“We admitted to God, to ourselves,
and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Now that we have completed our written inventory, it is essential that we share it promptly. The sooner we work our Fifth Step, the stronger the foundation of our recovery will be. We’ve built this foundation on spiritual principles such as surrender, honesty, trust, faith, willingness, and courage; with each step forward in our recovery, we strengthen our commitment to these principles. We reaffirm our commitment to recovery by immediately working Step Five.
Despite our desire to recover, we may find that we’re feeling frightened at this point. This fear is only natural. After all, we’re about to confront the exact nature of our wrongs, candidly admitting our secrets to God, to ourselves, and to another human being. If we allow our feelings of shame or our fears of change and rejection to stop our progress, our problems will only be compounded. If we stop moving forward in our recovery, if we cease making every possible effort to recover, we will have given in to the disease of addiction.
We must overcome our fear and work the Fifth Step if we are to make any significant changes in the way we live. We gather our courage and go on. We may call our sponsor for reassurance. Usually, a reminder that we don’t have to face our feelings alone makes all the difference in easing our fears. Working this step with the support of our sponsor and a loving God is a way of putting into practice our decision to allow God to care for our will and our lives. That decision, like most decisions we make, must be followed with action. Following our Third Step decision with the action of the Fourth and Fifth Steps will lead to a closer relationship with our Higher Power.
Our understanding of the spiritual principles we have practiced in the first four steps will be enhanced by working the Fifth Step. We experience honesty by making an admission, just as we did in Step One, but we experience it on a deeper level. The admission we are about to make to ourselves in Step Five is especially important. Not only do we open up and tell the truth about ourselves, we also hear this admission from our own lips, breaking the pattern of denial that has plagued us for so long. We find new levels of honesty, especially self-honesty, when we squarely face the results of our addiction and see the reality of our lives. The risks we take in this step increase our trust in God and nourish the faith and hope we first experienced in Step Two. We take our willingness a step further, thereby renewing the decision we made in Step Three. We draw on the courage we acquired in Step Four and find that we are far more brave than we ever dreamed possible. This bravery is demonstrated not by our lack of fear but by the action we take in spite of our fear. We set a time to share our inventory, then we show up and share at the scheduled time.
Another action which requires courage is our admission to ourselves. We need to focus particular attention on this aspect of the Fifth Step. If we don’t, we may find the benefits we derive from this step are not as meaningful as they could have been. As our Basic Text states, “Step Five is not simply a reading of Step Four.” We want to make sure we are acknowledging and accepting the exact nature of our wrongs. We can even formalize this admission to ourselves if we think it will help. However, the manner in which we make this admission to ourselves is not as important as the action itself.
We gain a new understanding of the principle of humility as we work this step. We’ve most likely been under the impression that we were somehow bigger or more visible than other people. Through working the Fifth Step, we find that few of our actions deserve exaggerated attention. Through our self-disclosure, we feel connected with humanity, perhaps for the first time in our lives.
As we share our most personal feelings and our most carefully guarded secrets, we may experience anguish. However, many of us have looked up and seen unconditional love in the eyes of the person hearing our Fifth Step. The feelings of acceptance and belonging we experienced at that moment helped us to feel a part of the program.
The knowledge that we are about to face feelings we have long avoided may cause a rise in our anxiety level, but we go on, encouraged by our sponsor to trust the God of our understanding. The first thing we must realize is that the Fifth Step is not a quick fix for a painful situation. If we work this step expecting our feelings to go away, we are expecting the steps to numb us the way drugs did. We review our first four steps and see that their purpose is to awaken our spirits, not deaden our feelings. We will need support and understanding to cope with our feelings. If we choose an understanding individual to make our admissions to, we will have all the support we need.
Although there is no requirement that the listener must be our sponsor, most of us choose to share our inventory with him or her. By doing so, we are most likely to benefit from the full range of experience another recovering addict has to share. After all, who can better understand what we are attempting than those who have done it for themselves? Addicts more experienced in recovery than we are will already have dealt with the matters we are just beginning to face. Such people can share with us their experience and the solutions they have found through working this step. The bond we share with our sponsor will strengthen our connection with the program and increase our sense of belonging.
The person who listens to our Fifth Step should be someone who understands the process of recovery we are involved in and someone who is willing to help us through it. We have found that an ideal listener will have enough compassion to honor our feelings, enough integrity to respect our confidences, and enough insight to help us keep the exact nature of our wrongs within our field of vision. Knowing that we are sharing our inventory, she or he will help us to avoid getting sidetracked by blaming others for the things we’ve written about in our Fourth Step.
Although we know we are going to derive meaningful benefits from working this step, we may still need to take a moment to reaffirm our surrender and the decision we made in the Third Step. We can ask a Power greater than ourselves for the honesty, courage, and willingness to work this step. To invite God into this process, we may want to say a prayer. The prayer can be anything that reaffirms our commitment to recovery. Praying with the person hearing our Fifth Step can be a profoundly intimate experience.
Not only do we pray to ask for strength and courage, many of us also ask our Higher Power to listen as we make our admission. Why is it so important that we also make our admission to God? Because this is a spiritual program, and our whole purpose is to awaken spiritually. Our willingness to approach our Higher Power openly with our past and who we are is central to our recovery. In the past, some of us felt that we weren’t worthy of a relationship with God. Our secrets blocked our ability to feel any acceptance or love from that Power. When we reveal something about ourselves, we draw closer to our Higher Power and experience the unconditional love and acceptance which springs from that Power. The feeling that the God of our understanding accepts us, no matter what we’ve done, enhances our acceptance of ourselves. The positive relationship we are building with a Higher Power carries over into our relationships with others as well.
We may be surprised by the intensity of the partnership we are developing with our sponsor as we share our inventory. If we’ve never really been listened to before, we may be startled to discover that we are being asked questions about some fine point of our personal history or that our sponsor is jotting down notes while we share. Our self-esteem increases as we realize that what we have to share is worth such close attention. We may see deep compassion in our listener’s eyes, showing us that our pain is understood. That compassion is one more assurance of the presence of a Power greater than ourselves.
Looking at and sharing the exact nature of our wrongs is not likely to be a comfortable activity. We have looked back and seen how repeating the same patterns over and over again has kept us stuck in the same place. And we haven’t just seen the surface behavior; we’ve seen the defects of character that have been behind our behavior all along. We start to realize that there is a difference between our actions and the exact nature of our wrongs. For instance, we may see example after example of situations where we lied in a vain attempt to make everyone like us. But those examples aren’t the nature of our wrongs. The nature of these wrongs is the dishonesty and manipulation we were demonstrating each time we lied. If we look beyond the dishonesty and manipulation, we’ll most likely find that we were afraid no one would like us if we told the truth.
As we share our inventory, our sponsor will sometimes share some of his or her own experience with us. Our sponsor may cry with us or smile in recognition at some of the struggles we are now sharing. We may laugh together as we share some of the more comical aspects of our addiction and the ridiculous lies we told ourselves so that we could continue to live as we were living. As we see how similar our feelings are to our sponsor’s feelings, we realize that there are other people like us. We’re human beings, nothing more, nothing less. Our self-obsession blinded us to this, making us feel unique. Suddenly we understand that other people, too, have painful problems and that ours are no more significant than anyone else’s. Healing can take place when we see a glimpse of ourselves in the eyes of another. We find humility in that moment and a reason to hope that the serenity and peace we have been striving for are within our reach at last.
Our feelings of alienation fade as we experience an emotional connection with another human being. We are allowing someone entry to those places we’ve never before opened to another person. This may be the first time we’ve ever trusted another person enough to tell her or him about ourselves and allow that person to get to know us. We may be surprised at the closeness that develops between us and our sponsor. We’re developing a give-and-take relationship based on equality and mutual respect, the kind that can last for a lifetime.
After working our Fifth Step, we may feel a little raw or emotionally vulnerable. We’ve taken a major step in the healing process of recovery. This process could be thought of as “surgery of the spirit.” We’ve opened up old wounds. We’ve exposed our most carefully constructed lies for the deceptions they were, and we’ve told ourselves some painful truths. We’ve dropped our masks in the presence of another person.
At this point, we may experience a dangerous urge to run from our new awareness and return to the familiar misery of the past. We may feel tempted to avoid our sponsor because he or she knows all about us now. It is very important that we resist such impulses. We must talk with other recovering addicts about our fears and feelings so we can hear the experience they have to share. We’ll find that what we’re going through is not unique and feel relieved when others tell us they went through the very same struggles after they worked their Fifth Step.
Our awareness of our patterns of relating with others and the risk we have just taken in admitting them to another bring about a momentous breakthrough in our relationships. Not only do we form a close bond with our sponsor, but the risk we take in trusting this person will help us develop close relationships with others as well. We’ve risked trusting one person with our secrets and our feelings, and we haven’t been rejected. We begin to have the freedom to trust others. Not only do we find out that others are trustworthy and deserve our friendship, we find that we are also trustworthy and deserving. We may have thought we were incapable of loving or being loved or ever having friends. We discover that these beliefs were unfounded. We learn, from the example of our sponsor, how to be a more caring friend.
Our relationships begin to change after this step, including the one we have with the God of our understanding. Throughout the process of the Fifth Step, we turned to that Power when we were fearful, and we received the courage we needed to complete the step. Our belief and our faith grew as a result. Because of this, we’re willing to put more of ourselves into building a relationship with God. Just like any other relationship, the one we develop with our Higher Power calls for openness and trust on our part. When we share our most personal thoughts and feelings with our Higher Power, letting down our walls and admitting we are less than perfect, intimacy develops. We develop a certainty that our Higher Power is always with us and that we are being cared for.
The process we have undertaken so far has made us aware of the exact nature of our wrongs. The exact nature of those wrongs is our character defects. We now know that the patterns of our lives were rooted in dishonesty, fear, selfishness, and many other defects of character. We’ve seen the whole spectrum of our defects and are ready for something new. With this readiness, we move on to Step Six.