For the last two weeks, we have been exploring our past, identifying life-changing events that produced a way of living that was significantly compromised, our emotional development stunted, and our ability to find inner peace nearly impossible.
When I first got involved in the program, people often just read their fourth step to their sponsor, and that constituted “taking their fifth step”.
While I do believe that revealing the most difficult and traumatic details of our lives is both humbling and cathartic, limiting this process to that alone would be a mistake.
The AA 12+12 talks calls the root of our troubles being about “instincts in collision”; ways in which our basic reaction to life had become warped, where fundamental emotions overreached themselves because we felt that we needed to act in certain ways in order to survive.
Done properly, the inventory has revealed that things did happen to us, and they changed us. But WE then acted in certain ways …chose to deal with people, places and things in OUR way…. made choices, and used OUR rationalization and denial to justify our aberrant conduct. We caused a lot of the subsequent damage that fueled our addictive thinking.
Step Five is where we connect the dots and come to terms with “the exact nature of our wrongs”. What does that mean? Listing our defects? Writing down resentments? Telling someone our deepest secrets?
For me, it was about how coming to realize that because of certain events of my life, I began to integrate defenses and protections and survivalist thinking that was disproportionate to the circumstances at hand…
As best as I can tell, in my case, I was born with some fairly severe gastro-intestinal problems – my earliest experiences of life were physically painful and chronically so. My mother contracted polio before I was two weeks old and she required physical therapy that took her away from me for stretches of time in my early development.
Now I don’t know that I suffered any other significant trauma after that, but I can only imagine the frustration and agony that that little baby Neil felt at the time, and the desire for relief. A type of relief that probably didn’t come. Not in the way I wanted it.
That pretty much tainted my view of life for the next 50 years. I’d been burned, life wasn’t fair – no one’s listening to me – I’m was pissed and didn’t want to take it any more – If you weren’t going to give me what I wanted, then get the heck out of the way. I wanted what I wanted because I was gypped “before”, and if you couldn’t understand that, then it was your problem.
That was the nature of my wrong – I suffered in a way that my non-verbal self just couldn’t handle. So if I don’t feel listened to, taken seriously, taken for granted, manipulated in a way that I don’t like…I lash out, and I lash out angrily. I want you to feel what I felt. I want revenge. It ain’t pretty, but until I could name it and claim, I was pretty much powerless against it.
Once I understood…I had a chance to develop some compassion for that little guy.
And when I could accept that I wasn’t always the nicest person, given my history, I was able to begin to want to find another way, a healthy way, to get the sort of attention I always wanted ---enough of it that I could rejoin the rest of the world.
When I took my first Fifth Step, there was an air of mystery to it. It was a rainy Friday night, and I was a bit uneasy, because I elected to take it with a priest (I’m Jewish) which was a tad weird. But Father Paul has taken hundreds of fifth step from people and was considered a good man to do it with.
I pretty much read my fourth step to him (as I indicated wasn’t really the best way to do it)…but I had procrastinated in a big way, so it was important for me to stop making excuses and just “get it over with” – Not a superior motive, but I was able to look back at that inventory years later, and I had correctly expressed most of the major issues that had blocked my progress in the most important ways. I have since continued to refine and deepen my understanding of these issues, and continue to smooth the rough edges.
The experience was very satisfying, mostly because of the things that happened that I didn’t expect.
I felt, for the first time, that there was a limit to my illness and emotional deformities, and that I was worthy of better things. I was willing to believe that for the first time
I realized that my inordinate preoccupation about rejection was an overreaction – that there were people in the world who were willing to hang in there and be there for me…at this critical time, and probably for other times as well…if I let them. (that was key)
I was struck by the realization that we were – all of us – fundamentally the same, and even though we weren’t in the same place at the same time, we all experienced the ups and downs – the loss of self-confidence – the ego trips and deflations – the expectations and the disappointments. We were doing the best we could – even if it wasn’t very good.
And if I wasn’t able to change myself until I had become open to a lot of new things – how could I possibly expect anybody else to change, just because I wanted them to?
And if we were all the same, and I realized that I was worthy of forgiveness, who was I to hold other people hostage to my anger and resentment?
Most importantly, I began to be aware of God’s presence in a way that I never had before. It was a palpable life experience, and I knew I would be able to feel it again and again if I could muster the same level of willingness and honesty that the fourth & fifth step required.
My fifth step changed basic attitudes that were well-established and that I had resisted investigating further up to that point. Once the door was open, I realized that there I probably had fixed ideas that might be worth changing with a little objective self-evaluation.
I saw how much energy I had put into trying to keep the world (and the people in it) the way that I felt that they should be, rather than trying to accept them the way that they were – and maybe learn a few things in the process. Maybe everybody’s way had some value, and my job was to look at what we had in common rather than focus on what was different
I didn’t even realize how scared witless I was of change.
And now I wasn’t quite so much.
It was exhilarating to have so much hope about such big things.
When I walked out of Father Paul’s place, the rain that had been falling down for hours began to stop…that was very movie-like -- and it certainly added to the perfection of the moment.
This is the power of a fifth step.
I went home and took some time to think about things. The whole thing stayed with me for a few days, and after that, without really knowing what was going to come next (I had built up steps four and five so much that I had given little thought to what step six was even about), I had been altered in some way…which began to clarify in the coming days and weeks.
I have since taken many other fourth and fifth steps.
The AA 12+12 talks about annual spiritual house cleanings. That has pretty much been my way, and in time, my fear of the process ebbed, and my faith in it increased. It became another tool in my arsenal of self-discovery and enlightenment.
I began to see my program as a gigantic safety net that was there for me if I used it properly. If I was willing to do the work, I would continue to get more out of it than I had put into it. The better I felt, the more I wanted to carry the message
The more I carried the message, the more I worked with newcomers, the more the pain of the struggle to get abstinent and stay abstinent was front and center in my life.
I began to feel like a grown up. Not all the time, for sure. But here and there, and that was about the nicest thing that a frightened, addict like me could feel like after so many years or feeling trapped in my own self-created prison.
My future inventories have uncovered every nook and cranny of my feverish mind.
Every destructive impulse, every sexual fantasy and perversion, every dishonesty, con and manipulation…things that I thought were so embarrassing or humiliating that I would/could never tell anyone.
The one constant in all of these realizations was that they were more common than I thought. People shared things about themselves that were as strange and wonderfully weird as mine were. Turns out, all of us are weird – but the less of a big deal we make of it, and the more we trust in this beautiful process – the closer we get to approximate an appropriate reaction to the stresses of the day – and when temptation arises, to know with certainty that there is no short term fix, no shortcut to going through it with abstinence and integrity.
Living a spiritual existence is about seeing the possibilities, and knowing that there is nothing going on with me that can’t be helped if I align my thinking to the Good Orderly Direction of program, and continue to develop a more direct contact with a personal Higher power.
Assignment: Read Step Five in the OA 12+12, and page 75 part in the big book for some direction.
Take a fifth step with a trusted person. Before you start, invite your Higher Power into the room and take time to calm down and receive as well as give during this process. Open yourself up to the spiritual power of unburdening yourself with another person and in God’s presence.
Cover several (if not all) of the deepest, darkest areas that you have not been willing to share with anyone. If you can’t cover everything in your inventory now, just continue the process in phases, around a specific topic, relationship or attitude.
Good luck – and God be with you all.
As usual – here is your weekly multiple choice question, the answer to which I’d like you all to include in your posting.
1) I have made an effort to work the tools this week, but I could do much better.
2) I’m working the tools each day. It’s a regular part of my program and my abstinence.
3) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools, but I’m cleanly abstinent.
4) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools and I cannot stay/get abstinent.
The Twelve Steps