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Humility and Healing: The Impact of Step 5 in Alcoholics Anonymous

Mike Mather

The Challenge

Step Five in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is a challenging but necessary step for long-term sobriety and peace of mind. It involves admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to God, ourselves, and another person. Many A.A. members initially avoid this step due to fear and reluctance, but it's crucial for overcoming loneliness, finding forgiveness, developing humility, and gaining a realistic view of ourselves. Confiding in another person provides direct feedback and guidance, ensuring that we aren't self-deceived. The choice of whom to confide in should be made carefully, considering their experience and trustworthiness. By taking this step, we can experience relief, healing, and a deeper connection with God and others.

What is the purpose of Step 5 in the eponymous 12-Step program? Is it to humiliate an already suffering human? Is it to convert a previously atheistic person into a God-botherer? Or is it a great way to make people cry in front of someone else and hug a stranger? All of these can and do happen, so I tried to delve deeper into Step 5 to find a meaningful interpretation.

A group of people having a meeting

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

We are social creatures, sharing 99.9% of our DNA with the great apes, which are also social creatures. Addiction is very personal and private, often resulting in denial about our addictive behaviour. We may have formed many adaptive and secretive habits due to our addiction. Sharing with others in an intimate and humble way is foreign to many of us.

Knowledge Alone

Self-knowledge is typically pointless, even if we find it.

Alcoholism, or its cousins, isn't an isolated condition, and the other forces that contributed to your addiction are still present when the drinking stops. Thus, the first point of this personal interface is that we move from searching for knowledge and contrition to sharing and empathy.

The person listening to you is also an addict and is simultaneously doing Step 12. Here are two humans suffering from a similar condition, helping each other to recover. This isn't about sharing vegan recipes; it's one addict speaking and one addict listening, then swapping. Following the Personal Inventory in Step 4, this conversation is expected to be deep and revealing.

see also: Alcoholics and Compassion

Deeper Understanding

The sharing of 'war stories' and, more importantly, our feelings about the stories, leads to a long-lasting humility. This act also allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the human experience. By discussing our thoughts and emotions, we can reflect on the impact of our alcoholism and its consequences. This reflection opens our minds to new perspectives and challenges our preconceived notions about the world.

Humility empowers us to break free from erroneous perceptions about the world and the motives of others. It enables us to authentically connect with our fellows and cultivate empathy and compassion. By embracing humility, we can bridge the gap between ourselves and others, fostering a sense of unity and understanding. When we approach life with humility, we become more open to learning and personal growth. We become willing to acknowledge our mistakes and shortcomings, allowing us to continuously improve and evolve as individuals.

As everyone has a personal concept of a Higher Power, it is important to acknowledge and respect the diversity of beliefs in this discussion of Step 5. This pivotal step involves a profound process of moral cleansing and intimate exchange, which taps into the depths of one's spirituality and fosters a deep connection with the divine or one's personal understanding of a higher existence.

Huge tree with sun beaming through the limbs

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Listening with Your Good Ear

Here are some specific tips that I have picked up that might help physically and mentally. Listen to learn, not to reply. Use your 'good ear'.

The 'bad ear' listens for what is wrong in what others are saying. The 'good ear' listens to understand. If you can't understand what someone is saying, ask a question. Once you understand what they are saying, you can add your own perspective. Build on what they said, don't replace it. Here are some specific tips:

  • Give the speaker your full attention.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to elaborate.
  • Paraphrase what they have said to show that you are listening and understanding.
  • Avoid interrupting or judging.
  • Be respectful of their opinion, even if you disagree.

The process involves a realisation, secret sharing, and release from the bondage of self.

We see with our real eyes events and attitudes that have troubled us for years in a new and refreshing way. With a new perspective, real progress will be possible in starting anew, the life that was always available.

Pray every day and meditate on what is of real importance today. Then speak with someone about THEIR experience and feelings. Observe ourselves in our daily life and try to understand why we act the way we do, and soften that attitude. Start to learn to listen with your good ear.

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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