On the television show, “Seinfeld,” George Costanza’s father celebrates a strange self-styled holiday called Festivus. Among other things, it involves an aluminum pole, a “feats of strength” wrestling match, and the “airing of grievances.”
Frank Costanza stands at the head of the Festivus table and announces, “I got a lot of problems with you people. And now you’re gonna hear about it!” His airing of grievances is his way of acknowledging the people in his life and how they have pissed him off.
Step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous is a little like this, but instead of you complaining about others, you recognize the grievances they may have with you. Step 4 is an inventory of the harm you have done, and the people you have hurt. Step 4 is so complex, in fact, that there are numerous worksheets available online to help you keep track of the damage you have done.
Broken down into four sections (or six sections, depending on the source you use), Step 4 requires a little paperwork to be done. The first worksheet requires you to identify all of the people and institutions for whom you hold resentments, and why. Another worksheet asks you to list your fears, how they have affected you, and whether they were warranted. The third worksheet asks you to describe your conduct during your drinking years and your shortcomings, and the fourth worksheet is a list of who you have harmed.
People can spend an awful long time on Step 4, and rightfully so. This is a step that I have done in my mind, but never on paper. I know I have destroyed marriages, stolen, cheated, disappointed, and outright physically damaged people and property – but it’s a lot easier to deal with if it’s not put on paper. Perhaps someday when I am feeling particularly brave I will sit down, think back over my life, and write out these lists – but they will be awfully long.