Preparing a Sex Inventory

Completing a sexual inventory can be uncomfortable. Do you want to complete one? I was always tempted to keep it general and say something like, “This really isn’t my field of expertise.” Or, “My grandmother always told me it was impolite to speak of such things.” Or “The modern woman does not kiss and tell.” This did not fly with my sponsor. Instead, I was encouraged to be as specific as possible.

Oddly enough as I started really giving my sexual inventory my full attention, I realized that my family system had taught me some pretty weird things about sex. I had received some very strange messages and I needed to unpack them in order to understand my own sexual history.

Here is one example of weird sex stuff in my family of origin. In my late teens my father took a job managing properties for a local bank. One day I went into the branch near our house to make a deposit and my father happened to be there. This was unusual. He worked in some big warehouse in the Northside of town where the bank kept all manner of things banks need to keep buildings up and running. I waved at my dad who was sitting behind a glass partition with a woman. I got in line. I knew the teller from high school; he was a couple years older than me. We caught up on his life, I got my deposit and went about my day.

At dinner that night I could feel that my dad was “off”. I felt nervous. I pushed my food around my plate and waited for the proverbial shoe to drop. Soon, he stared at me. He chewed his food. He asked me to explain myself to the family. I had no idea what he was talking about. A wily and inveterate liar at this point in my life, it was hard to keep up the storyline that was designed to keep my father from knowing too much about me. I had no clue what exactly he had found out or how to escape his gaze.

He started, “I saw you at the bank today.”

I replied, “Yes, I saw you too. That was weird you being at the branch. What were you doing?”

“Don’t try to avoid the subject, this isn’t about me. It’s about you.” To make a long, traumatic and in some ways boring story short - he accused me of flirting with “his employee” and acting like a slut.

At the time I just shrugged and told my brothers, “Dad is a wackadoodle.” I did not understand how all these accusatory sexual innuendos were inappropriate and harmful to me. It made me feel awkward around guys and self-conscious. If my friend hadn’t been in a teller’s box surrounded by a nice glass window I’m not sure I would have had the courage to speak to him, much less flirt! As an adult, I know it was simply a polite conversation. As an unhealthy teen living in an unhealthy family, I wondered - am I slut?

It is possible that as you think back on your own sexual inventory, you may have some thoughts, feelings, or curious questions about your own sexual history. Write it all down! If it isn’t helpful for your Fourth Step, your sponsor will tell you. But you may find some interesting backstories that will have your therapist intrigued!

Preparing a Fear Inventory

If you want to do a fear inventory, here are the questions to complete:

1. Who is the person or object of fear (or anxiety)?

2. What happened to trigger the fear (list specific event/s)?

3. How did this affect me? What do I think this event cost me?

4. How did I react?What shortcomings were revealed?


1. I am afraid of my father

2. He changes jobs often and I am afraid we will lose our home; he cheats on my mother and I

am afraid he will leave us and we will not have any money; he has a hot temper and I am

afraid he will do something that will land him in jail and again, we will be without provision.

3. Get a job when I am 15 and have to lie to various people to juggle the job and my school responsibilities; I try not to eat to see if I can manage on less; I worry obsessively about getting a scholarship for college so I over-volunteer, etc. to the point of exhaustion and begin to isolate from friends and fun.

4. I do not ask adults for help. I do not check to see if my fears are even valid. As a result, I lose

that first job. I feel as if I cannot provide for myself or my brothers. Again, my pride, pessimism, insecurity, evasiveness show up as shortcomings.

In ALL our inventories, do not second guess your feelings or your version of the story. Just write write write. A sponsor and/or therapist can help you sort through all the details!

A Meditation Moment

Whew! We’ve been dealing with some tough topics! Today, find your breath! Go for a walk. Walk mindfully. Pay attention to your feet hitting the ground, notice the world around you. Listen to your breathing. Notice colors, sounds, smells. Walk leisurely. When you find your mind wandering, take a deep breath to reset, pause for a few beats, and then continue your stroll.

Which emotions do you avoid?

If you are working through your emotional inventory and as you consider your emotional inventory - do you notice any emotions missing? Can you find instances of too much anxiety, not enough joy? It is common for us to limit the full range of our emotional capacity when we are not healthy. Is this true for you?

1. Make a list of your primary emotions.

2. Make a list of emotions that you have neglected, repressed, ignored.

3. Have any of your emotions become shortcomings? Which ones?

If this exercise does not interest you, that’s okay. Plenty of days I choose to just blame my bad mood on my husband and completely ignore my own personal responsibility. Okay, okay, that’s a little joke. But in all seriousness, are you taking the time you need to really consider your emotional range?

Please try, spouses everywhere will thank you!! And, if you aren’t in a romantic relationship, a little self-reflection will along way in friendships and work relationships and everywhere else!

Healing our shortcomings

In yesterday’s study you may have noticed that there were some emotions on the list - anger, fear, etc. To clarify, an emotion is not a shortcoming. All of our emotions are value neutral. They are simply indicator lights that tell our body, mind and heart that something is up with us. All emotions serve the purpose of helping us pay attention - which is a good thing, even a sacred thing. But they become a shortcoming when we habitually over-rely on them. When we ask anger to give us energy because we are depressed, that is over-using the emotion. If we use fear to give us an excuse to never do hard things, that is over-using the emotion.

For example, I can feel anger when my neighbor kicks my dog. I can feel fear and horror when my neighbor poisons my dog. These emotions fit the event. But if my neighbor wore a blue shirt when he kicked my dog and I witnessed it and now I am afraid of blue shirts - that is a trauma response - not a shortcoming or defect of character. It serves as a warning light. My fear of blue shirts teaches me that I need to go visit a counselor who understands trauma and can help me lean into and heal from this event. However, if I do not heed the warning light in a responsible manner, and instead throw out all my blue shirts and demand that everyone else in my life stop wearing blue shirts too - now, that’s a shortcoming. I am harming myself and others because now I am trying to avoid feeling fear by hating on blue shirts. My over-reliance on my emotions is a shortcoming. When I ask my emotions to serve purposes for which they were not intended to serve - act as facts, drive my decision-making, give me energy or the power to disconnect or the ability to judge others to make myself feel better about myself - my emotions have become a shortcoming due to over-use or improper use. Remember: These shortcomings do not need to be judged; they need to be healed!

Learning our own shortcomings

As our patterns emerge, our discomfort will increase. These patterns carry within them hints of our defects of character and shortcomings. Defects of character are part of humanity - even God’s heroes and heroines of faith had their own sets of shortcomings. A shortcoming is a character trait that continues to cause harm to self and/or others. Character defects are not behaviors like over-eating, under-eating, drinking and drugging or workaholism. Our ‘bad behaving’ is a symptom of these traits, not the trait itself.

Here is a long list of possible shortcomings. In the days ahead refer back to this list if you need help figuring out your own habitual shortcomings.




































Pessimism D





























Living in the future




Whew! That’s a long list! You may want to transfer it into your journal for future use. If you aren’t working through a fourth step but are a kind and decent person who is patiently reading through the blog anyway, bless you. You may want to take a peek and see if any of these traits ring any bells for you too!

Patterned Interactions: Part II

Many people do not like taking an aggressive stance toward others. This second group is sociable and turns to others for reassurance and support. They would not be comfortable moving ‘against’ people or withdrawing from people. They are a collaborative bunch and lean into relationships.

They study the reactions of others because they have a strong need for acceptance. They lose their own perspective and forget the consequences for their own future in the pursuit of the approval of others.

Internally they are insecure and get stuck in a cycle of feelings of insecurity and neediness. They undervalue themselves and avoid self-reflection. This need for affirmation can cause them to lose sight of their inner value to live responsibly and value others. One word description? Ambivalent. Another descriptor? Dependent. Don’t let this word confuse you - they are not needy or weak in the classical sense of the word. Sometimes they are downright feisty. But what they are deeply committed to is looking outside themselves for confirmation that their ideas are not stupid and that they are not crazy.

Learning to understand coping strategies

As a child, one of the early lifelong strengths that emerged for me was a love for reading and a lot of curiosity for learning. I distinctly remember a time in elementary school when I went PAINFULLY and LABORIOUSLY over the storyline of a particular book I was reading during the family meal. No one was interested in the book or my elaborate summary. They began to call me a bookworm and tease me about the number of books I would read - per day! Ok, I probably was over the top enthusiastic.

In contrast, I could listen to my children and grandchildren ramble on FOREVER about a variety of topics. Am I always interested in PAW Patrol, socialism or the distinct tones a particular kind of walnut creates in a guitar? Do I care about amortization charts or where the University of Virginia is seeded in the NCAA Tournament? Not particularly. But people I love care about these things and my recovery has given me the gift of loving what others love as an expression of caring.

What I care about is my husband, friends, family, kids and grandkids. I study them for the pure pleasure of seeing who they are and catching glimpses of how God made them. The world will not be as fascinated by them as I am - and that’s natural too. In healthy families everyone gets a turn being heard, especially in a world that is busier shouting than listening.

When our personhood is routinely diminished or ignored, this hurts our soul. We thrive in a world that is loving and curious; we wilt under the scrutiny of belittling or neglect. We react by developing coping strategies. We perhaps set aside or hide our passions, whether it is for reading or music or physical action and adventure, in favor of acting in ways that gets us what we crave - approval, esteem, validation and security. Next up on our inventory? Ferreting out some of the habitual patterns we have developed as coping strategies!

Once you’ve made your complete inventory of emotions related to memories, go back and do two things: 1. Write a brief statement about what triggered the emotion and 2. Write down your reaction. This may take a while, no worries, plug away!

Secrets keep us sick

Have you ever been told that you shouldn’t feel a certain way?

As a child I had preferences, feelings and even an opinion or two. This is exactly how children should live in the world - with curiosity and ideas of their own. These ideas often upset the apple cart of our compromised family system. Experts agree that in family systems that are in survival mode, upsets of any kind that do not fit with the family dysfunction are frowned upon.

As a young child I asked questions about my father’s long absences. I began to have nightmares and intruding thoughts about my dad dying or getting arrested. I had no facts to back up my fears but my questions were not being addressed so I made up a story in my head that made sense to a five year old. Where do daddies go? Maybe they die or maybe they get taken away against their will. I could not imagine a world where daddies left because they got a better offer.

In response to these questions and suggested scenarios, I cannot remember the specific response of my mother but I do remember an understanding developing - stop talking, stop asking, stop making stuff up. I stopped asking questions. I stopped asking for help with my fears and anxieties. I stopped trusting that if I asked for help, I would receive it. I felt ashamed and guilty and maybe just a touch of shame for not being “normal”. I thought the problem This became a pattern of coping for me that worked until it didn’t.

One saying we hear in meetings all the time is this: We are as sick as our secrets. This is a decent saying. Excavating our secret fears and frustrations that we buried so long ago can be challenging - we have worked long and hard for many years to not deal with problems we lacked the skills to address. Now we can begin that work.

Where do we begin? One place to start is to grab a blank journal and begin cataloguing all your feelings in chronological order. What was your first feeling? Work your way through your memories and pretty soon, you might notice a pattern to your emotional memories.

Learn to confront a wide range of emotions

One pattern to watch out for in families that struggle with Substance Use Disorder is the distinctive but predictable ways some families think about emotions. Emotions are considered shameful. Usually the range of acceptable emotions is limited. Some families do not nurture the wide range of feelings available to humans; instead they are locked into a small subset of emotions that reflect the addictive family system’s limited worldview. This can happen for a variety of reasons. We are doing the best we can! But it is an issue that may need our attention.

When a child is frightened by the loud voices of angry adults, it is normal and appropriate for them to cry. But in a family where emotions are considered wrong or bad or weak, this vulnerable kid will be told, “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about!” OR “Only babies cry. Stop being a baby!” The chaos, conflict and generalized neglect of self-care, relationships, and finances in families shaken to the core by addiction is something that is worthy of shedding tears over - for each family member, including the children. But this raw honest expression of sorrow may not be allowed. This problem is NOT limited to families with addiction issues. All sorts of families, doing their best but lacking healthy ways of being in the world, also struggle with emotional sobriety.

If we have a feeling that tries to express itself in a suffering family but we lack tools to deal with it, we might feel shame and guilt. If we haven’t been taught how to use tools to express and resolve our emotions and we have access to a limited range of emotions, is it any wonder that when we come to our Fourth Step we will struggle to process our resentments, fears, and even the joy we feel when we acknowledge our strengths? Step Four allows us to open up the can of worms and peek inside - only to find out that the rumors about emotions and their danger to the family has been greatly exaggerated. As we proceed we will learn and reinforce processing and taking responsibility for our emotions.

One of my survival skills as a kid was avoiding conflict. Conflict in my family was scary and could get out of hand. I learned to skirt around topics that might cause arguments; I preferred to lie than to tell the truth about anything that might spark my father’s anger or my mother’s criticism. This survival skill helped when I was young but it lost its usefulness as I matured. I needed to put that strategy down and pick up more effective skills for building strong and vibrant relationships.

Today my son and I walked down by the James River. It was brisk but sunny and wild with whipping waves and overflowing water covering many of the big rocks in the middle of the river that we enjoy sitting on during the summer months. We talked politics. He shared freely his political perspective and I learned a lot. I am so grateful to have a conversation with my son about a topic that would require me to process ideas that were new and sometimes even a bit strange to me. I know my boy for who he is; he does not have to hide parts of himself from me; he knows me in this same way. We have boundaries and privacy, as is appropriate, but there is no need to keep secrets for fear of rejection or raging conflict. In my family of origin, we did not have the skills to allow others the space to be themselves. This is one of the gifts that Twelve Step work can bring into our lives. Now - onto the first part of the inventory!

Taking an inventory is less scary when we remember who God is

In deference to living and working an honest program, I have a confession to make. I did not grow up in a home where honesty was practiced or rewarded. For most of my growing up years I lied when it was easier to tell the truth. It was a habit. It was a safety measure in light of my family system. Partly it was fantasy living. Mostly it was trying to read the room and figure out what others expected from me and then giving the people what they wanted.

Today I understand that this was my attempt to win approval, avoid punishment and seek positive attention - but I did not understand it then. My adult self has compassion for the little girl who felt like she had to perform like a circus clown to get anyone’s attention. It was a terrible habit that turned into a character defect and although it worked fine at home, out in the real world most people prefer to relate to people they can trust.

When I turned my life over to God, I was ill-equipped to deal with the truth. I expected God to be either apathetic or downright hostile towards me. I still struggle to maintain a more accurate view of God and his love for me. My first Fourth Step reflected my lack of understanding of God’s love for me. Undergirding all my efforts to become a more honest human has required me to increase my conscious contact with who God is, not who I imagined him to be, as I looked for him in my father. I use scriptures to teach me that I can trust this God, which has turned out to be a better guide than what I heard from the pulpit in my grandparent’s church or the speculations of others who often tried to convince me that I needed to be afraid and perform for God.

You may also struggle with this, so before we get into the weeds of Step Four - here is a reminder of who God is....

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

~ 1 John 4:9-10, The Message

Sin - living independently of God, only a problem in that living independently of God is not healthy focus.

God - not as worried about how we live as he is about the effects of how we have lived and our relationship with him, ourselves and others. God is not worried about his reputation; he is not asking us to be good so that he feels better. He is focused on the object of his love - us - and is deeply committed to healing our wounds.

Keep this in mind, we might just need this kind of support going forward. And, FYI, as you are building a team to support your work, make sure it is people who don’t practice shame or blame or are judgy McJudgsters. However, they do need to be people who can not only hear the truth, but can speak it too.

Healing starts with honest self-reflection

An inventory is when we basically take stock of our life. This means everything, not just the problem that got our attention. Inventories are done thoroughly when we include EVERYTHING on the list. This includes the positive and the negative, and later on I will make it easy for you to complete one with instructions so thorough it will make your head spin. I have yet to meet a person who does a particularly decent job listing the positive traits about themselves AND no one gets all giddy over the possibility of inventorying their fears, resentments and sexual history. Despite our collective reluctance, the list needs to be as complete and honest as we can bear.

A couple came to Northstar Community (a recovery church I co-pastor) looking for help for the wife’s drinking. He thought she had a problem, she did not agree with his assessment. During our conversation I asked the husband about his drinking habits. I do this to assess what we’re working with when we meet a family. He said, “I have one drink a night.” Sounds reasonable.

I replied, “Would it be possible for the two of you to go alcohol and drug free for thirty days? This will help us establish a bit of a baseline for whether or not there is a problem with alcohol in your family, especially since the two of you are not in agreement about the severity of the issue.” They agreed.

Within twelve hours the wife was in detox; after another twelve hours, her husband joined her. It turns out that his single vodka per night was poured into super-sized Yeti cooler. He was pounding the vodka but was technically accurate when he said he had “one drink” per night. Figuring this out saved him from detoxing in an unsafe manner. It helped the treatment team treat the real problem, not just the identified patient in the family (his wife).

When you do this inventory, problems will emerge. That’s reality. But because this is a spiritual program, we can trust that it is not a harsh reality intended to shame and blame. It is a pathway to healing. The more honesty you can muster, the better the support available to you will be because your team will be better informed.

If you are interested in taking this step, begin today by building a team of folks who can support your work. You need more details about how to build this amazing support group? Give Scott or Teresa a shout out! ( or

New Strategies for Future Challenges

We are all hot messes. It is hard to examine ourselves. This may not be your first rodeo with recovery and Step Four. That’s okay - you are not alone. I have a friend who was working, by all accounts, a decent program. Her mother died unexpectedly in a car accident. On the day of her mother’s funeral, she had a slip up and drank at her mother’s memorial service. She feels like a failure.

Of course she does. But what we are learning in recovery is that our feelings are not always fact. Her friends empathize with how lousy she feels AND they remind her that she did not lose all her clean time because she had one slip. She feels a lot of shame - and we can all relate to that! But using on this particularly difficult day without a support network around her to navigate the funeral and after party? That does not make her a failure. And it does not negate her recovery efforts. It does, however, make her vulnerable if she doesn’t jump right back on the recovery train.

Perhaps you are not a person in recovery from Substance Use Disorder. Maybe you cannot relate to her struggles. Take a few breaths and re-evaluate your situation. How many times have you promised yourself ‘A’ only to live ‘B’. Maybe your blood work indicates you are headed on a direct path toward diabetes and you know that you MUST change your way of eating. After your son’s birthday bash. After the holidays. Or your marriage is kind of a mess and you know you SHOULD go get some help, but who to go to? And it’s expensive! And time consuming!! So there we have it - we are all far more alike than different.

Early recovery and initial efforts to change feel bad and are hard to sustain. It is easy to think that this means life is bad. It’s hard work but helpful to remember that this bad feeling may be just a blip on the road to an otherwise abundant life. A slip that is rapidly followed up by a return to recovery or new ways of living can help a person and their support team figure out how to tweak their program for more effectiveness. In the case above, my friend has decided that she will no longer attend high stress, heavy drinking family functions without a recovery buddy. She will go early and leave early. She has new strategies for future challenges, even those that are not as traumatic as her mom’s funeral.

We need to "find our way back home"

If turning our life and will over to the care and control of God “fixed stuff” we wouldn’t need a Fourth Step. We would also see a statistical difference in divorce rates, fewer problems with Substance Use Disorder in Christian families, and a host of other problems people face daily. Folks who are faithful believers should, in theory, have fewer problems than those who do not profess a faith in God. But we do not see statistical differences. Faithful people struggle with the same issues at approximately the same rate as folks who spend Sundays cutting grass and watching sports on television.

In trying to explain this, a few gurus and experts have resorted to blame. They talk about how people at church are struggling because they do not pray right, they have never really accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, they have unconfessed sin, etc. etc. etc. But, what if it is actually more complicated than that? What if blame is not the answer?

Maybe our humanity lends itself to control issues, forgetfulness of our divine image-bearing capacity, and confusion about what it means to turn our life over. This is certainly true for the men and women we read about in the scriptures. Why wouldn’t it also be true for us? Look at Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of God’s righteous people. They are, every one of them, a cast of characters with spotty resumes and plenty of bad behaving.

Maybe there are those among us who simply have been selfish and self-seeking and need a good strong kick in the spiritual pants. However, this has not been my experience with people. I find that most people do not ruthlessly and wantonly try to screw up their lives by making poor choices. Underneath every story that appears to be about callous indifference to others is usually a wounded animal fighting to survive. Often this wounded soul has been traumatized in some way. There is much here to be both merciful and gracious about.

Wounded or not, when we do screw up our lives, behave ruthlessly, wantonly disregard the needs and wants of others, lie, cheat and steal...we need to change all that. We need to figure out how to turn around and find our way back home. Home base for humans includes the capacity to behave with empathy and compassion, to regard others’ needs and wants as well as our own, to know and live by the truth, to live honorably. To love well. In a few studies we will start that process.

Accurately assessing ourselves creates peace

There is absolutely, hands down, no better way to make peace with myself and others than to take stock of myself and see, really see, who I am and how my personhood impacts those around me. This is an essential part of a fresh start.

Imagine you are transferring the ownership of your life to God in the same way you would transfer ownership of a business. One of the first things you would do in negotiating to sell a business would be to take an inventory to discover the damaged or out-of-date goods that are no longer salable.

In Step Four we call it a “moral” inventory because we compile a list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest moral values. We also inventory our “good” traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life’s moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self- defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults.

- Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

Another person in recovery talked about his own Step 4 inventory when he said, “The inventory is the first thing I do in conscious partnership with God. And that’s why prayer is so important in the process. It is not something I’m going to figure out when I’m preoccupied with and deconstruct it and analyze it...all those things I’ve tried to do [on my own] and came out disastrously wrong.”

An inventory is how we STEP UP. But we can only do so when we have leaned into this sure-footed understanding that God is not out to get us. Tomorrow, we will look more closely at the process itself.

The Truth about Ourselves

But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth.  But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.
~ Romans 1, The Message



In the recovery world we have this marvelous process summed up best in the fourth and fifth steps:


4.  We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  AND

5.  Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.


These two steps help us deal with the most valuable truth of all - the truth about ourselves.  Yesterday I proffered an example of confused truth - using God’s word as a weapon to get what we want (no divorce) rather than as a surgeon’s scalpel in the hands of the Holy Spirit to perform heart surgery (on us not another).  I love how specific the steps are and I have born witness to the healing power of telling the whole unvarnished truth about ourselves to God, self and another trusted listener. Sometimes we get wrapped around the axle of what we want versus what we know.  The steps and God’s word help us refocus but neither can make us care enough to actually change our behavior. Nevertheless, there’s more:  


What happened was this:  People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.  They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.


~ Romans 1 The Message


Let’s get real.  Are there any cheap figurines you have clutched in your hands for dear life?  They are not life.