Step Five

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Reading: pages 72-75

We read, out loud, our written Step Fours, the resentments, fears and the account of sexual conduct to another person. The main thing is that someone else hears it. Occasionally, the person we read it to, our sponsor, would comment and give feedback but for the most part we read and he listened without comment.

It is likely to take several hours. Some do two-hour weekly sessions. Some do whole days monthly. But we had to devote the time on a steady basis until it was completed. There is quite a lot of discussion in the Big Book about who should hear the Step Five. We have all found that the best person is our sponsor. The Big Book does not actually mention sponsors because the word “sponsor” was not part of AA jargon at that stage, although the principle of sponsorship through the program was established right from the start. For example, the co-founder Bill W was taken through the steps by someone called Ebby. Their meeting is described in Bill’s Story in the Big Book and the word sponsor is not used. But when writing much later in the 12x12, he described Ebby as his sponsor. Also, when the book was written it was imagined that many of the people reading it would not be in personal contact with any AAs at all but would be getting sober as loners, only able to have contact with with the office in New York by correspondence. At that time those who had contact with an AA group were being taken through the program by others who had experience. There the need for a book containing the method wasn’t felt so acutely. It was only once the book was written that it was discovered that it was a useful tool for all who were taking the steps, including those who had access to meetings and had AA sponsors {see AA Comes of Age, page 22}.

What the Big Book does do is outline some general principles that describe the right person to hear our Fifth Step. It also suggests possible people who you might like to consider if you cannot find someone in AA (eg a clergymen, a member of your family, a doctor, a psychologist), but in each case it raises notes of caution. These are on page 74. The criteria are:

• Someone who understands alcoholics — it says we should take care because, “we sometimes encounter people who do not understand alcoholics”.
• Someone who is trustworthy — it says “We search our acquaintance for a close-mouthed friend.”
• Someone who is not so close to us that they are too great a part of are drinking past and so would be hurt by our disclosures — it says “we cannot disclose something to our wives or our parents which would make them unhappy.”

It must be someone who will “understand, yet be unaffected”. In almost every case the person who will match these criteria closest will be the alcoholic’s sponsor. Certainly in our experience, our sponsors turned out to be the best person.

Although our sponsors did not always comment, some themes seemed to crop up for many of us and the comments from our sponsors seemed to be helpful: For example, many of us had resentments against our parents – we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. As a result, many of us blame our parents for our problems. There are a number of points to make: firstly, we cannot be certain that any action of our parents, whether good or bad, has contributed in any way to our alcoholism, so it is dishonest to blame them.

Also, we reminded ourselves that in many cases they fed and clothed us, sent us to school and so on – all reasons for us to be grateful to them for bringing us into the world. Even if our parents have done us wrong, we should remember that there are no parents who are perfect and it is very likely that they are simply following the example of their parents before them, just as their parents did before them. We now have the chance to break the chain of behavior thanks to AA. Where our parents have done something wrong, we found it best to strive to have compassion for them and try to forgive rather than blame.

In regard to our desire to blame: in our Step Fours many of us described events that took place decades ago –perhaps 10, 20, 30 years ago, or even more. “Don’t you think,” one of us was asked when describing something that our parents did to him when he was five years old, “Don’t you think it’s about time you let your parents off the hook after all these years and moved forward?”

Also, many of us have resentments against other authority figures. Occasionally our sponsors pointed out to us that we go to school to do what our teachers tell us, and we go to work to do what our bosses tell us. So, provided that we are not being asked to do something that is illegal or immoral, we should aim to do what they say, even if we don’t agree with it. It was pointed out that if in the past we had accepted this and tried to do our best, they might have given us a fair break.

When all of our Step Four had been read out, we went home and as soon as possible read the passage at the beginning of the third paragraph on page 75 that asks us to consider if we have missed anything out. When we are sure we have put down all that we can remember, we are told that we should, “thank God from the bottom of our heart that we know him better.” So on our knees we say… Thank you God that I know you better.