Step Five

This step is genuinely therapeutic. “Confession” (not an AA term) was one of the six steps in the Oxford Group, one of the sources from which AA sprang. It is to be found in some form in most every religion since ancient times. There is some kind of essential mystical property in the act of opening up completely to another human being.

There is a sense of initiating the cleansing process in Step Five. You have undoubtedly heard that your sickness cannot be removed completely until your deepest secret is purged. This is absolutely true!

In conjunction with your Step Four, this bringing in of another person makes a lot of sense. You have done your very best to write out acts, thoughts and emotions which will need to be corrected and which will help to identify your defects of character. You have done the very best you could.

Nevertheless, only the most achieved human can see himself in total objective truth. The keys to your behavior, often so obscure to you, will seem to jump out to the attention of your Fifth Step partner, especially if he has heard a Fifth before with others. So, a major benefit is the feedback that will help you as you proceed to later steps.

With whom? You have heard of AAs who select a total stranger to hear their fifth. This might satisfy the first reason above for the step. However, it deprives the one taking the step of the response that is so vital to growth. Moreover, it makes sense to take this step with your sponsor or a person to whom you will turn for guidance in the future. When they are informed by the step and future discussions, they can help you see your patterns and provide the continuity that is necessary for unlearning old habits and initiating new (and healthy) ones.

The best approach is to select your partner, at least on a conditional basis, before you begin your Step Four in earnest. They may have definite ideas as to what they want to see when you take your Fifth.

Needless to say, you will want more than concern, experience and wisdom from your partner. He or she must be absolutely trustworthy. Not a single episode from your revelation should ever leave their lips. One of the best ways of evaluating the ability of your partner to preserve private information is to listen as they talk about others. Do they engage in gossip? Do they reveal things about others you wouldn’t want revealed about yourself?

When? It makes little sense to have an inventory riding around in your pocket. Once you’ve selected your partner, make an appointment and go to it.

Preparation. The Big Book is clear that once you have finished your Step Four writing, you are to review your lists, analyze what they mean, and learn something from what you have written. Your analysis will be augmented in Step Five, but you should not leave all the thinking up to your guide.

Resentments: Most alcoholics have a deep – almost pathological – sense of justice. If we are wronged (meaning often that we did not get what we wanted), or even conjure up the notion that we might have been wronged, we find full justification to express anger or harbor resentment. So, we waste our God-given lives judging and punishing our fellows.

Relinquishing a justified resentment is one of the most difficult experiences known to the alcoholic. Yet, it must be done! There is striking evidence that resentment creates a physical poison in our bodies, in addition to the mental and spiritual maladies it feeds.

And, how do we rid ourselves of resentments? Hopefully, this process began in Step Four. Our list holds the key.

The first lesson is that resentments cannot be cleared up until we know we have them and why. The second lesson is that we have made ourselves vulnerable to the outside world to an extraordinary extent. Our entire self-concept has been molded by the opinions and actions of others and our old thinking as to what we ought to be and were.

Next, it is necessary to be willing to let go of the resentment. Moreover – and the Big Book doesn’t give as much help here as it might – we must forgive the person we resent. Just accept right now that you are going to have to do it! There is no other course.

Fears: For most of us, fear is the underlying cause of resentments, greed and negative behavior with others. Can you see how fear has driven your life?

Harms: Finally, the harm you have done others, whether relating to sex or not, needs to be thought through. Why did you do what you did?

Conduct of your Fifth will be guided by your partner, who will be delighted that you have not brought the great American novel, and that you have followed the tried and true formula in the Big Book (as modified, perhaps by their prior direction).

They will usually ask you to read your Fourth to them. Much valuable communication will be provided by your expressions and voice in addition to your words. If they take notes, which is rare, they will give them to you before you leave. They are yours. This step takes anywhere from two to eight hours. Schedule enough time, especially in recognition that many partners will combine steps Five, Six, Seven and Eight in one sitting.

At the end of your Step Five you should know which character defects apply to you. These are the things we become willing to have removed from us in Step Six. Please notice that unreasonable judges, nagging partners, dictatorial bosses, stupid drivers, overdrawn checking accounts, falling hair and warts are not on the list.

Writing. For once, there is no writing you need to do in advance of Step Five other than your inventory. Note, though, that at the conclusion of your presentation be sure that you have at least three pieces of paper to take home with you:

  1. The first will be a list of your defects of character. This list will guide Steps Six and Seven.
  2. You should also have a preliminary list of persons you have harmed for Step Eight. This will be a combination of the sexual injury and persons you have harmed lists from Step Four.
  3. Retrieve a list of the names of the persons you still resent. You will probably find it necessary to forgive them in order for the resentment to be removed.

Promises. We have a whole page on promises related to Step Nine, but we can’t resist repeating here what AA members are promised in the Big Book at the completion of a successful Step Five:

“Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing,

  1. We are delighted.
  2. We can look the world in the eye.
  3. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease.
  4. Our fears fall from us.
  5. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.
  6. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience.
  7. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly.
  8. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”

The ultimate key given you in the Big Book is the oft-repeated notion that your life is now on a different basis. A basis is a foundation – that upon which all the rest stands. Your new basis is trusting and relying upon God.

Adapted and reprinted by kind permission of the authors, the Big Book Bunch group.

About the Authors

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.