Step 5: The Easy Part

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

If you read the previous post on Step Four, you know that it can be very manageable and simple to do.

But truly, Step Five is the easy part. Now, it may not feel so easy if this is your first Step Five, or if you have something about which you feel horrified, guilt-ridden, or ashamed.

I can only tell you about my experience, but the very worst, most difficult things I ever had to address in Steps Four and Five were not even actions, but thoughts! This was during one of my first Fourth Steps, decades before I was in DA. The thoughts disturbed me so much that I put them on the Fear sheet, knowing that if I didn’t confess them, the increasing pain of keeping them a secret could have driven me back to my drug of choice (food, in this case).

Admitting to Our Higher Power and Ourselves

Once my inventory was complete, I realized that writing it all down was the admission of the exact nature of my wrongs to my Higher Power and to myself! There was no other action I had to take on that front if I had been rigorously honest in completing my inventory.

There was no turning back … thank God. Well, there was no turning back if I expected to be released from the hold my thoughts had on me as well as the guilt, shame, and remorse I experienced over my part in resentments, fears, sexual behavior, etc. As the Big Book says on page 59, “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery…” And here I was, in the middle of Step Five.

Just Do It!

So all that was left was to admit these wrongs to another person. How terrifying, right? Even if I trusted the other person, my horror about these thoughts, alone, made me hyperventilate at the idea of saying them out loud to another human being. In your case, it may be some action you have to confess that causes you bone-chilling angst.

If I can give you one suggestion, it is not to delay giving away your Fourth Step. Trust me when I tell you that whatever is freaking you out in your Fourth Step will only grow larger, hairier, toothier, and meaner the longer you wait. Find someone immediately and get it over with! I actually schedule my Fifth Step before I’ve completed the Fourth. This has two benefits:

  • I now have a deadline to complete the Fourth Step, so I have to stop postponing finishing it.
  • I won’t procrastinate giving it away and therefore keep myself stuck spiritually.

When the time came to reveal my secret, I stuttered and stumbled and stalled for minutes, dancing around actually saying it out loud to the sponsor who was taking my Fifth Step. I was nearly in tears and completely freaked out!

But once I finally spit it out, the sponsor just laughed. It turned out she had had similar thoughts! That was an amazing moment.

Aside from the startling revelation that I’m not unique, my healing from this was to recognize that thoughts are not actions. And, as in the movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” when disturbing thoughts come, I don’t “romance” them. I treat them as I do my drugs of choice, food, money, and alcohol. I walk side-by-side with them knowing they have no power over me if I don’t indulge them … and if I continue working my program one day at a time.

Confession is Good for the Soul

For you, it may be some action you have taken, rather than your thoughts, that brings you to your knees in Step Five. But whatever it is, please don’t let that stop you from proceeding.

In nearly 30 years working multiple 12 Step programs, I have never come across a single person who did not feel a profound sense of relief and experience tremendous spiritual growth as a result of completing Steps Four and Five.

Not to minimize whatever harm you may have caused, but unless you have dismembered people for fun, in which case, you will need far more than a Fourth and Fifth Step to help you, once you have said your wrongs out loud, you will realize how your mind has blown them up far bigger than they actually were. In some cases, you will find that the grudge you have held for so long simply dissolves along with the words that evaporate after you speak about it.

How a Fifth Step is Conducted

Each sponsor conducts a Fifth Step differently. I find it best to just roll with whatever method the sponsor asks you to follow. Here are three ways I have given away my Fifth Step:

  • One sponsor only wanted to hear my part (“what I have done to contribute to the problem”) and nothing about the issues that led to my behavior. Maybe that was to keep the step squarely focused on my actions so it didn’t disintegrate into a pity blame party.
  • Most sponsors wanted to hear each item across (who, what happened, how it affects me, my part, etc.).
  • And still another sponsor asked me to read each column down to help me see patterns in behaviors. For instance, if I get angry over the same types of incidents over and over or discover that fear is the overriding result of my resentments, then it quickly clarifies where to focus my Sixth and Seventh Step work.

Benefit to Sponsor and Sponsee

Taking a Fifth Step is an opportunity for sponsors to practice unconditional love and to listen without judgement. I’ve never had a sponsor judge or diminish me during this process.

Further, as a sponsor who has taken many Fifth Steps over the years, I have discovered that plenty of others in our fellowship have done or thought exactly, or close to, the same terrible things as me!

So that is another benefit of this step — to see that we are not unique. Revealing the darkest side of ourselves to God, ourselves, and another human being, is one a way we gain humility, which is essential to our ongoing recovery and spiritual growth.

As the 12 & 12 says on page 70 in Step Seven:

Nearly all AA’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality [humility] than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.


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