'So we had to get down to causes and conditions.'
'In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper.'
'Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.'
'If you have already made a decision, and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, you have made a good beginning.'
'it was Dr. Bob’s afternoon off—he had me to the office and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as it was at that time.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')
It is clear from reports of the early days of AA that what was to become the fourth step inventory was a swift and targeted affair. That is how I do inventory. There is no indication that the resentment inventory be exhaustive, only that it be thorough. The word 'all' does not start to crop up until steps six and eight. What I have discovered in my own inventories is that I do not have 1000 resentments; I have between 5 and 20 that repeat over and over, a theme with many variations.
To recover swiftly from alcoholism, a fourth step that takes a year or a fifth step that takes a month of Sundays is counter-productive and misses the point, which is to find the causes and conditions. My inventories have shown me that I have a small and in fact finite number of causes and conditions. Having discovered those, I needn't repeat myself endlessly. Similar, the fifth step is interested in the exact nature of my wrongs, not every wrong I have ever committed. Sure, I might want to share some of the juicier examples of my theft, verbal viciousness, and cowardice, but recounting the gory details of every one advances me spiritually not one jot.
Excessively long step fours are usually tied up in describing other people's wrongs, and the fact that one's own expectations, demands, fears, judgements, and selfish behaviour are identical from situation to situation is entirely missed. Far from elucidating the problem, overlong confessions tend to obscure the wood for the trees.
Here's an analogy: if you have something stuck to your spectacles, everything will look blurred. It takes just a few examples of items that look blurred to identify the cause: the much glued to the lens. Once the cause has been identified, a thousand more examples reveal no new information.
Similarly, a doctor does not test all of your blood, because a sample is sufficient to find the cause.
The only caveat is that secrets are more like cancerous growths: all must be removed for the cancer not to grow further and metastasize, so anything weighing on my mind must be conveyed, albeit swiftly, in a fifth step.
To sum up, my fourth steps have been honest and thorough, and I have not found it necessary to write hundreds of thousands of words or take more than a couple of hours for a step five. The underlying truth has invariably turned out to be very simple.