Step Five

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

Leader's Share and Step Questions

6—Step 5--Unburdening to Another

Welcome to Week 6 of the Working the Steps study for the first quarter of 2015. I am Cindy M., a compulsive overeater in recovery, thankful to share with you in this study. All the lessons are available here:

If you are not yet done with Step 4, that’s ok. Please continue that work, asking your sponsor questions if you get stuck along the way. But go ahead and read this lesson so you know where you’re headed next with working the steps.

You know what’s great about Step 4? Once we’ve done it thoroughly, then followed the next steps to clear out these things, we don’t have to come back to it again. I’ve done the steps several times now, but I don’t start from scratch in Step 4. Instead, I think about what seems to be bugging me NOW in all these areas, and work my way through those. It’s an intense form of the Steps 10-11-12 that we’ll be covering later—those we will do on a daily basis as a part of ongoing recovery.

Remember I said that it is my opinion that you can work the steps partially while still not fully abstinent, but you cannot complete the steps without abstinence? I have been learning that people in recovery have different ideas about this. Some say you must be perfectly cleanly abstinent to move forward in the steps, and some say you should expect abstinence until after you’ve finished the steps. I’ve tried digging into the Big Book for a definitive answer and have not found it, so I’m still somewhere in between, as I have described it. This is a great time to stop and assess your abstinence before moving forward. I do think that PLANNING not to try abstinence until you’re done with the steps will not be fruitful. Let the clear-headedness of abstinence, even with (especially with) the tensions it raises, set you resolutely to finishing up your inventory. Without attempting abstinence, you’re doing half-measures, and you know what the Big Book says: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (Big Book p. 59)
So let’s get something availed!

Admitted to God, to ourselves,
And to another human being
The exact nature of our wrongs.

The process of completing Step 4, if we’ve done it thoroughly (see the two previous lessons), has already covered the first two items—admitting to God and to ourselves. The “exact nature” comes in the thoroughness, especially when we analyze character defects we can discern in each of our resentments and fears. And do you remember asking HP to help you be what HP would have you be? Though I usually let the lesson itself give the “bare minimum” for a step, this week I want to ask everyone to read pp. 72-75, the beginning of Chapter 6, “Into Action,” found here:

Who to Share With

Now comes the other human being. Many fear Step 5 before they begin Step 1 because they cannot imagine telling someone else all their deepest secrets. But many, by the time they finish Step 4, are eager to continue, to get this stuff out of the way!

When I did Step 5 the first time in late summer 2013 (I won’t count my half-measures of eight years earlier), I really did it all along as I did Step 4, because I sent all my workbook answers (OA 12-12 workbook) to my sponsor as I worked through them. I think some of us need guidance in how to DO Step 4, preliminary to sharing the results in Step 5. That worked fine for us, but it’s not typical. Rather, the Big Book directs us to make an appointment with a trusted person—sponsor or clergy member—for a one-time session of sharing. Though I receive my own sponsees’ Step 5 via email most of the time, sometimes a phone conversation will do the job better. Discuss it with your sponsor. Some of my sponsees prefer to share with someone local, maybe a previous sponsor, and that’s fine, too. I highly recommend you choose someone who knows how 12-step programs work and who is recovered from something himself or herself, if at all possible. Do note that we are not to share with someone for whom our admissions will bring pain or other harm.

When to Share

We are to share as soon as possible, though delaying in order to have an appointment with just the right person is okay. In my experience it’s almost irresistible to do what it takes to get this taken care of right away—the process of doing Step 4 brings enough momentum in healing that we’re eager to get on with it.

What to Share

The Big Book assumes we’re not sharing our entire Step 4 inventory (all the things others have done that we resent) but the end result of each item—our defects. And we must be thorough and honest. “Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. . . . [T]hey have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk.” (pp 72-73)

Honesty is paramount. The Big Book explains that all those psychologist trips will be fruitless when the sufferer is holding back. If the person you want to share with doesn’t seem “safe” to receive all your mess, perhaps you need to find a different person. I was very much encouraged just a week or so ago by the confident, smiling declaration of a friend that he can be real with people about his struggles because he’s given them over to HP—they’re part of his history, and HP has enabled him to overcome them, and sharing them helps others, so he’s willing. And that kind of confidence gives ME confidence to share, too—in these studies and in a spiritual healing retreat I will be a part of in a few months, when I will tell my story to people in my community. I can testify that honesty brings freedom, and that freedom gives confidence for further honesty.

What if it Doesn’t Work?

The crazy promise of p. 75 says that we should be feeling “delight” as “our fears fall from us” in the aftermath of sharing in Step 5. I felt a low, strong peace, as if I were standing on super-solid ground. But I’m a slow study, and some of those feelings came later, as I was able to process them in later recovery work. It’s kind of like being in love—we feel strong feelings sometimes and quiet confidences others. And sometimes we’re surprised by a little gust of delight.

If as you’re reading your Step 5 to another person you feel yourself clench up inside with fear, anger, or another bad feeling, circle that item to come back to later. Chances are, that will be the thing that is keeping you from feeling freedom and delight as you finish. Can you believe you’re expected to feel freedom and delight?! That’s one of the miracles of the program, and it’s one of the fruits of “saying out loud” where we’ve been wrong. I’ve lived it, and I’m thankful.

  • Have you been abstinent? If not, is your abstinence improving? What is causing the trouble? Have you discussed it with your sponsor? What seems to be holding you back?
  • If you haven't been abstinent, have you considered it may be because you haven’t processed everything needed in your Step 4? Try going back to add some more resentments to your inventory and working through the process again, to get to your character defects and to what HP would have you be.
  • Have you shared your Step 4 materials with another human being? Can you tell us a bit about who you chose and why?
  • After you finished sharing, were you delighted? Could you look the world in the eye? Could you be at perfect peace and ease? Did your fears fall from you?
  • If you can't answer "yes" to all of these questions, have you gone back to fill out some more Step Four Forms and do a further Step Five?
  • If all of these statements are true, did you go home, review what you’ve done, and check that you were complete? The end of p. 75 tells us to set aside an hour for that purpose.

Congratulations! You’ve completed Step 5! Next week we begin Steps Six and Seven—Willingness and Surrender.

Please write me privately at if I can answer any questions for you as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!

For Those Who Have Time: Reading

In addition to the assigned reading about Step 5 in the Big Book (first portion of Chapter 6, pp. 72-75), read the 12-and-12, “Step Five.” Some say that as soon as that hour at home is complete, we should go right into Steps 6 and 7 and make the spiritual transaction with HP that will bring us to real completion of this series of steps. If you are feeling an urge in that direction, please read ahead through p. 76 and “Step Six” and “Step Seven” in the 12-and-12. I will be discussing these next week.

Blessings in Recovery,

Cindy M.

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