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Step Five of AA’s Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step Program is essential to the fundamental change of personality required to overcome an alcohol and/or drug addiction. In its simplest form, the fifth step is basically a confession of personal wrongdoings and the beginnings of your spiritual housecleaning.
Although in step four we admitted the exact nature of our wrongs, the process of clearing away the wreckage of the past will not be completed until we have shared those wrongs with another person in step five. Including a well-chosen person to be part of this healing process helps us to become aware of our own self-delusion, where we have not been totally honest and where there are patterns of destructive thoughts and behaviors.
Sometimes painful but always rewarding, the incredible emotional and mental relief you will feel (coupled with profound personal insight) makes the fifth step a valuable exercise. Successful completion of step 5 marks a return to sanity, and a much clearer recognition of who and what we are.
It wasn’t until we admitted our addiction to ourselves and surrendered to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous that we were able to stop using or drinking. The same holds true with the admission that we make in the fifth step. Until honestly share and understand the exact nature of our wrongs we are not likely to have the willingness or the ability to choose another way of living.
I can remember doing my fifth step for the first time. It seemed so strange to sit down with another human being and tell them about my character defects, secrets, and bad behaviors or share about how I had hurt people. With my stomach in knots, sweating, emotional and stammering through my words I managed to complete it in just a few hours, and afterwards, I felt amazing!
So take a deep breathe, say a prayer, pocket your pride and illuminate every twist of character and every dark cranny of your past. In revealing your most distressing memories to another person—most likely your sponsor- be as honest as possible with that person, looking at who you are, and who you would like to become. Be vulnerable and don’t hold back. Sharing our inventory with another person who can listen with compassion gives us an opportunity to free our minds and our hearts and then be open to receive unconditional love. Yep, you heard me, no matter what you’ve “done” you wont be judged or shamed.
While working step five the repetition of the same type of situation and patterns of behavior reveals itself quite obviously! We begin to focus attention on what is behind the patterns of our addiction and the reasons we act out in the ways that we do. This is a great point in recovery when we can start calling these patterns of behavior “character defects.” Destructive behaviors usually reflect underlying character defects, which is the engine that drives most of our off-the-wall actions.
This very effectively leads us into step six & seven when we began an in-depth examination of how each one of our defects plays a role in keeping us sick and then ask God (or your HP) to remove them, every single one.
Why should you do a fifth step? In case the above wasn’t enough reasons, you should do it because there are certain damaging memories or beliefs that can only live in the dark, and shining a light on them can banish them for good.
An alcoholic leads a double life worthy of an Oscar award most of the time. More so than most people, the alcoholic is an actor who presents the character to the outside world that they want others to see. After completing step five of AA we no longer have to do this. Once we have completed this step we are able to look the world in the eye, let our fears fall away and feel at perfect peace and ease… “on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”
But don’t just take it from me. Check out what the “ Big Book” of AA Alcoholics Anonymous says about working step five:
“We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.”
– A.A. Big Book, p. 72-73
If you’ve been thinking about doing your fifth step of AA and perhaps putting it off, keep in mind that laying it all out there on the table provides a great opportunity to finally let all your stuff go. You get to flush out the cobwebs of your past that keep you stuck.
Here are some questions to help guide and prepare you before and after doing Step Five:
Your drastic self-appraisal is done. Congrats! You’ve taken an action to sweep away the debris that accumulated while living a life run on self-will. Get ready to expect the unexpected. After living in fear of the other shoe dropping for so long, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that what begins in pain ends in serenity. This is the interesting paradox of recovery.
You’ll probably feel for the first time that you are able to acknowledge that you are OK just as you are right at this moment. By accepting yourself as you are today, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop striving for improvement, you will now be free to go further in life than you ever have before.
In my experience, the true magic is that all of our relationships begin to change as a result of working the fifth step, not just with ourselves and other people, but also with a higher power- whatever that might be for you.
With each step we take in the program of AA we deepen our real practical commitment to the program and to recovery. Getting a sponsor, working the steps, finding a home group, having a commitment and going to meetings… each one of these very simple actions keeps us on a path of freedom and new way of living.
Go For It!