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

Step Five

As I write more around my understanding of the programme and my experiences, I’ve realised I eventually want to write a post around each of the twelve steps for newcomers to the programme. The sensible thing to do would start at Step One and work my way up, but seeing as I completed a Step Five only a few days ago, I’m going to start there.

As if creating a searching and fearless moral inventory in Step Four wasn’t hard enough, we now face Step Five, sharing that inventory with God, ourselves and another human being. I’ve completed step five twice, initially with my sponsor when first working through the steps, and most recently a few days ago when I shared my inventory with another fellow who has also been a source of inspiration and guidance throughout my recovery journey. Here’s a retrospective…

What exactly is step five?

Our inventory in Step Four was a look back over our lives at the resentments we had, our fears and secrets. We had to look at our part and the character defects which drove them. Step Five involves talking through this with your sponsor (or another suitable person). Some people do this in a single session, others break sessions up over a few days, some can even go through this over the course of weeks or even months. It’s all down to the inventory you have and how you decide to work it with your sponsor.

Alongside Step Four, this isn’t a step you want to rush. Rather than just read each inventory item, I found it helpful to explain each and give more context to the situation, the person I was sharing with took the time to listen to each, listen to my part and the defects I’d written down. In most cases they were able to give me a wider perspective on each situation and also highlight any defects that I’d missed. One of the most useful things I found was hearing alternative points of view, for situations where I’d been angry or felt let down, I’d hear someone impartial to the situation give me a calm, rational point of view. This certainly helped me to realise that in many cases I had been carrying a lot of unfounded resentments. When I’d finished I was free to let most of these go. It can be an incredibly liberating experience.

The first time doing this with my sponsor we split this up over three or four sessions during the course of a week, the second time, I spent four hours with a fellow in the park to go through the list in one go. It’s can be long, but it’s a very important and worthwhile process.

Why do we do this?

Why is it important we share our inventory with another person? The programme tells us that simply creating the inventory alone isn’t enough, in order to experience true honesty and humility and begin our healing process, we need to share our inventory with another person and with God. It’s only by doing this thorough housecleaning that can we truly recognise our past behaviour patterns and defects, have acceptance over them and begin to move on and embrace a new way of living. It helps you move past things which have haunted you by bringing them from the darkness into the light.

What’s my experience?

How did I feel after completing Step Five? The first time after going through with my sponsor I largely didn’t feel any different. I had heard some people talk about experiencing a sense of elation or freedom, feeling instantly lighter, but this wasn’t the case with me. I only noticed a few weeks afterwards that I generally felt better, but there was no immediate difference that I could notice.

The second time, I instantly noticed the difference. I felt happier, a sense of peace and a much greater connection to the programme and the world around me. The step helps with you being more open to forgiveness, it helps you let go of things you’ve held onto for a long time, and allows you to be more open to receive forgiveness as well.

Why was this? Everyone will be different, but when working through with my sponsor we’d already spoken about a lot of the items in my inventory while doing step work, so while putting everything down on paper was helpful, it felt like an anti-climax as we’d already spoken about most of these before. Because of the pandemic we also had to split the step five process up, doing it over a series of Zoom calls over the course of a week. This might have also played a part in how I was felt, splitting it up over the course of a week possibly made the process feel less impactful.

Speak to your sponsor about this, they will be able to guide you on how they recommend doing the step. Everyone will be different, but if you can do this in a single session, I’d recommend it. Aside from it feeling more impactful, I also felt slightly resentful at having spent so much time and effort and writing the Step Four, only to then have to spend a week doing Step Five.

Re-doing Step Five with a second person was also a test of honesty, whilst my sponsor knew a lot of my secrets and past behaviour from our time together, doing this with a new fellow and laying everything bare is a difficult, but liberating experience. If you’re truly honest and realise you can be this open with people in AA without being judged, it gives you a sense of being held, you feel less isolated. I certainly feel closer to the fellowship as a result.