“Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, says in the book “As Bill Sees It”
“The moral inventory is a cool examination of the damages that occurred to us during life and a sincere effort to look at them in a true perspective. This has the effect of taking the ground glass out of us, the emotional substance that still cuts and inhibits.”
Oh yes, the “emotional substance that still cuts and inhibits” – can you relate to that? I can. In a way it’s the resentment we were talking about earlier. For example, the thought of some of my family members still scratches - unless I work at it assiduously. I want A to like me more, I want B to be more mindful of the people around her, I want C to be the way she used to be – and when they don’t, I’m in danger of getting resentful and gnawing on the bone of my expectations all day long.
Now there are some interesting words that Bill uses. “A cool examination,” “A sincere effort.” “A true perspective.”
Cuts are painful. When we are in pain, we can’t think straight. That’s just one of the reasons why we need Step 5. We really can’t do this alone. We need to take our “wrongs” (the things that bug us) outside of ourselves, to our Higher Power, and to someone else. It is our Higher Power and that other human being who will help us cool down from the heat of our pain, who will support us in being truly sincere, and who can provide us with a fuller perspective.
What we need from our Higher Power and that other human being is patience to listen, the willingness to open and share THEIR experiences, and absence of judgment. In my first inventory, I talked about things that I had never told anyone, something I felt ashamed and guilty about. I will never forget my first sponsor, who listened to me and shared her own hard history around a similar topic. I truly felt changed after that.
In fact, I experienced a change with every Step 5 I’ve done. There have been about a dozen so far. I remember the stunning relief I felt after my first Step 5, how I found and committed to my Higher Power after the second one, a quick-and-dirty 20-minute Step 5 at an OA retreat that left me feeling exhilarated, the clarity and insight received during a Step 5 in a cosy little attic of a neighbour who is in OA, or how an OA “elder”, who received my Step 5 over the internet, sent me back a message with the subject “Go and sin no more”, exhorting me to “wear life like a loose garment.” Those were life changing moments, all of them.
And sometimes you can’t even see it happen. An OA friend did a Step 5 a little while ago. He thought it was rather “blah,” and that he just did it because program says it’s a good idea. But you should have seen the changes in him not too long afterwards! His self esteem shot up, there was so much more clarity of mind, and suddenly there was also a willingness to commit food to a sponsor.
A word about the “exact nature of our wrongs.” Sometimes we want to be a bit vague about what happened – maybe it’s embarrassing to go into the details, or we don’t want to burden the person to whom we give our Step 5 with too many stories, or we’re just used to more abstract thinking. If you’re giving your Step 5 to an experienced program person, they will probably coax out the details. But if you haven’t found such a person (e.g. if you’ve decided to give your Step 5 to a clergy who has little experience with program) then you need to be the one to be responsible for making sure the details come out.
For example, when I overeat, my preference is to mumble something like, “I had a bit too much to eat.” What the heck does that mean?! Half a banana? Three heaping plates of spaghetti? How about, “I was slowly grazing all afternoon, and there was probably something in my mouth half of the time. Veggies, yes, but also sausage, cheese and chips.” Ok. No we know what we’re talking about. (Btw, I have to confess that this is exactly what happened yesterday, at my grandson’s birthday party. Ouch. I REALLY don’t want to talk about it, especially since I’m supposed to be an example here. But since we’re discussing honesty here …)
The neat thing is that once we know EXACTLY what we’re dealing with, we can do something about it. It’s hard to battle “a bit too much.” It’s much easier to say, “Stay away from the chips!!!” More about that in Steps 6 and 7.
Last week my message was a bit too long, so let’s just leave it at this for Step 5. Today I’ll finish with something out of the AA book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”:
“Provided you hold back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The damned-up emotions of years break out of their confinement … As the pain subsides, a healing tranquility takes its place.”
Questions for today:
What is a concrete example of “an emotional substance that still cuts and inhibits” you? Be specific. It doesn’t have to be big, doesn’t have to be a dark secret – this is just meant to exercise your skills in being specific.
Can you share an example of when sharing a problem with someone else has given you a clarity and perspective that you couldn’t have had otherwise?
How do you share your problems with your Higher Power?
What’s a passage in the Big Book (or any other program literature) that speaks to you with regard to Step 5?
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Thanks for your continued participation! Something about your shares regarding the “emotional substance that still cuts and inhibits” kept rolling around in my little brain, nudging me this way and that.
I think what it is is that I’m learning over and over again (I’m a little slow sometimes) how important it is to talk about stuff. Not to let things roll around inside of me, getting me all bruised up and dusty and clogged up in those places that need air and light and tender loving care. Hope that makes sense …
Here’s an example. I’m a bit on the bipolar side. Not in a crippling way, thank Goodness, but – well, standing on the street corner crying because the light just turned red, or walking through the mall getting giddy because EVERYONE is suddenly so INTERESTING – that’s a bit beyond the normal ups and downs that everyone experiences. Apart from the fact that it took me a long, long time to admit that I had inherited that particular type of brain structure from my father (that’s a whole ‘nother story), I discovered something very interesting. It used to be that when I had an episode, first I wouldn’t even acknowledge it to myself. I was just maybe “a little stressed” or “in a really good mood all the time”. Then slowly I’d allow myself to know that it had gone beyond that. Only when the pressure became too much, I’d finally confide in someone that something was wrong, and usually just mumbling, so nobody had a chance to take me seriously. Over time, though, the mumbling became a little clearer – and then something miraculous happened. When I felt heard by another, the pressure of the depression or manic episode immediately lessened. This in turn allowed me to acknowledge it to myself much quicker. I now have a much different way of moving through these episodes than I did 20 years ago (and MUCH better than 30 years ago, when I did not even dare give it a name.)
Part of the miracle of Step 5 is naming things, calling a spade a spade, allowing our voices to be heard by ourselves, by our Higher Power and by another.
And each time we go to a meeting, we have a chance to have our voice heard and to hear those of others. Isn’t that neat?
The Twelve Steps