Step Five

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


Before I dig into Step 5, I am suggesting an assignment. The Step 4 lists tend to be filled with the nasty, icky things that were hiding in the back of our minds, things that were festering and causing shame and guilt and embarrassment.

Right now ≠ stop what youíre doing and make a list of all your GOOD characteristics and assets. List things like "I helped (so and so) by doing (thus and such)." "I show I am a good friend by doing (thus and such)." "I show I try my hardest to do the right thing when I do (this or that)." The idea is to get a counterbalance to the Step 4 ickiness. No, it doesnít say this in any AA literature (although I think thereís something about being aware when weíre becoming too self-flagellating or loathing or maudlin or depressed); but my sponsor keeps telling me to make sure I stay aware daily of my positive attributes and behaviors. I think itís pretty important.


A "Dialog"


No, no, no, no, no. You have GOT to be kidding. I made a list of all my resentments and fears and angers and the things about the world that really ticked me off. I went back to the very beginning of my life and I wrote down some of the really sleazy things I did, like stealing food (or money to get food) or lying through my teeth to avoid getting into trouble (i.e., taking responsibility), or being really nasty to my high school music teacher because he didnít think I was Godís gift to opera singing, or hanging on to resentments because they defined my life, or behaving atrociously to so many people because I thought they were stepping on my toes, or treating myself like a piece of garbage (when I wasnít eating out of the garbage pail) because I truly believed that I didnít deserve any better. I wrote about all those times when I tried to purchase friendship by doing favors for people ≠ and how painful it was when I got stepped on myself in the process. I wrote about sexual issues and financial issues and social issues. I mean, I really laid myself bare and open.

And now Iím expected to tell someone about this? Are you out of your mind? Bad enough I had to go through the sordid list by myself.


Um, yes, thatís exactly it.

"(O.A.) experience has taught us we cannot live alone with our pressing problems and the character defects which cause or aggravate them. If we have swept the searchlight of Step Four back and forth over our careers, and it has revealed in stark relief those experiences weíd rather not remember, if we have come to know how wrong thinking and action have hurt us and others, then the need to quit living by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday gets more urgent than ever. We have to talk to somebody about them." ("Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., p. 55)


Hmmm. How come I canít just "tell" God and let it go at that? I mean, I already told *myself.*


Telling Godís essential, but itís just not enough to do the miracle work.

Penny (whining):


Sponsor (gently):

Because we are creatures of denial, and as compulsive eaters, we tend to want to take the easier/softer way. Telling something (even as powerful as Higher Power) that canít really give us direct feedback isnít going to help us. Iím sensing that youíre thinking that telling your nasty business to another person will be the ultimate humiliation and youíre afraid to feel humiliated. Am I on target?

Penny (sighing):


And now back to our originally scheduled program:

Step 5 is NOT about humiliating myself or being humiliated by another person. Itís not about "humiliation;" itís about *humanity.* Step 5 is not about opening myself to criticism; God knows, I had plenty of that in Step 4.


A side bar: Weíre going to talk more about humility in Step 7, but I think itís appropriate here to mention the difference between humility and humiliation.

Humiliation is "to reduce to a lower position in one's own eyes or others' eyes: MORTIFY." [Mortify: "to subject to severe and vexing embarrassment."]

Humility: the sense of "modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful." Another definition I heard in OA: humility is being open to being taught and to be aware of the dignity of our selves in relationship to others and to HP.

We are NOT opening up to another person, God and ourselves in order to be beaten into a spiritual and moral pulp. We are NOT doing this to subject ourselves to shame and embarrassment.

We ARE opening up to another person, God and ourselves in order to be aware of the dignity of our selves in relationship to others and to HP " to continue the process of letting go of the fears and attitudes that keep us from our relationship to God, ourselves and others.


Step 5 is about opening myself to a different perspective on some of the things Iíve done. Itís about realizing that I can discern repeated patterns of thought and action that I thought were self-protective devices but now suspect that were learned responses that have brought me more harm than good.

Telling someone my darkest fears and secrets ≠ things that Iíve kept buried in my soul for many, many years " things that I have eaten over because of the painful shame, guilt and embarrassment I have felt ≠ gives me a chance to put them into some really healing sunlight.

Telling another person is going to give me the chance to realize that Iím not the first and Iím not the worst. Itís going to give me the chance to begin to forgive myself and maybe realize that the things I thought were worthy of a long stay in the moral equivalent of Sing Sing really arenít that bad.

What exactly are "the exact nature of my wrongs?"

"The exact nature of our wrongs" is what we did and to whom and what out-of-whack/out-of-control instincts in us caused us to think the way we did and to act the way we did. What resentments did I hold and against whom and why? What fears plague me and what parts of my self are involved in my fears?

I donít get loosey-goosey; I tell the truth, the whole truth " and I tell it fast. I donít skimp on my faults even though my denial/defense mechanism will definitely want me to leave out the more sordid things.

With whom should I work Step 5?

This is a good question. I worked with my sponsor(s). I know some OAís who have asked a trusted clergy person or a trusted health-care professional or a trusted counselor or elder. I know some OAís who have "given away" their inventories during times of religious confessional. I believe we should NOT work Step 5 with a close relative (i.e., spouse, partner, child, sister, etc.), ESPECIALLY if those people are mentioned anywhere in our inventory. Our job here is to clean our house, not wreck someone elseís.

My sponsor already understood the purpose of hearing "the exact nature of my wrongs;" I imagine that if I had used another person, I would have had to explain the point of the exercise: to use that person as a sounding board and a witness to my work. If I used a religious professional from my own faith community, I might have told that person that this work is the equivalent of the first step in my own religionís process of repentance.

Above all, the person needs to completely understand his/her role: NOT to act as therapist or sympathetic ear or "oh, dear, no ≠ you shouldnít feel that way" kind of thing. The person who will receive the 5th Step needs to be quiet, perhaps ask questions to clarify or understand and to ≠ most of all ≠ assure you that everything you say will be held in complete confidence.

If you believe that the person you might choose is NOT able to keep your confidence, you need to find someone else ≠ thatís all there is to it.

What you might expect afterwards:

Well, I felt totally at peace and like a boulder had been removed from my shoulders. Someone knew my deepest, darkest secrets and still wanted my phone number. I had a new perspective on a lifetime of predictable behaviors stemming from repeated attitudes and thoughts. My most repeated comment during my Step 5 work with my sponsor(s) was, "Oh ≠ thatís what that was all about " thatís why I was doing (or why I always did) this or that thing." I truly felt the loving presence of my Higher Power. God heard me ≠ and still loves me " someone else heard me ≠ and still thinks I have value. This is very cool.

A last word or two:

Step 5 continues the work we began in Step 1. Weíre able to work this step with all its fear-inducing possibilities because we have made a sold foundation of a connection with a power greater than ourselves that we trust, to whom we have turned over our lives, who we believe can and will restore us to sanity. We look at others who have successfully worked Step 5, and we know we can do it, too.



1. Talk about your reaction to telling your deepest, darkest secrets to another person?

2. If weíre telling this stuff to God and ourselves, why do we have to tell it to someone else?

3. Why is it important to keep aware of your positive traits as well as your negative ones?

4. What is the role of denial and acceptance in Step 5?

5. Whatís the difference between humility and humiliation ≠ and why is it important to understand that difference when working Step 5?

6. If you have worked Step 5, please share your experience and before-after reactions.

7. If you have NOT worked Step 5, please share what you hope will be your experience and before-after reactions.

8. With whom did you / will you work your 5th Step? Why did you choose this person?

9. What is the role of Step 5 in the forgiveness process?

10. Why is it so important to be as exact as possible regarding the nature of our wrongs?

An action step:

If you have worked Step 4, nowís the time to work Step 5. Make the appointment to spend time with your Step 5 person, take a deep breath, in prayer turn your life over the care of your Higher Power and go for it. Afterwards, thank your Step 5 person and find a quiet place where you can reflect on what you just accomplished.

Yours in recovery,
Penny (compulsive eater/food addict)

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