< Step 4 | Step
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human
being the exact nature of our wrongs."
All of A.A.'s Twelve Steps ask us to go contrary to our
natural desires . . .
they all deflate our egos. When it comes to ego deflation, few Steps
to take than Five. But scarcely any Step is more necessary to longtime
and peace of mind than this one.
A.A. experience has taught us we cannot live alone with our pressing
and the character defects which cause or aggravate them. If we have
searchlight of Step Four back and forth over our careers, and it has
in stark relief those experiences we'd rather not remember, if we have
know how wrong thinking and action have hurt us and others, then the
quit living by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday gets
urgent than ever. We have to talk to somebody about them.
So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this, that many
first try to bypass Step Five. We search for an easier way--which usually
consists of the general and fairly painless admission that when drinking
were sometimes bad actors. Then, for good measure, we add dramatic descriptions
of that part of our drinking behavior which our friends probably know
But of the things which really bother and burn us, we say nothing. Certain
distressing or humiliating memories, we tell ourselves, ought not be
with anyone. These will remain our secret. Not a soul must ever know.
they'll go to the grave with us.
Yet if A.A.'s experience means anything at all, this is not only unwise,
is actually a perilous resolve. Few muddled attitudes have caused us
trouble than holding back on Step Five. Some people are unable to stay
all; others will relapse periodically until they really clean house.
old timers, sober for years, often pay dearly for skimping this Step.
tell how they tried to carry the load alone; how much they suffered
irritability, anxiety, remorse, and depression; and how, unconsciously
relief, they would sometimes accuse even their best friends of the very
character defects they themselves were trying to conceal. They always
discovered that relief never came by confessing the sins of other people.
Everybody had to confess his own.
This practice of admitting one's defects to another person is, of course,
ancient. It has been validated in every century, and it characterizes
of all spiritually centered and truly religious people. But today religion
by no means the sole advocate of this saving principle. Psychiatrists
psychologists point out the deep need every human being has for practical
insight and knowledge of his own personality flaws and for a discussion
with an understanding and trustworthy person. So far as alcoholics are
concerned, A.A. would go even further. Most of us would declare that
fearless admission of our defects to another human being we could not
sober. It seems plain that the grace of God will not enter to expel
destructive obsessions until we are willing to try this.
What are we likely to receive from Step Five? For one thing, we shall
of that terrible sense of isolation we've always had. Almost without
alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got
people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that
didn't quite belong. Either we were shy, and dared not draw near others,
were apt to be noisy good fellows craving attention and companionship,
never getting it--at least to our way of thinking. There was always
mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand. It was
as if we
were actors on a stage, suddenly realizing that we did not know a single
of our parts. That's one reason we loved alcohol too well. It did let
extemporaneously. But even Bacchus boomeranged on us; we were finally
down and left in terrified loneliness.
When we reached A.A., and for the first time in our lives stood among
who seemed to understand, the sense of belonging was tremendously exciting.
thought the isolation problem had been solved. But we soon discovered
while we weren't alone any more in a social sense, we still suffered
the old pangs of anxious apartness. Until we had talked with complete
our conflicts, and had listened to someone else do the same thing, we
didn't belong. Step Five was the answer. It was the beginning of true
with man and God.
This vital Step was also the means by which we began to get the feeling
we could be forgiven, no matter what we had thought or done. Often it
working on this Step with our sponsors or spiritual advisers that we
truly able to forgive others, no matter how deeply we felt they had
Our moral inventory had persuaded us that all-round forgiveness was
but it was only when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly
knew we'd be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too.
Another great dividend we may expect from confiding our defects to another
human being is humility--a word often misunderstood. To those who have
progress in A.A., it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who
are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore,
first practical move toward humility must consist of recognizing our
deficiencies. No defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what
it is. But
we shall have to do more than see. The objective look at ourselves we
achieved in Step Four was, after all, only a look. All of us saw, for
that we lacked honesty and tolerance, that we were beset at times by
self-pity or delusions of personal grandeur. But while this was a humiliating
experience, it didn't necessarily mean that we had yet acquired much
humility. Though now recognized, our defects were still there. Something
be done about them. And we soon found that we could not wish or will
More realism and therefore more honesty about ourselves are the great
make under the influence of Step Five. As we took inventory, we began
suspect how much trouble self-delusion had been causing us. This had
disturbing reflection. If all our lives we had more or less fooled ourselves,
how could we now be so sure that we weren't still self-deceived? How
be certain that we had made a true catalog of our defects and had really
admitted them, even to ourselves? Because we were still bothered by
self-pity, and hurt feelings, it was probable we couldn't appraise ourselves
fairly at all. Too much guilt and remorse might cause us to dramatize
exaggerate our shortcomings. Or anger and hurt pride might be the smoke
under which we were hiding some of our defects while we blamed others
Possibly, too, we were still handicapped by many liabilities, great
we never knew we had.
Hence it was most evident that a solitary self-appraisal, and the admission
our defects based upon that alone, wouldn't be nearly enough. We'd have
outside help if we were surely to know and admit the truth about ourselves--the
help of God and another human being. Only by discussing ourselves, holding
nothing, only by being willing to take advice and accept direction could
foot on the road to straight thinking, solid honesty, and genuine humility.
Yet many of us still hung back. We said, "Why can't `God as we
tell us where we are astray? If the Creator gave us our lives in the
place, then He must know in every detail where we have since gone wrong.
don't we make our admissions to Him directly? Why do we need to bring
else into this?"
At this stage, the difficulties of trying to deal rightly with God by
ourselves are twofold. Though we may at first be startled to realize
knows all about us, we are apt to get used to that quite quickly. Somehow,
being alone with God doesn't seem as embarrassing as facing up to another
person. Until we actually sit down and talk aloud about what we have
hidden, our willingness to clean house is still largely theoretical.
are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest
ourselves and with God.
The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone may be garbled
own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to
person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation,
there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. Going it alone
spiritual matters is dangerous. How many times have we heard well-intentioned
people claim the guidance of God when it was all too plain that they
sorely mistaken. Lacking both practice and humility, they had deluded
themselves and were able to justify the most arrant nonsense on the
this was what God had told them. It is worth noting that people of very
spiritual development almost always insist on checking with friends
spiritual advisers the guidance they feel they have received from God.
then, a novice ought not lay himself open to the chance of making foolish,
perhaps tragic, blunders in this fashion. While the comment or advice
may be by no means infallible, it is likely to be far more specific
direct guidance we may receive while we are still so inexperienced in
establishing contact with a Power greater than ourselves.
Our next problem will be to discover the person in whom we are to confide.
Here we ought to take much care, remembering that prudence is a virtue
carries a high rating. Perhaps we shall need to share with this person
about ourselves which no others ought to know. We shall want to speak
someone who is experienced, who not only has stayed dry but has been
surmount other serious difficulties. Difficulties, perhaps, like our
person may turn out to be one's sponsor, but not necessarily so. If
developed a high confidence in him, and his temperament and problems
to your own, then such a choice will be good. Besides, your sponsor
the advantage of knowing something about your case.
Perhaps, though, your relation to him is such that you -would care to
only a part of your story. If this is the situation, by all means do
you ought to make a beginning as soon as you can. It may turn out, however,
that you'll choose someone else for the more difficult and deeper revelations.
This individual may be entirely outside of A.A.--for example, your clergyman
your doctor. For some of us, a complete stranger may prove the best
The real tests of the situation are your own willingness to confide
full confidence in the one with whom you share your first accurate self-survey.
Even when you've found the person, it frequently takes great resolution
approach him or her. No one ought to say the A.A. program requires no
willpower; here is one place you may require all you've got. Happily,
the chances are that you will be in for a very pleasant surprise. When
mission is carefully explained, and it is seen by the recipient of your
confidence how helpful he can really be, the conversation will start
will soon become eager. Before long, your listener may well tell a story
about himself which will place you even more at ease. Provided you hold
nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The
emotions of years break out of their confinement, and miraculously vanish
soon as they are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquillity
its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined, something
great moment is apt to occur. Many an A.A., once agnostic or atheistic,
us that it was during this stage of Step Five that he first actually
presence of God. And even those who had faith already often become conscious
God as they never were before.
This feeling of being at one with God and man, this emerging from isolation
through the open and honest sharing of our terrible burden of guilt,
to a resting place where we may prepare ourselves for the following
toward a full and meaningful sobriety.
Steps | The Twelve
Traditions | The Promises
| Bill's Story
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