Taking Inventory: what it is and why it helps our recovery from sex addiction

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In recovery from sex addiction, many people find it helpful to work through the 12 Steps. One of the cornerstones of 12 Step recovery work is taking inventory. Taking inventory is the essence of Step Four, and shows up again in Step Ten as an ongoing practice.

The Fourth Step is to make “a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.” Many people in recovery groups struggle with this step. In fact, this is such a common scenario that there’s a term for it in recovery circles: “the three step shuffle.” People come into a 12 Step group, work the first three steps, get bogged down with the fourth, and then drop out of the group. Fairly soon they relapse, and come back into a group again, start working the steps again, and drift away before really working the fourth step. Some people do this repeatedly, and so they work the steps like: “123, 123, 123.”

They don’t make progress in recovery, because they don’t get to the heart of the issue: heart transformation.

Making a decision vs Implementing a Decision

The first three steps are about recognizing how great our problem is, and turning to God and the group for help. Step Three states that we: “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” As is often pointed out, making a decision to do something is not the same as actually doing it. Making a decision to build a house is not the same thing as building it.

In Step Three we make a decision to turn our will and lives over to God … but the actual doing of that is the work of steps 4-12. This is why doing the three step shuffle is so pointless. You never get around to actually doing the work that helps you recover.

Step Four is where the hard work begins in recovery. It’s where we strip away the various forms of denial, blame, and self-delusion. It’s where we are forced to face ourselves.

Facing Reality

Psychologist M Scott Peck says that “mental health is the commitment to reality at all costs.” It is the commitment to see life as it really is, to see ourselves as we really are, and to see our relationships as they really are. This is hard to do, because it’s often painful. There are things about ourselves and our relationships that we would rather not have to face.

To the degree that we are unwilling to deal with reality, we move further and further away from mental health. The extreme end of this is someone who is psychotic, completely out of touch with reality. But what about the man who is unwilling to face the reality that his wife is having affairs, and has no interest in him? What about the parent who is unwilling to face the reality of their child’s drug use? What about the woman who constantly criticizes and belittles her children, who thinks she is just “being helpful”?

Mental health is the willingness to face reality, and this takes courage. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3 “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given you.” In other words, don’t think of yourself too highly, or too lowly either. Think of yourself accurately, honestly.

Step Four forces us to do this by asking us to take an inventory of ourselves. As it says in the Big Book, an inventory involves both assets and liabilities, positives and negatives. A fearless and searching moral inventory is not simply a laundry list of the things that are bad about us. It is an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, of our gifts and our challenges.

Sometimes people are held back from taking a Fourth Step because they want to do it perfectly. Remember that the step is to take “a” personal inventory not “the” personal inventory. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You will be doing it again later, when you work through the 12 Steps again. For now, just make a start. Do it as best you can, and give up the idea that you will do it perfectly, or exhaustively.

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