Taking Step Five

Version I 6/9/2000

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Here are the steps we took:  5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

That is what the authors of the Big Book and millions before you did.  To personalize the step for your study and action in the here and now, however, you may wish to rephrase it as:

STEP FOUR.  Admit to God, to yourself, and to other human being the exact nature of your wrongs.


Big Book: Chapter 6, Into Action. 
From: Page 72 Thru: Page 75, the bottom of the page. 
12&12: Step 5

Why? This step is genuinely therapeutic. "Confession" (not an A.A. term) was one of the six steps in the Oxford Group, one of the sources from which A.A. sprang. It is to be found in some form in most every religion since ancient times. There is some kind of essential mystical property in the act of opening up completely to another human being. There is a sense of initiating the cleansing process in step 5. You have undoubtedly heard that your sickness cannot be removed completely until your deepest secret is purged. This is absolutely true!

In conjunction with your step 4, this bringing in of another person makes a lot of sense. You have done your very best to write out acts, thoughts and emotions which will need to be corrected and which will help to identify your defects of character. You have done the very best you could. Nevertheless, only the most achieved human can see himself in total objective truth. The keys to your behavior, often so obscure to you, will seem to jump out to the attention of your fifth step partner, especially if he has heard a fifth before with others. So, a major benefit is the feedback that will help you as you proceed to later steps.

One of our members noted this on page 75 of the BB:

"We...go to it, illuminating every twist of character...withholding nothing..."

He was concerned that the lists which make up Step 4 did not fulfill this everything requirement. It was pointed out that the everything refers to Step 5, not Step 4. There is always much discussion in Step 5 that goes far beyond the content of the inventory. This is the way it is supposed to be.

With whom? You have heard of A.A.s who select a total stranger (even one who speaks only another language) to hear their fifth. This might satisfy the first reason above for the step. However, it deprives the one taking the step of the response that is so vital to growth. Moreover, it makes sense to take this step with your sponsor or a person to whom you will turn for guidance in the future. When they are informed by the step and future discussions, they can help you see your patterns and provide the continuity that is necessary for unlearning old habits and initiating new (and healthy) ones.

The best approach is to select your partner, at least on a conditional basis, before you begin your step 4 in earnest. They may have definite ideas as to what they want to see when you take your fifth.

Needless to say, you will want more than concern, experience and wisdom from your partner. He or she must be absolutely trustworthy. Not a single episode from your revelation should ever leave their lips. One of the best ways of evaluating the ability of your partner to preserve private information is to listen as they talk about others. Do they engage in gossip? Do they reveal things about others you wouldn't want revealed about yourself?

When? It makes little sense to have an inventory riding around in your pocket. Once you've selected your partner, make an appointment and go to it.

Preparation. The Big Book is clear that once you have finished your step four writing, you are to review your lists, analyze what they mean, and learn something from what you have written. Your analysis will be augmented in step five, but you should not leave all the thinking up to your guide.

Read page 66 again. We are reluctant to repeat the book. However, some of the points it makes cannot be left without comment:

  1. The world is, indeed imperfect, and our lives have been touched by injustice. Our typical reaction has been to try to fix the world. When that didn't work—it never does—we got good and sore and bitched and drank at it. Only in sobriety have we learned there is but one thing in this universe that we can and must try to influence. You guessed it—self. Many of us have then discovered a miraculous truth. When we set about to have our Creator manage our lives, we are often empowered with incredible influence over people near us and in the world around us. The catch (wouldn't you know there would be one) is that we must not attempt to exercise self-will.

  2. The power of resentment far exceeds any conception we had of negative thinking. Were you aware that:

Most alcoholics have a deep—almost pathological—sense of justice. If we are wronged (meaning often that we did not get what we wanted), or even conjure up the notion that we might have been wronged, we find full justification to express anger or harbor resentment. It then seems almost a duty to carry a justified resentment. Otherwise those who have wronged us would get off scot-free. And that wouldn't be right, would it? So, we waste our God-given lives judging and punishing our fellows. Relinquishing a justified resentment is one of the most difficult experiences known to the alcoholic.

Yet, it must be done! There is striking evidence that resentment creates a physical poison in our bodies, in addition to the mental and spiritual maladies it feeds.

And, how do we rid ourselves of resentments? Hopefully, this process began in step 4. Our list holds the key.

a) Note the message of the column headings:

Column #1) Who do you hold a grudge against?

Column #2) What did they do that you found offensive?

Column #4) How did you contribute to their action? and

Column #3) Why did you react with a resentment?

The first lesson is that resentments cannot be cleared up until we know we have them and why. The second lesson is that we have made ourselves vulnerable to the outside world to an extraordinary extent. Our entire self concept has been molded by the opinions and actions of others and our old thinking as to what we ought to be and were.

b) Next, it is necessary to be willing to let go of the resentment. You will learn more about this in step six. Moreover—and the Big Book doesn't give as much help here as it might—we must forgive the person we resent. There will be more discussion of forgiving others in step eight, and you may wish to visit Forgiveness. Just accept right now that you are going to have to do it! There is no other course.

Now look at your fear list. For most of us, fear is the underlying cause of resentments, greed and negative behavior with others. This will be discussed further in step six.

Finally, the harm you have done others, whether relating to sex or not, needs to be thought through. Why did you do what you did?

The ultimate key given you in the Big Book is the oft repeated notion that your life is now on a different basis. A basis is a foundation—that upon which all the rest stands. Your new basis is trusting and relying upon God.

Character Defects. You will note in the steps these phrases: the exact nature of our wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings. Here we have three different ways of saying defects of character, which, according to Webster, are the habitual traits of defective thought and behavior which distinguish a person:

The dictionary on CHARACTER
3. An attribute , quality, or property; esp., a distinguishing attribute. 
5. The aggregation of distinctive qualities belonging to an individual...; the stamp of individuality impressed by nature, education, or habit...
6 The estimate put upon a person of thing; reputation; repute.
7. Moral vigor or firmness, esp. as acquired through self discipline.

We have heard folks point out that nature in "...the exact nature of our wrongs..." is singular.  We have performed many wrongs, but there is but one underlying nature for our wrong doing.  Having given this idea some thought, we conjectured that separation from God or self-centeredness might be our singular wrong. However, the text in the step could also be interpreted that each wrong might have its own and different nature. Understand it as you will, discuss it with your sober associates, and then move on. There just might not be a "right" answer to this one.

We have assembled on the last page a short catalogue of character defects, which you may expand or condense as you see fit. At the end of your step five you should know which of these apply to you. In the [ ] to the left of each candidate in the catalogue you can place a check mark [P] if it applies sometimes, an [X] if it is a real problem, or just leave it blank [ ]. These are the things we become willing to have removed from us in Step 6. Please notice that unreasonable judges, nagging partners, dictatorial bosses, stupid drivers, overdrawn checking accounts, falling hair and warts are not on the list.

Conduct of your fifth will be guided by your partner, who will be delighted that you have not brought the great American novel, and that you have followed the tried and true formula in the Big Book (as modified, perhaps by their prior direction). They will usually ask you to read your fourth to them. Much valuable communication will be provided by your expressions and voice in addition to your words. If they take notes, which is rare, they will give them to you before you leave. They are yours. This step takes anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. Schedule enough time, especially in recognition that many partners will combine steps five, six, seven and eight in one sitting.

Promises: we have a whole page on promises. We can't resist repeating here what A.A. members are promised at the completion of a successful Step 5.

"Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing,

  1. (W)e are delighted.

  2. We can look the world in the eye.

  3. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease.

  4. Our fears fall from us.

  5. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.

  6. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience.

  7. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly.

  8. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe. "


In many meetings we are read the alleged "12 promises" (actually the 18 beginning at the bottom of page 83). Upon reflection, the promises from Step 5 might be even more wonderful. Go to Promises and discover for yourself.

Writing: for once, there is no writing you need to do in advance of step five other than your inventory. Note, though, that at the conclusion of your presentation be sure that you have at least three pieces of paper to take home with you:

  1. The first will be a list of your defects of character. If you like, use the list on the next page by checking off the character defects that apply to you. This list will guide steps 6 and 7.

  2. You should also have a preliminary list of persons you have harmed for step 8 (This will be a combination of the sexual injury [4d] and persons you have harmed lists [4e] from step 4.).

  3. Retrieve a list of the names of the persons you still resent. You will probably find it necessary to forgive them in order for the resentment to be removed.

It is often a good idea to burn the inventory you brought with you. More on this in step 7.

The principle of Step 5 _____________________.

Defects of CHARACTER
[ ] Abusing others [ ] Fear * [ ] Pessimism
[ ] Anger 7 [ ] Filthy-mindedness [ ] Prejudice
[ ] Arguing [ ] Gluttony 7 [ ] Pride 7
[ ] Arrogance [ ] Gossiping * [ ] Procrastination *
[ ] Boasting  [ ] Greed 7 [ ] Recklessness
[ ] Cheating [ ] Hate * [ ] Resentment *
[ ] Closed-mindedness [ ] Hopelessness [ ] Revenge
[ ] Cold-heartedness [ ] Immodesty [ ] Sarcasm
[ ] Complaining [ ] Impatience * [ ] Secretiveness
[ ] Controlling others [ ] Injustice [ ] Self condemnation *
[ ] Corrupt companions [ ] Insincerity * [ ] Self-indulgence
[ ] Cowardice [ ] Insulting [ ] Self-justification *
[ ] Criticizing * [ ] Intolerance [ ] Self-pity *
[ ] Dependency [ ] Irresponsibility [ ] Selfishness *
[ ] Destructiveness [ ] Jealousy * [ ] Sloth 7
[ ] Deviousness [ ] Laziness * [ ] Theft
[ ] Dishonesty * [ ] Lewdness [ ] Thrill-seeking
[ ] Enviousness * 7 [ ] Lust 7 [ ] Thoughtlessness
[ ] Exaggeration [ ] Lying * [ ] Uncleanness
[ ] Excess [ ] Meddling [ ] Vulgarity *
[ ] Fanaticism [ ] Miserliness [ ] Waste
[ ] Favoritism [ ] Negative thinking *
* One of 20 character defects identified by an early member of A.A.
7 One of the "Seven Deadly Sins" (try the mnemonic, "GAPLEGS", or, better yet, "PAGGLES")
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