to rehab. He has been clean now and we can only pray it continues. This time seems different than the last. He voluntarily chose to go to rehab!

    • Thank you for your comment Mary.  I’m very happy that your son voluntarily checked himself into rehab.  The success rate is much higher when it feels like it is the addict’s decision.  Too often, people check in to get others off their back or as a result of a court case.

      When we addicts take a hard look at ourselves in a brief period of sobriety (a day or so), we either decide to make a change or immediately search for the bottle, pills, or whatever.  This is the impasse where support helps tremendously.  But it is important to distinguish between enabling and helping before acting.

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