Phew! Step Four is done – that feels great, eh? Well done! It has been my experience that over the next few weeks memories will surface of people or events that belong in your Fourth Step. Don’t fret; that was surely not the last Fourth Step you’ll ever get to do. I suggest having a notebook where you can jot these things down. Many of us do an annual housecleaning and Step Four; I find that I no longer do one annually, but when a character defect becomes acutely problematic I will return to Step Four. A Fourth Step is a tool to be used when needed; chances are it will be needed again.
Now we move on to Step Five, which says that we admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is not an exercise in self-flagellation; we had enough of that before we came to OA. The point is not to beat up on myself. The point is to clear out the weeds so that lovely flowers can grow. I would no more attempt to skip the Fifth Step than I would try to accomplish my semi-annual tooth cleaning by myself, or to skip my annual mammogram.
The literature on this step talks a lot about decreasing isolation, about humility, and about choosing whom we give the Step away to. Let’s take these one at a time.
I don’t know exactly why we get our knickers so much in a twist about taking Step Five. If you are anything like me, you love to talk about yourself – only you like to paint a particular picture of yourself, one that is competent, calm, confident, capable, restrained, generous, tolerant, kind…. Or one that is a total mess, incompetent, unlovable, a glutton, weak-willed, lazy… In short, neither one is an accurate picture, but we have little difficulty buttonholing people and talking at them in an effort to convince that it’s a true picture. By taking Step Five, we talk about ourselves, but we paint a more accurate picture than any of us is used to.
Step Five decreases “the isolation that is so common among us” as the Overeaters Anonymous book says. True, just coming through the doors of OA started to do that, as we finally realized we were not alone. But most of us are still left with a sense of “anxious apartness” (AA 12n12, p. 57) from others, especially from the earthlings walking around without our disease. As the AA 12n12 says, “The need to quit living by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday gets more urgent than ever.” (p. 55). So, having made that inventory of our resentments, fears, and faults, we urgently need to find someone to share it with.
What about humility – where does that come in? Of course it’s relatively easy to admit our faults to God and to ourselves. It’s that pesky “another human being” that requires humility. In OA (and AA) we often don’t start studying that word until Step Seven, but I think that’s a mistake: it first shows up in Step Five. I was taught in these rooms that humility means seeing things as they really are, and that’s what Step Five requires. Taking my inventory alone is unreliable – I know that I can’t trust myself to assess myself accurately. So, although this may produce “ego deflation” (AA 12n12, p. 55), it is an essential part of the Step. As the AABB says, “If we skip this vital step we may not overcome drinking [eating]” (p. 72). So many of us spent so much time living a double life: mild-mannered mother/wife/employee by day, the Wrath of God by night once we were alone and could dive into our addiction. Taking Step Five with another human being allows us to choose just one life to live. “We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world.” (AABB, pp. 73-4).
Whom should we choose to hear our Fifth Step? This is an entirely personal choice. You don’t have to give it all away to the same person. Do not choose a family member. Do not choose a family member. Do not choose a family member. Even if that person is in program, do not choose a family member. This is an intensely intimate enterprise, and although you may wish to have them know all about you and love you anyway, you risk holding something back out of fear or pride if you choose a family member. Another risk is that the person learns something that hurts him/her. Your sponsor for this step study is one obvious choice; your therapist, minister, or even a stranger – perhaps a therapist or priest you choose just for this one occasion. You want someone who can keep a confidence (anonymity) and who will take seriously that this is a “life-and-death errand” you are embarked upon, as it says in the AABB, p. 75.
I recently heard a Fifth Step from someone halfway around the world from me; we used Skype. Oovoo is another free online service available that gives you the experience of being face-to-face in real time although the other person may be 15 hours ahead of you. So no excuses!
A lot is written in the OA and AA literature about Step Five producing a sense of ease, peace, “delight,” and forgiveness of self and others. I must confess that I have never had any of these experiences. I have felt pleased, sure, that I’d completed another step. But the heavens have never opened for me upon doing it. I certainly have learned to be more forgiving of myself and others through working the 12 Steps, but I’m not certain that came from Step Five; I think it may have come from being in the rooms for long enough that I understand that each of us is human and doing the best we can.
I see the Steps along a continuum; at one end is acceptance, and at the other end is change. Some of the steps are about acceptance (Step One, Step Four) and some are about change (Step Two, Step Three). Step Five is about change. I assume you have put the food down; to keep it down, in my experience (and that of thousands before me) it will be necessary to change my behavior. I cannot change my past. But neither can I ignore it. For one thing, the people I have hurt are unlikely to let me just close the door on my past - I'm going to have to own up to my mistakes, make any necessary repairs, and endeavor to avoid practicing those particular defects of character again. This is easily said, but as I heard someone say once, "Sorry doesn't set the table." It is easier to embark upon a new way of living if we tell another person how distorted the old way of living was. That's the purpose of Step Five: to help me change.
Step Five requires honesty, but the fruits of it in my experience are threefold: I do come away with the thought that now I can be a person of integrity; I have experienced the unconditional love and acceptance of another human being; and I get the assurance that I don't need to eat over my past screw-ups.
Once you are ready to take Step Five, I suggest you read the last two paragraphs on page 75 in the AABB. These are explicit instructions for taking the step. Start with one of my favorite phrases in all of our literature: "We pocket our pride and go to it..."
Here are this week's questions. Some of them are for before you take Step Five, and some are to be answered afterward:
1. Have you chosen the person(s) with whom you will take Step Five?
2. How will you include your HP in this Step (because it says we admitted to God, to ourselves and...)
3. What do you hope to get from taking this Step? Be as specific as possible.
4. How will you know you have taken this Step? Do you have a benchmark for achievement?
5. How do you feel? Are you one of those who feels "delighted"?
6. What did taking Step Five teach you about humility, honesty, fear, trust, acceptance, and integrity?
7. Review the first five steps: ask yourself if you have omitted anything. Is there some part of some Step about which you harbor a niggling doubt or feeling of shame or guilt that you haven't quite completed it thoroughly? If so, what would you like to do about that?
The Twelve Steps