4th Step Turnarounds

What about "Turnarounds" and doing a long 4th step?


The "Turnarounds" were invented by some AA members in Massachusetts in the late 80's. It's often a 6-12 month 4th step section where a person writes about a paragraph on page 67. Many great and highly respected AA's have had favorable experiences doing  9-12 month long 4th steps. These members are to be commended for strong sponsorship and thoroughness. Many who complete this process seem to have benefited. Anyone who feels their Higher Power would have them do it and wants to, should do it.  I know a great guy who recently finished a four year 4th step doing most of that work writing out "Turnarounds". However, "Turnarounds" and immense volumes of writing can be presented to the newcomer as if the Big Book says to do it that way and that's just not the whole story. 

Clearly, there is no historical references that we can find to anything called "Turnarounds" from the founders or pioneers of AA. (See Origins of AA's 4th Step Moral Inventory)  It is not mentioned in the Big Book text at any point. There doesn't appear to be any Big Book stories that talk about turnarounds when describing their step work. None of the original members talk about turnarounds, at least not that we can find.  Bill  and Tom Powers didn't mention it when they wrote the 12 & 12. Dr. Bob didn't have Ed Webster put it in the Little Red Book. We can't find turnarounds mentioned in any of the old group step guides and pamphlets.  Maybe it's there but we can't find it. It first shows up in 80's in Massachusetts. 

The founders and Pioneers were trying to get people through the steps, all of the steps, as quickly as possible. They knew that newcomers were resistant and that they had to strike while the iron was hot. "Till the black soil of hopelessness" as Silkworth said. Having a new drunk write out a lengthy fourth step was probably the last thing they would have suggested. If someone has been through the steps, is sober, and wants to do a year long 4th step, then that is great, but it seems dangerous and untrue to tell a still suffering alcoholic that the Big Book says to do it that way. Dr. Bob would have only taken 15 or 2o people through the steps if he did it that way, instead of 5000. 



1st edition Big Book text search.

pg 67. The 4th Column instructions for listing our HARMS: 

"Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the
wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our
own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest,
self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not
been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other
person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The
inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw
our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in
black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and
were willing to set these matters straight."


Some have spent years writing "Turnarounds" based on the above paragraph. This paragraph is talking about "Harms". We can list who we harmed here, particularly to those we held resentments for. Realizing that "decision based on self later placed us in a position to be hurt" by those people and they retaliated. This makes perfect sense if using a commercial inventory such as the Assets and Liabilities List that the Founders were using. We just did resentments, now we do harms. Our part. Our wrongs. Our faults. Our side of the street. We see quickly where self will was blocking us from God.  Unfortunately, the authors don't specifically say "Now. List the harms you have done." They say exactly that later on 70 and 76.

If it takes more than a few hours to do then it's probably going to to be too much for most new drunks to take in. The 4th and 5th step is our chance to help a person see where self will is blocking them from a spiritual experience. We have to start where they are at. What they can digest. This isn't psychotherapy. This paragraph may be one of the most misinterpreted paragraphs in the Big Book. Filling notebooks with detailed accounts of "Where was I selfish, dishonest, self seeking and frightened?" for each resentment might be a long but worthwhile endeavor as long as a person isn't told that's what it says to do in the Big Book. They should know that it is entirely optional and not part of any inventory the original members did. If they are properly informed then they can do what their Higher Power would have them do. 

Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self seeking and frightened is referring to a simple check mark or note we put down when we see our fault. The assets and liabilities list includes these shortcomings and makes perfect sense out of this paragraph. It allows us to go through all of theses things in a deep an meaningful way; in a short period of time.  Long winded inventories were frowned upon as "Grandiose". They wanted people to stop being self centered not spend a long time beating themselves up writing out their faults everyday, month after month. This would be considered a self centered "dry drunk" behavior by some AA old timers. "Put the bat away." as the saying goes. "Ok. I see it. I'm selfish! My dishonesty broke my wife's heart and ruined my career and it was mostly due to my drinking!" Boom. Mission accomplished. Move on.


When the Big Book was being written, AA's were drifting away from Oxford Group tools such as the Four Absolutes. Selfish, Dishonest, Anger and Fear were used on the Assets and Liabilities list opposite of the Four Absolutes.  Since it was a resentment inventory it is likely the authors just substituted "self seeking" for anger or resentment. Later, in the 1oth step inventory they again appear in proper order. This way a sponsor and sponsee can very concisely list the people that were harmed and the exact nature of that harm (selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, fear, self seeking) can be easily seen and discussed.

Pg 84
"Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear."
Pg 76
"Where was I selfish, dishonest, self seeking and frightened?"

 Notice resentment replaces self seeking in the 10th step inventory. This may be because they didn't want to be redundant on the resentment inventory and ask "Where had we been "resentful" since it was already the resentment inventory. 

No founder or pioneer ever reported writing all of these things out for a year that we can find. Most accounts detail a very simple inventory showing how selfish we are and then on to helping others, the mainstay of the program of action. Long AA 4th step inventories could be worthwhile but newcomers should be aware that it's not what the Big Book authors did or intended for others to do. They made sure the program was so simple that even a drunk off the streets could do it!


This is an Assets and Liabilities list drawing from the lists that AA's Founders used and incorporating the Word of Mouth Program. This style 4th Step is done together. The sponsor writes and asks questions listed and the newcomer shares. "The healing is in the sharing." -Clarence S.

This is a 3 Column 4th Step that follows the instructions "as laid out" in the Big Book. It precisely follows the instructions and is quite simple to do. 



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