The Importance of Quickly Completing a 4th Step in Early Recovery

The Importance of Quickly Completing a 4th Step in Early Recovery

In a previous article, I discussed how understanding that the lack of self-esteem is the core problem that drives people to adopt behaviors (addictions) in a futile attempt to cover up “that empty hole inside,” and how it stands to reason that once folks have developed great self-esteem and self-love that the empty hole will be truly and permanently filled, and the need for any addictions, chemical or otherwise, will be over.

Developing great self-esteem will go a long way to insure a great recovery, but there is another equally or maybe even more vital component that is critical for surviving, relapse free, early recovery. That component is the writing of a 4th Step.

 I have stated that I did not believe that a lack of self-esteem was more accurate than the commonly held belief that allergies to substances were the cause of addictions. Notwithstanding my thoughts on allergies, I am a 100% advocate of the use of the 12 Steps. They are a hugely powerful set of therapeutic tools that serve to clean out the emotional gut of much of the negativity that keep people’s addictions going. It also teaches a set of new habits that will allow for the dissipation and prevention of new negativity. The 4th and 5th Steps, in particular, are very powerful tools to assist the inner mind to let go of past hurts and negative feelings.

How so? The inner mind (sometimes referred to the un- or sub- conscious mind) only knows the present tense. It does not recognize pasts or futures. It only knows complete and incomplete. Therefore, if there was trauma experienced as a child and the inner mind has never had completion or closure, it acts and reacts as if that trauma just happened. The 4th and 5th steps are hugely effective tools that allow the inner mind to put a period at the end of the description of that experience. Once the 5th step is completed, that bit of trauma is now filed in the inner mind as completed action; a historical fact that requires no future attention.

Letting go of all that old negativity produces a sense of relief. From the first day of treatment until the completion of the 5th Step, the only good feelings that a newcomer gets are from being in a group of caring and loving folks (the fellowship) and from accepting, as dogma, the experience, strength and hope shares of the other members. These good feelings that are primarily hitchhiking on other’s good feelings will only last for a while. This honeymoon is time limited. Eventually, all their unresolved inner feelings and turmoil will yearn for the relief that their addiction provided so well. There is an urgency to assist the newcomer to be able to generate their own good feelings before they end that honeymoon. The 5th Step is the first time in recovery where there is a feeling of relief with the accompanying good feelings and a validation of the recovery stories of others. For many years I have been interviewing returning members who had a relapse. The one thing that most, if not all, of them shared was that they never did a 4th and 5th Step.

Popular 12 Step mythology states that a newcomer must do a 4th Step with a sponsor, and that programs cannot work with their clients to get them to write a 4th Step. While it is true that the 5th Step needs to be heard by a trusted third party, usually their sponsors, the 4th Step is just a writing exercise. It is incumbent on programs to insure that their clients/residents finish the 4th/5th Step process quickly for the reasons presented above. My experience is that once a person leaves a program, what usually happens is that sponsors will either have them start working the Steps from the beginning or will not push them to complete the 4th Step. Assuming that they will be in treatment for sixty to ninety days means that it could be four to six months before they finally get around to doing a 5th Step. By then many of them are gone. Having a 4th Step written and in hand when they leave the program, so that they can do 5th Steps immediately thereafter (or even better before they leave) with the sponsor, will up the odds of successful recovery.

For those of you that are new but are not in rehabs and are getting recovery by attending 12 Step meetings and working with a sponsor, all of the above applies to you, maybe even more so. Because you do not have that concentrated support of a structured residential environment, you need to really finish those first 5 Steps quickly. That means you need to take the responsibility for your own recovery and make sure that your sponsor is quickly getting you through to the 5th Step. If he/she isn’t, then go find someone who will. Remember that you are only going to get genuine relief from a lot of the feelings you are carrying once you have finished your 4th and 5th Steps. Remember that until you do this you are getting your good feelings from the group and it is only a matter of time before that will not be enough to carry you through.

©2015, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC

Note: This article first appeared as a column in the Keys to Recovery Newspaper.

©2017, Jason Wittman, MPS

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the “About the Author and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*
Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) is the former Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. ( ) and has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He is an expert on teaching and coaching the “getting-on-living,” self-esteem building and spirituality parts of recovery. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at or 213-804-4408