By Eric Robert Hunter
“…we have put our finger on the weak times in our personal inventory… This requires action on our part, which, when completed, will mean that we have admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our defects.” – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 72
We ran from it. We drank to it. We hid it. We resented it. And, finally, we are facing it. Step 5 in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a milestone and absolutely worthy of discussion. For the first time in my life, I verbalized the things that were eating away at my core. I have joined other alcoholics in verbally identifying the very situations, persons and ideas that gave me the unquenchable thirst to drink in excess. Step 5 is a mysterious venture as it is mystically referenced at meetings and promoted for its healing properties. It is an elixir with healing spiritual effects. If there ever was an antidote to the delusional thinking of an alcoholic, this is it.
After spending an hour in silence, I called my sponsor. These were the concluding actions of Step 5 he suggested I do. I explained to him that I feel very undeserving of the life I have today. Now don’t get me wrong: the freedom, the spiritual liberty and weight being removed from my chest have definitely commenced but there’s an aftertaste of regret. Having gone through a thorough analysis of resentments and harms, a sex inventory and analysis of my fears, I feel detached. I explained to him it feels as if I just broke up with myself. He said, “You have. You just broke-up with the old you.” It’s been a brutal long-term relationship with myself. A relationship riddled with fear, emotional abuse, self-sabotage, skepticism, doubt, lack of self-worth and delusion. Clarity has finally arrived in the form of three mediums.
The first medium of admitting to God, actually physically verbalizing my inventory aloud, proves God strong and I powerless. Sure, we pray when we’re in danger and some of us even hit our knees most nights, but did we really get down to the knitty-gritty? Did we really acknowledge (verbally) the wrongs we had done and experienced? For me, it was a necessary first. In commencing the fifth step my sponsor had me pray The Set Aside Prayer:
“God, Please help me set aside everything I think I know about myself, my disease, the 12 steps, and especially You; So I may have an open mind and a new experience of all these things. Please let me see the truth.“
Reading the product of my fourth step aloud requires immense courage and continuous faith as the ink rises from the page and takes form in speech, coming to life, and thus the power it held dies from this act of liberation. My conception of my higher power has improved for the better, debuting him as a forgiving God; not the malicious, jealous creature I grew up fearing. My harms list in particular required me to be brave enough to believe I would not be struck down by lightning right where I sat. This is now a new experience with God and it is ongoing as aftershocks of the spiritual transaction ripple thru my mind, body and heart.
The second medium offering clarity is that of admitting to ourselves. The very recipient of the pain; the very perpetrator of the harms has indeed been the last person to acknowledge, let alone recognize what has transpired within the jurisdiction of their life. During the course of admission, I realized it was never for me to hold on to any of this. I’ve been trying to do God’s work; to be God and handle the intangible. Needless to say, as I’m sure you can understand, my life (what was going on inside) was a smoldering mess, seeping out of the pores of my insecurities. Proverbs 18:21 states “The tongue has the power of life and death,” and fixing mine to confess has brought a culture of mortality to guilt and shame while giving life to a newfound innocence and vision for my future.
Lastly, the third medium of admitting to another human being has proved to be one of the most powerful, natural remedies one could consume in hopes of healing. The properties of regressing back to the innocence of a child initially draws despair but the follow-thru of such renders serenity in the form of motivation to keep on confessing and admitting our wrongs both given and received. Today I realize why God gave man a tongue. Not just for the perks of tasting and protecting us from ingesting toxins, but also for harnessing the power of community. I could not hold all these resentments, harms and fears to myself, so prior to investigation I drank. That drinking gave me more resentments, led me to cause more harms and waking to innumerable fears. My sponsor sat for over six hours and listened to me pour my heart out and that time represents love. His genuine concern for my well-being has allowed my spirit to transcend out of the prison of my mind and into the freedom he harnesses within his heart. Someone else now knows all about me and despite my prior doubts, now that I’ve investigated through participation, I’m ok with it.
Ultimately, the fifth step is a ritual practice. It’s an induction of a newcomer into the spiritual awakening produced from doing the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rituals are very important to the human race. If you’ve ever pledged a sorority or fraternity you may have been briefed on the importance of ritualistic practices. Ritual bridges generational gaps, allowing humans to share experience with those who came before them, those walking in sobriety with them presently and those yet to arrive. In visualizing this, I am reminded of AA’s symbol: the triangle having three points meet the edges of an all-encompassing circle. The admitting to God, ourselves and another human being symbolically represented in the three points. The circle surrounding, protecting, accepting and meeting the triangle symbolizing the holistic truth of sobriety that has withstood the test of time and brought those suffering from alcoholism and addiction together. Unity, recovery and service are evident in Step Five. Moreover, we are dealing with a threefold disease, while this step utilizes the physical action of speech, the identification of mental proclivities, and the healing of our disabled spirits.
In sum, if you are like I was, you may be apprehensive, hesitant, even sickened by the thought of the fifth step. You may try to find every excuse why the fourth step is not worth doing. You may even try to find fault in your sponsor and build false resentment. My suggestion, suffer through it. Suffer through every feeling of suspicion, doubt and fear. Why? In the words of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, “Suffering brings courage.” It is time to stop living in fear and free ourselves from the incarceration of our minds. When it is time to put the product of Step Four to work, watch the service of Step Five react. Satisfaction Guaranteed.