Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes the fifth step as follows:
Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about it? We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path. We have admitted certain defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory. Now these are about to be cast out. 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. This brings us to the Fifth Step in the program of recovery mentioned in the preceding chapter. Pg 72
This part of the program of action can be more intimidating than it actually is. Once we get started we see that our fear really was unfounded. None of the steps of the program of action is meant to hurt the one taking them, and they don't. The fifth step is the time that I must sit down and come clean with the things in my past. This involves talking about things that I thought I had either very nicely tucked away or would never tell anyone. This is the step that I further the conclusions that I have begun to see in step four, and begin to clearly see the flaws in my make-up through my experiences. By the time I am done with step five I will have a good understanding of the selfish and self-centered behavior that makes up the spiritual malady. The directions as laid out in the basic text are clear about what I must do in this step. What we are going to look at are some of the conclusions that the fifth step brings us to if we are thorough and honest, to the best of our ability, with ourselves and the people about us. Remember: Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements. Pg 13-14
Although drinking is only a symptom and not the problem, it is the one symptom that made me take a good look at myself and see the need to change the way I was living. It is the one main reason that I have begun to seek a relationship with my Creator. At the moment I am involved in the easiest, softest way that I can solve my alcoholic problem. I have tried other methods and they always became complicated and failed. My experiences confirm this. If I stop or balk at this step I am sure to drink again and my life will spin out of control again, if I suffer from alcoholism as they saw it: This is perhaps difficult - especially discussing our defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story. Pg 72-73
I must be completely honest with someone if I am to successfully complete this step. The basic text gives some valuable advise for the individual or individuals who might be qualified to hear our fifth step if there is no recovered alcoholic available. Let's not beat around the bush! I have a recovered alcoholic giving me directions and more than likely I know several recovered alcoholics who fit the bill. If I am honest with myself I already know that I have someone right in front of me that more than qualifies to hear my fifth step. I know that they have taken this step, they understand alcoholics and will be close-mouthed and unaffected. What's more is they are more than qualified to help me to see, through my experience, the conclusions that I must come to in this step: But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished. Pgs 18-19
The rule that we follow in this step is we must be hard on ourselves, but always considerate of others. I might not be able to come completely clean with a family member or old friend with whom I have hurt, and a doctor or religious authority who does not understand us might encourage me to be easier on myself. Either way they do not understand the absolute necessity for being hard on ourselves and rigorously honest. My life depends on this: We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world. Rightly and naturally, we think well before we choose the person or persons with whom to take this intimate and confidential step. Those of us belonging to a religious denomination which requires confession must, and of course, will want to go to the properly appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it. Though we have no religious connection, we may still do well to talk with someone ordained by an established religion. We often find such a person quick to see and understand our problem. Of course, we sometimes encounter people who do not understand alcoholics. If we cannot or would rather not do this, we search our acquaintance for a close-mouthed, understanding friend. Perhaps our doctor or psychologist will be the person. It may be one of our own family, but we cannot disclose anything to our wives or our parents which will hurt them and make them unhappy. We have no right to save our own skin at another person's expense. Such parts of our story we tell to someone who will understand, yet be unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourselves, but always considerate of others. Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing ourselves with someone, it may be one is so situated that there is no suitable person available. Pg 73-74
This step although it should not be, may be postponed long enough to find someone who will enable me to keep this one basic rule: If that is so, this step may be postponed, only, however, if we hold ourselves in complete readiness to go through with it at the first opportunity. We say this because we are very anxious that we talk to the right person. It is important that he be able to keep a confidence; that he fully understand and approve what we are driving at; that he will not try to change our plan. But we must not use this as a mere excuse to postpone. Pg 74-75
Once I know the person or persons that I am going to fifth step with I should schedule the appointment as soon as possible and be prepared to talk in depth about the things that I have already seen in my inventory! My life depends upon me coming into a relationship with God and this is a major part of the action steps. My willingness to become humble before my Creator and another person is essential in my recovery. A recovered alcoholic will be honored by the privilege of being able to help me see the things in myself that will continue to lay the foundation for my new way of life: When we decide who is to hear our story, we waste no time. We have a written inventory and we are prepared for a long talk. We explain to our partner what we are about to do and why we have to do it. He should realize that we are engaged upon a life-and-death errand. Most people approached in this way will be glad to help; they will be honored by our confidence. Pg 75
Now I MUST BE VIGOROUSLY HONEST! As with most of the steps we have heard all kinds of opinions as to what this means. The directions are clear. I am going to talk about my inventory. I must be willing to bring out the things that I thought I would never tell anyone or that I thought I would take to the grave with me. For example if I had sex with a person of the same sex, I declare it. I don't go into details, that is not what the fifth step is about, but I don't hold back anything. In a general way I talk about the things in my past. If I lied, cheated or stole I bring it out. Anything that is humanly possible that I have done in my past. This can include anything. Rape, murder, incest, major crimes or misdemeanors. I must to the best of my ability come clean with everything that I can think of at the time I am following this direction. As with all the directions, it is about being willing to follow the direction to the best of my ability as I am doing the direction. If I am honest with myself I know whether I am holding anything back or willingly not following through with what God has put before me. I might be able to slip one past the person hearing my fifth step, but God sees through all the nonsense and knows what is really in my heart. He is giving me an opportunity through my experiences to come to the conclusions that must be reached if I am to come into this design for living: We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe. Pg 75
Let's take a look at what I come to see in the fifth step. This is not about making a confession of my sins. I am going to really see the way that I have behaved blocked from my creator and left to my own devices. I am starting to lay the ground work for true repentance and not just an awkward I'm sorry. On pages 60-61 in the basic text they talked about the alcoholic being like an actor. They describe some of the ways that I tried to bring myself into a comfortable state of mind. By needing everyone else to act the way I wanted them to, and in general, how I would try to manipulate them to do that: Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.
What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony? Pg 60-61
As an actor I have had several different personas that I would live out in my life. I have several different masks or personalities that I would hide behind depending upon the situation. I had one personality at work and one at home. I had a certain mask that I would wear for each group of friends or acquaintances and for each of the different people that I would meet. Then I have what I know to be me. The truth behind all the different characters that I liked everyone else to think that I was. This is the one that I don't want people to know. This is the one that creates havoc in my life and brings about feelings and emotions that I don't want to deal with or have others get to know. This is my true make-up. This is the man in the mirror. When I look at him I try to forget the things that he does and I try to get away from him, to make him a distant memory, but I can not. The feeling that someone will find out about him disturbs me. I am constantly plagued by different emotions brought about by the thought that someone might find him. That someone might truly see who I really am. So I continue with the different masks trying to live a scripted life and fit in the best I can to each situation, even though I know I don't deserve to be looked at the way my different masks portray me to be.
As time goes on I begin to do things that are disgusting to me and others while I am drinking. I try to put them out of my mind, even though I might not remember everything that happened. As I begin to harm them in ways that I know is wrong, and that I would never want people to do to me, I try to hide the fact that I did these things. There are times when I think that I have finally succeeded in killing these memories. But then they come back. When they do I am terrified that someone might see that it is really me that did these things. When this happens I again try to put them out of my mind, but I can't. The frustration, fear and anxiety that this causes is too much for me to handle. I only know of one thing that has ever eased this sort of pain, so I drink: More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it.
The inconsistency is made worse by the things he does on his sprees. Coming to his senses, he is revolted at certain episodes he vaguely remembers. These memories are a nightmare. He trembles to think someone might have observed him. As fast as he can, he pushes these memories far inside himself. He hopes they will never see the light of day. He is under constant fear and tension - that makes for more drinking. Pg 73
When our long talk is over, if I have been as thorough and honest as I can be, I will continue to follow the directions as set forth in the basic text. I will have an opportunity to sit and spend time alone with God and thank Him for allowing me to be where I am at. I will be able to clearly see and contemplate what it is that I have just finished doing. I will be able to focus on all of my step work and evaluate what I have done up to this point. Some of the time spent on my inventory may seem like a blur. We must not over analyze our actions. It is God that has given us the tools that we need to come to the conclusions of life blocked off from Him. I am looking to make sure that I have utilized what He has given me to the best of my ability. When I look at the first five steps can I say that I have been as thorough and honest as I could be when I was doing them? I may feel somewhat different than I did before the evening started. I may feel like a great burden has been lifted from me. I may have a sudden revelation. Whatever I now experience I know that I am beginning to be set free: Returning home we find a place where we can be quiet for an hour, carefully reviewing what we have done. We thank God from the bottom of our heart that we know Him better. Taking this book down from our shelf we turn to the page which contains the twelve steps. Carefully reading the first five proposals we ask if we have omitted anything, for we are building an arch through which we shall walk a free man at last. Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand? Pg 75
If I can honestly say that I have put forth a solid effort with all the directions up to this point, Then I am ready to take a look at step six. Are all your stones properly in place?
Let's take a look at step six.