Step Five

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

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Hi, friends. I’m Penny, a compulsive eater, and leader for this quarter of WTS.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

A quick word on repeated 4th and 5th Steps. I’ve heard it said that we do one Step 4 and one Step 5 and that anything after that is Step 10. That may be the case for some people; for me Steps 4 and 5 are the spiritual equivalents of a yearly physical that goes deeper than a quick checkup when we have a sore throat. Periodically we may need to go more deeply into an issue; and We may want to do a quick Step 4 and 5 if we move to a new sponsor, if we find that our abstinence is compromised, or if we just feel that we need to; and that’s just fine.

Step 4 is where OA’s most definitely need the support and guidance of a sponsor. If you do not have a sponsor, please find one.

Before moving ahead to Step 5, when asked, I say that, based on my experience, there are 3 ways to do Steps 4 and 5 incorrectly:

  1. Don’t do them.
  2. Do them by yourself without a sponsor.
  3. Do them with a focus on what you think your sponsor wants to hear as opposed to your own truth.
The first two are obvious, the third less so; and it wasn’t until I had done a 5th step with someone I was trying to impress with my transgressions that I realized that truth here. More to come.

Now that we’ve done a 4th Step, it’s time to start the real healing process.

Let’s start with the “exact nature of our wrongs.” Focusing on “the exact nature of our wrongs” means that Step 5 is pretty simple. The 5th Step is not meant to be a retelling of our lives from conception through the present, nor is it meant to be a retelling of our miseries and woes. It’s a who, what, where, when, how of our lives, and that frequently can be done in short order. We don’t need to spend hours and days rehashing our miseries; we focus on our part in each situation.

If we’ve done a serious 4th Step, we’ve written a lot about the situations that bothered us, our fears, our sex behaviors. We may have written reams and reams of information. At the same time, we have hopefully begun to realize that we had a part to play in most of the things that annoy and fear us. We’ve noticed that various “wrongs” (AKA “character defects”) have consistently popped up, that we’ve brought a host of reactions, attitudes, and behaviors to the public table, so to speak. A lot of us have learned that we held on to and acted out one or more attitudes and behaviors that caused others to react to us.

That last column – where were we responsible for the situations – was a paradigm of the 33-and-a-3rd rule: in any situation there’s one side, there’s another side, and then there’s the truth/reality.

I’ll give you an example. My first 4th Step had a resentment against two teachers that I had nursed, fed, diapered, loved, and cherished. I had hated them for well over a decade. In my 4th step I realized that I had brought a batch of my own issues to the situation, including arrogance, fear, immaturity, an unwillingness to be taught, a refusal to learn, and pride. When I began my 4th Step, I was their victim: they had taught and treated me badly. By the time I got to the 5th step, I was not only no longer a victim; I could see where my attitudes had helped create the rifts. And holding on to the grudges, even if they were well deserved, had done major damage to my soul, creating an inability to grow up.

What was “the exact nature of my wrongs?” In this case, my wrongs were arrogance, fear, immaturity, an unwillingness to be taught, a refusal to learn, and pride. That’s it.

There’s a reason for the order of to whom we admit our wrongs.

First up is God or however we refer to our power greater than ourselves. Why Higher Power first? Because in Steps 2 and 3 we have tapped into that power, and OA recovery is based purely and simply on the continuing development of that relationship. If we cannot go to that Power, maybe we need to review Steps 2 and 3 to make sure that we have a Power that we can trust to take care of our lives and our will.

Then comes admitting our wrongs to ourselves. For years I was blocked off from my soul, ignoring my inclinations, paying no attention to my own needs and wants, and pretending that they didn’t exist and didn’t deserve attention and value. Step 5 gave me a chance to begin healing my own soul.

But it’s not enough to admit something to my Higher Power and myself because even with my relationship with my Higher Power, it’s really easy for me to rationalize poor decisions, diminish my part in situations (i.e., “it’s not that bad, really, is it?”), and hang on to guilt and shame because I’m too afraid to let someone else into my life. There is soul affirming liberation that comes from admitting my wrongs – the exact nature of those wrongs – to another human being, and to have that human being not only just listen and witness my life story but to give me a hug and confirm that I am not the worst person ever.

The person with whom we work Step 5 does not have to be our sponsor. It can be a trusted religious guide, a physician, a counselor, or a trusted friend. Sponsors have 4th and 5th Step experience of their own, so that’s why I guess most of us choose our sponsors. All that’s necessary is that the person understand why we are going through this experience and be willing to keep our confidence.

So this is where third “how to do Steps 4 and 5 wrong” comes in.

I did a few 4th and 5th steps when I came into OA. The first was rough and raw; and I was able to let go of a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage. The third was deeply moving and spiritually uplifting.

The second one, however, was a mess. I had found a sponsor (a man, which was awkward enough, especially with a sex inventory) who had charisma and a powerful program. He was an OA rock star back in the day, and I was thrilled that this guy was willing to guide me through Steps 4 and 5. The problem – my problem, not his – was that I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to know how awful I had been and how far I had come and how hard I was working to get rid of my character defects.

Unlike the first and (eventually) third 4th/5th step experiences, I left my 5th step with this guy feeling like I needed a shower. I felt exposed, raw, and even more vulnerable than when I had started. I felt spiritually filthy, and I knew something was terribly wrong. This could have been a disaster, but I turned to a trusted OA friend, told her what I had done and what had happened, and learned that my gut instinct was right: I had totally missed the point of Steps 4 and 5.

By the way, when I told him what had happened, what my wrong was (self-esteem, self-seeking, etc.), let me just say that our friendship ended right there.

For most of us, Step 5 is where we begin to enter the land of the living. Far from hiding ourselves and our deep dark secrets, we’ve let someone in to our lives, and, if we’ve chosen wisely and carefully, we have had our worth validated. We’ve told someone else about some of the awful things we’ve done, and we find that this person still likes us. From being “the first and the worst,” so to speak, we are now normal, every day human beings, no better than and no worse than any other human being.

We begin to see that we are no longer victims and that it is freeing to take responsibility for the things that we did to cause others to lash out. We have seen that our fears are caused by our own limited power and that we don’t have to spend all our energy trying to control things that are simply uncontrollable. If we have sex issues, we see that we can begin to empower ourselves to clean up our situations.

Have you done Step 5? What was it like for you? If not, what's holding you back?

Penny K

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