Step Five

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

Dear Fellow Travelers,

A. Step Five Essay
B. Addendum - To the Sponsor

A. Step Five Essay

"We have admitted certain defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory. Now these are about to be cast out. This requires action on our part, which, when completed, will mean that we have admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our defects. This brings us to the Fifth Step in the program of recovery." (AABB, page 72)


If we have completed our fourth step, we are probably eager to get Step Five behind us. We have dredged up all manner of resentments, guilts, and shame associated with our past behaviors and actions and find ourselves at last in a position to start putting some of these things behind us. Our emotions are raw and we have an instinctive understanding that doing our fifth will help alleviate our pain. Having written all these things down, we have probably pretty well admitted to ourselves where our problems lie, but just to be sure, we go back through our fourth step inventory and acknowledge these things to ourselves once again. Many of us have found it helpful to find a quiet place to be alone during this process so that we can also admit these things to our Higher Power as we understand it at the same time as we are admitting them to ourselves.


This, of course, leaves us with the more difficult and more momentous task of admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to another human being. This begs the question of "why" we should subject ourselves to this often uncomfortable process. The Big Book puts it most succinctly "If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome compulsive overeating." Although we have made a good beginning by taking our inventory, we have not learned enough of humility, fearlessness, and honesty until we have shared these things with another person. It's easy, when looking through our fourth steps, to still rationalize or minimize our pasts, but there is something to sitting with one of our fellows and discussing these wrongs that can't be accomplished by the fourth step alone.

Most of us have memories of certain events in our lives of which we are most ashamed or embarrassed and have spent many agonizing moments over the fear that someone may discover these things about us. This keeps us in constant anxiety, stress and fear that our secrets may be found out and thus we remain in the kind of turmoil that leads to continued compulsive overeating. When we finally confess these things to another person, a most remarkable thing happens - they still accept us for who we are! This acceptance is often the key to our once again learning how to have trust in our fellow man, to feel good about ourselves, and to know that we have a place in this world despite our pasts.

If we need more "why's" for doing this step, there are the promises associated with them. "Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the eating problem has disappeared will often come strongly." (AABB, page 75)


When the Big Book was published in 1939, there was not yet in existence the more formalized approach to sponsorship as there is today. It was suggested that if we belong to a religion that requires confession, that we seek out the proper clergy for doing our fifth step, and that even if we don't, that meeting with someone in an established religious denomination would be of benefit. It goes on to suggest though, that if we are unable or unwilling to seek out a religious entity, that we search out a friend, an acquaintance we can trust to keep our confidences, a doctor or a psychologist, or even a family member as long as what we disclose won't harm them in any way.

Today, although by no means a requirement, it has become standard practice to do our Step Five with our sponsors. The second most common recipient for this process is usually a therapist. What is of primary consideration in this selection of who we do this step with is the trustworthiness of the individual, their ability to stifle judgement, and their understanding of how essential our doing this is to our own recovery. An added advantage of using your sponsor is that if they have helped us along with our fourth step, then we have probably already shared certain parts of our Step Five with them.


The first instruction in the fifth step is that we explain to our partner exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it. We should impress upon them that this is a life and death matter for us. Then we prepare ourselves for a long talk.

Many of us begin by sharing our Step Fours with our sponsor as we have written them. We are told to "illuminate every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past... withholding nothing." Since we are looking to discuss the "exact nature" of these wrongs, we need to talk about WHY we did the things that we did. We need to explore or try to understand what it is that's in us that caused us to behave or react the way we did. What was driving us? Was it jealousies? Fear? Insecurity? What was at the root of these problems? What were our motives?

It is of paramount importance that we hold nothing back, that we allow ourselves to be totally honest with ALL of our deep, hidden secrets. To not do so is risking death from our disease.


We find a quiet place for an hour, we thank our Higher Power for getting us through our fifth step, for getting to know our Higher Power on a deeper level, in fact, this is what happened, and we carefully read the first five steps of our program, making sure we have omitted nothing, that all of the steps we have taken have been to the utmost of our ability. Perfection is unrealistic, just being sure we've done the best we can is what is important.

B. Addendum - To the Sponsor

This matter of receiving a Step Five from our sponsee is infinitely grave so I would like to address a few things in this regard. I must say first of all though that what I express here is my opinion and my opinion only. They do not represent OA or TRG as a whole. Take what you can use and leave the rest. Although some of my opinions here are based loosely on the Big Book and the OA 12x12, I've also pulled them from other books on 12-step sponsorship and a few web sites devoted to the same, plus drawn from my own experiences as both a sponsor and a sponsee.

I will list here some of the things that I consider important. I'm sure there are others that I will miss, but these meant enough to me that I felt compelled to write this addendum. Please remember that your sponsee is going through something extremely difficult and possibly world shattering to them and your support is absolutely essential.

1. Establish expectations of your behavior with your sponsee before beginning:

Find out from your sponsee at the start whether they prefer you remain silent until they have finished or if they'd prefer that you interrupt from time to time with comments or questions. It is so very important for this to be talked about before you begin. Without doing so, your sponsee is likely to misunderstand and will project the worse. If they were hoping for comments and you were silent out of respect, they may think it's you avoiding actual discussion with them. Or, if they were expecting silence and you keep interjecting, they may feel you aren't really listening. Talk about these things up front.

2. Help establish the setting:

You are the experienced one in these matters. Help your sponsee choose an appropriate place and time for doing the 5th, keeping in mind the importance of finding a place where interruptions and distractions will be minimal and that it is conducive to lessening anxiety.

3. Insure sponsee is ready:

Establish that the sponsee has already gone through their 4th in an effort to admit to themselves and to their Higher Power those things they are getting ready to discuss with you. If they haven't, then encourage them to do so and set another appointment to continue the fifth step.

4. Help put sponsee at ease:

Your input can be one of the most powerful ways to encourage your sponsee. They may be very shamed by some of the things they are telling you and if you have had similar experiences, you should let them know this, answering questions they may have in regard to it. However, although we are to be open to this process, do not allow your own story to take up a large part of this time that is devoted to your sponsee. Don't "trade" stories, but let your sponsee know, when possible, that they aren't alone in these experiences. At the same time, don't negate the impact of what they tell you by saying "no big deal, we've all done that." They are telling you their deepest and darkest secrets and these have weighed heavily on them for a long time. Don't discount the impact by being too "casual" about what they are saying.

5. Lead your sponsee:

If your sponsee seems stuck on a particular issue because of their shame or guilt, then it is sometimes helpful to share one of your own most terrible secrets. This often encourages the sponsee to become more open and less fearful about your reaction.

6. Listen for what you sponsee doesn't say:

Keep mental notes on areas that may be neglected. Sometimes it will just be the nervousness of your sponsee, but sometimes it may be that they need some encouragement. Maybe they gave you their entire 5th but never mentioned having ever told a lie? Or they never mentioned sex? These questions will be appropriate to ask towards the end of their 5th, but don't ask them during because it may cause them to feel you are launching an inquisition.

7. Make sure that YOU are capable of listening without passing judgment:

Of all things, I feel this one is the most important. You need to know, without knowing the specific details, that you can listen and empathize without passing judgment, no matter WHAT your sponsee tells you. Are there areas where you can't do this? Can you imagine anything that your sponsee might tell you that would horrify you or alienate you to the point that it would effect your ability to listen to their 5th? For instance, if you were abused as a child, will you be able to listen to the details of a person who may have abused her own children? If so, you need to step aside and have someone else do this with them instead. It is possible, if you know about such issues ahead of time, that you discuss them with your own sponsor first and take their advice on whether or not you are ready to give yourself as a recipient to someone's fifth step.

8. Closure:

Be sure and leave time enough for a little small talk at the end so they will know they are still part of the human race and acceptable to you. Never just up and leave someone with their emotional guts hanging out. If you are going to participate in the opening of their guts, then be kind enough to help them sew them back up before you leave. Remind your sponsee about the hour of quiet reflection that should take place afterwards.



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