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.”

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