Personalizing Step 5

This is the step where we share our Step 4, our inventory, with someone else.

Often this step is read aloud to a trusted friend or confidant. Why is this necessary? Isn’t simply writing our inventory enough? Do we really need to share it with others, no matter how much we trust them?

We may have shared some of the details of things mentioned in Step 4 with others, often friends and maybe someone else in recovery. The major difference in Step 4 is the clarity we get when we consciously think about and write down our fears and resentments. That clarity is evident when we read Step 4 aloud to another in Step 5. Just saying the words aloud — in the presence of a nonjudgmental friend — is often freeing to many in recovery.

The one who hears our Step 4 is meant to simply listen without comment during Step 5. Hopefully you have been honest in compiling this inventory, and you want an impartial friend, mentor or sponsor to listen with some empathy and understanding. After this sharing, you can mutually discuss the contents and get feedback. Feedback may be merely the listener’s sharing of similar parts of his or her inventory. That feedback will mention areas or persons who should be considered when amends need to be made.

Step 5 should not be a lengthy process. However, it is just as important as the Step 4 process of thinking and writing. It is often said that “confession is good for the soul”. Step 5 is close to that sentiment: unburdening our shame, guilt and remorse to another person begins the life-altering changes we call “cleaning our side of the street” in recovery. Unburdening to another person allows us to share our burden; it shows us how we can help others like us to unburden themselves and change their lives.

This step evolved from one of the 6 principles Bill W adopted from the Oxford Group: “We got honest with another person, in confidence” (in ‘Where the Twelve Steps Came From’, Bill W, July 1953 Grapevine). Eventually in the text of Alcoholics Anonymous, this became Step 5, reading “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. This brought god into the equation, possibly because Bill W assumed that “sins” were part of our Step 4.

Some alternative Step 5 wording (again, from the “The Little Book”) includes these …

– Admitted to ourselves with total openness and to another human being being, the exact nature of our wrongs (from We Agnostics groups)
– I will now admit to myself, the exact nature of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. I will share and review this evaluation with another willing person if I choose, unless where to do so would put myself or others at risk. (from Realistic Recovery)
– We showed the inventory to al least one other person and discussed it with them. (from “Gabe’s Therapist’s” version)
– We asked our friends to help us avoid those situations (from Humanist Twelve Steps)

Gabor Maté interprets Step 5  as it “ … makes our moral self-searching into a concrete reality. Shame for ourselves is replaced by a sense of responsibility. We move from powerlessness to strength.”

Dr. Gabor Maté


One of the most interesting recent voices in addiction causes/treatment is a Vancouver, BC doctor — Dr. Gabor Maté.

Dr. Maté’s book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts details some of his experiences in the seamier downtown Portland Hotel, a large complex providing housing, health care, and other services to the indigent & others marginalized in our society. The book also thoroughly reviews many aspects of addiction, some scientifically complex.

Dr. Maté is one of the proponents of harm reduction in treating addicts. The Insite injection facility in Vancouver, though controversial with some, provides clean equipment for addicts to inject themselves in a safer environment than in back alleys with dirty needles/syringes.

A recent interview with Dr. Maté shows why he is both a compelling proponent yet controversial figure in addiction therapy. You can find that interview here in The Fix© website.

Step 4 — further personalizing it for me

InventoryStep 4 is a process for examining our lives prior to sobriety. As we saw earlier, it is the basis for identifying persons or things we blamed for our substance use. We think these “things” eventually led to our substance misuse, eventually causing the loss of the manageability of our own lives.

But Step 4 is more than a listing of people, places and things we resented or we think harmed us in some way. At its most basic level, we are asked to identify “our part” in those resentments in 12-step recovery.

At a deeper level, it is more than “our part” we need to establish in this step. Be just as interested in your reactions as in the person or situation that triggered those responses listed in Step 4.* Those reactions are more than saying “I drank or used because that person mistreated me, used me, or cheated me”.

We list the events in a Step 4 inventory that we “feel” led to our substance use. But what in those events made us “feel” the need to bury those feelings in drink or drug? Can we list the events (eg, I was fired from my job) separate from the feelings we had about them? There is more than a simple relationship between the “thing” (I was fired) and our feeling of injustice or being picked upon when fired. Where we drank or picked up when something we resented happened, there are actually two identifiable things in this: in this example, I was fired (the event) by a vindictive boss who had it out for me (what I felt about it).

The importance of teasing out the event from our feelings about it is crucial in understanding ourselves and our substance abuse. The event is a fact that can happen to anyone (I was fired), but the reaction (emotional) differs from person to person. If we felt we could only deal with these emotions by burying them in a binge of substance use, we differ from the other 90% of the world. That other large part of humanity may feel unjustly treated, but they can separate the event from the feeling (and subsequent reaction) to it. Whereas we feel self-pity and want to “drown our sorrows” in a good binge, others will accept the fact of the misfortune and handle it in a less destructive way.

Once we are in long-term recovery, we experience for ourselves the way the majority of the world handles life’s troubles. We see that we can mourn the loss of a loved-one, receive a blow like a financial failure, or see a temporary setback without substance abuse. This was unimaginable when we were using but is now manageable in sobriety.

Separating events from feelings will be addressed later in a discussion of meditation. In Step 5 we share those events and our feelings with another person.

* from the Gabor Maté book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts” and the ideas of Eckhart Tolle

Widening the Gateway Conference — Jan 16, 2016

Some of us from the Many Paths group will be carpooling to this conference. Contact Tom L at

Widening the Gateway
Overcoming Barriers to Being in the AA Family
January 16, 2016 9:30-4:30
701 Franklin St NE
Olympia, WA 1st Christian Church
Widening the Gateway PO Box 6283
Olympia, WA 98507
8:30 Registration, Coffee, Survey
9:30 Welcome and Plan for the Day
10:00 Keynote
Michael B. from London UK
10:45 Break
11:00 What is Sobriety?
Noon Lunch (Provided), Survey Report, Discussion
1:00 History of AA Secularism
1:30 Fitting Into AA with Integrity
2:30 Break
2:45 Breakout Sessions
Stating a Secular Meeting
Working Your Program
Respecting Boundaries in AA
4:00 Closing Remarks, Evaluations
4:30 Safe Journeys!

Personalizing Step 4

The end-product of Step 4 — an “inventory” of our interactions with people and things before recovery — is the most personal step in recovery.

All the other steps in our recovery are meaningless without a deep look, honest at our life interactions.

Honesty in Step 4 is crucial. We make our inventory and it is ours alone. In this inventory there may be things we want to keep to ourselves forever. There may be things we could only share with our closest confidantes. There are parts of our inventory that many others already know — a divorce; a criminal record; a job lost — or bridges burned in the destruction caused by our active addiction.

The original Step 4 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book is completed in written form by us, examining our fears and personal interactions in society. We are encouraged to examine things with an eye for “our part” where we thought we were wronged by others and society in general. This is a new self-examination technique for most of us. This review becomes a common practice that we use in varying degrees throughout the rest of our lives. Completion of this step carries us to the next step: discussion of the inventory contents we want to share with someone we trust.

The true goal here is not just to say “I drank/used because of” something or someone. No, a sincere inventory is the reverse of that: I drank/used and therefore I did something that led to the loss of friends, family, or a career.

This inventory starts the unfolding of a personal biography. Sure, substance abuse was a part of our life story. Everyone has a life story that can “inventoried” or analyzed. Ours is different from the other 90% of humanity who aren’t addicts because we abused substances until we couldn’t stop. Our lives and interactions with the world were tainted by this misuse.

Until we do an honest self-inventory we may think our life problems led to substance abuse. From this inventory we see it as the other way around: substance abuse led to our problems.

As our inventories unfold we have the beginnings of an understanding of our lives. These understandings help us accept and forgive others (and ourselves) as we learn “our part”.

Some other examples of Step 4 personalized include these:

a. I make a searching and fearless inventory of myself, of my strengths and weaknesses. I choose not to permit problems to overwhelm me, rather to focus on personal growth and the unconditional acceptance of others and myself. (12 Statements, The Little Book, pg 15)

b. Search earnestly and deeply within ourselves to know the exact nature of our actions, thoughts and emotions. (A Nontheistic Translation, The Little Book, pg 16)

b. I have the strength and courage to look within and to face whatever obstacles hinder my continued personal and spiritual development. (The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation, The Little Book, pg 26)

d. I will make a realistic and rational evaluation or “inventory” of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. This is not induce guilt and shame, but to evaluate where my attitudes, actions and decisions were not realistic or rational. (The 12 Steps of Realistic Recovery, The Little Book, pg 14)