Step of the Month: Step 5

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

Imagine that you’ve decided to clean out your house. There’s too much stuff in there bogging you down, covering every surface, stuffing every closet. You’re constantly reminded by the clutter that it’s time to pare down. When you finally do it, you realize that you need to determine what stays and what goes, so you make a list as you sort through all the stuff.

Once the list is made, you need to get rid of everything that’s not useful, so you pick up the phone book and call for a dump truck. Then you ask a friend to come by and help you carry all the dreck out of your house. The driver arrives and backs up to the house, and you and your friend load the items you are throwing out into the truck, one by one. As you go, you carefully tick them off your list.

That’s exactly where we are in step five. Just prior, in step four, we made our list of the damaging attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and situations that have gotten in our way. They have weighed us down, and every time we think about our lives, they are there to remind of us why we have sought comfort in food. But the trick is that making a list of our ugliest characteristics isn’t the same as getting rid of them. We need to expose them to the light of day where they lose their potency. We need to share them with another, understanding person who will see our humanity instead of judging us. We need to share them with God to demonstrate our continuing willingness to let go of what has blocked us from a relationship with our Higher Power.

Reading out our inventory to another person and God is how we load up the psychic dump truck so that our emotional and spiritual junk can be taken away from us.

* * *

The Big Book tells us that “a solitary self-appraisal seldom suffices.” We must reveal our darkest secrets and our tiniest missteps if we want to recover. Why? Because we have used food to bury our feelings alive. All the resentments, fears, and self-loathing remain inside of us, squirming to get out. If we leave even one or two behind, we will soon feel the need to beat them back with food once again.

Were that the only benefit of step 5—to expose our worst thinking to the disinfecting power of sunlight—we would be much better off than before we reached OA. Yet there is a further benefit from this step that pushes us onward. The OA Twelve and Twelve tell us “Through the fifth-step process, we begin to see reality.” Our damaged thinking begins to right itself:

All our striving to get ahead has been useless. We are neither above nor below the rest of the human race; we’re a part of it, shaped by the same basic needs and desires as all our fellows. Those of us who have belittled ourselves or felt we were worse than others also gain a new perspective. In talking honestly with another person about ourselves, we begin to feel a sense of relief. Someone knows all about us and still accepts us unconditionally. (47).

So we disinfect our insides, and we change our attitude about ourselves and others. And even that’s not all. We also learn, by watching our sponsor, how to listen. We will be grateful for that person’s help and support and will look forward to a time when we can sit in their chair, listening to another’s inventory with the same compassion and identification we were given. It is yet more motivation to continue through these steps and achieve the fullest extent of the spiritual awakening promised in step twelve.

Depending on how much we’ve written, reading our fifth step may take an hour, hours, days, even a month or more. No matter how long, this quiet, intimate, sometimes sad, and not infrequently hilarious process takes, the benefits can last a happy, joyous, and free lifetime.