Editor’s note: For this issue fellows are sharing their experience, strength and hope with Step 5 and Integrity. Integrity is about becoming whole and Step 5 allows us to address all our parts, the good and the bad. By “illuminating every twist of character”, we learn how to be ourselves and participate in the world. God bless you.
The 5th Step Promises
We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, (1) we 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.
(Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 75)
When I was drinking, I led a double life. I had my life on the outside: a job, an apartment, friends and my parent’s house in the suburbs of a small town in middle Germany. And then there were the signs that something was going on underneath: my obsession with men and affairs, the key to my flat, which was broken for a month, so that I needed to ring my neighbor’s door, if I wanted to get into my apartment, the empty fridge, the energy bill that was never paid.
I put a lot of energy into pretending to be something else, hiding the misery inside—that black hole that I escaped through drink. Sometimes at night, the truth crawled out of the darkness, heavy on my heart, convincing me to open up another bottle of wine or beer. With all my power I drank to escape my insides. Alcohol was the glue between the lies and myself. And then one day it didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t deny my inner pain anymore, it was too loud to deny. I had panic attacks and felt disconnected—like remote-controlled.
The worst part about it was that the alcohol didn’t work anymore. I detoxed in a hospital over the weekend and then checked into rehab for three weeks. One evening two men introduced us to Alcoholics Anonymous. I was still clinging to my old ideas of how I saw myself… successful at my job, popular with men, intelligent and from a good family. So I was convinced that I wouldn’t need a self-help group. And then, a few days later, I went to my first meeting.
In the beginning, I felt timid at the meetings. The honesty of the people in the rooms built a bridge between my old ideas and my real inside. It took nine months until I was able to share for the first time. Soon after, I found my first sponsor who lent me her ear when my first heartache in sobriety forced me to be more honest. My sponsor invited me to work the 12 Steps. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was so desperate, I said yes. We read the Big Book together and talked about powerlessness, insanity and God’s care. Working with the book and the spiritual principles of Steps 1 to 3 helped me to slowly open my heart without even realizing it. When it came to Step 4, my sponsor explained the lists as they are described in the Big Book. I told her that I couldn’t write a resentment list because I had none. My resentments were hidden so deeply inside that I couldn’t see them.
She let me write the fear list first, which was much easier because I was driven by so many fears… at work… in my friendships… with my boyfriend… It seemed as if I could whisper the truth slowly to myself as it hit me bit by bit going through the columns. I was relieved that I could write it down first before sharing it. I became honest with myself and with God. Then I did the resentment and the sex lists. I didn’t write a finance list at that point, which is kind of funny because money turned out to be an ego trap later on in my sobriety. Finally, I met my sponsor to share my lists—my Step 5. I was holding the pages tightly in my hands, crouching from time to time while I was sharing my life’s secrets. I felt like I wrestled my shame to the ground.
My sponsor was sensitive and listened to me for hours with quiet patience until I finished. Then she stood up, came over, hugged me and said: „You are exactly right the way you are.“ I felt her words in my heart and then rushed to leave her place. I still felt ashamed, but for the first time, I acted against it by putting all my effort into showing up instead of hiding. With that experience of sharing my truth, the connection inside of me started to grow. I was able to recognize my insides for the first time— and not only the bad. I had always feared the devil inside of me, once I faced it, it turned out to be Go(o)d.
My journey to my own truth began. Today it has grown muscles. I am often surprised when I am able to be myself. Me– not more, not less. What a pleasure, when my outsides and insides meet and melt into integrity. I deeply long for that, because I believe that’s where I meet God. Thank you all for that power!
– Doro, sober since the 5th of August 2011
I was recently asked to write about Integrity.
A.) Steadfast adherence to a strict moral code or ethical code.
B.) The quality or condition of being whole or undivided: completeness
This has been my experience with the 5th step principle of Integrity. With regards to the first definition, Was I living to a strict moral code? Certainly not while active in my disease. New in recovery, it took every principle I learned from the previous steps to even begin to be of sound ethical character. Honesty, Hope, Faith and Courage were needed to make this transition. One based on the desperation to be relieved of my constant obsession, and a strong desire to be free. So much of my life was lived in a delusional state. Fooling myself and trying to present to those around me the illusion that I was in control and all was well. As I progressed through the steps, guided by my sponsor, prayer, my group and close confidants, I continued to learn the rest of the principles to live by. Willingness, Humility, Love, Discipline, Perseverance, Self Awareness, and Service. I need to be vigilant on the practice of these in all my affairs. I become free of the many personas I wore, each different depending on the environment I found myself in. I can now just BE, as I believe God intended. I try to nourish my relationships and demonstrate compassion and listen to understand instead of hearing to respond. I am not threatened by the opinions of others. I strive to live in the now and not in fantasy. The definition “B” is true now due to the work I put in with the help of others. I am Whole, undivided. I am comfortable in my skin. Finally.
My main character defects according to the Big Book as taken over from the Oxford Group are resentment, fear, selfishness, and dishonesty.
The purpose of Step 5 is to disclose myself completely before another human being, and therefore, before God. In AA, we believe God works through people. To stand utterly stripped of all pretenses to become the person I am meant to be. As long as I am afraid of what you will think of me, I cannot be true to myself and thus I cannot be true neither to God nor anyone else.
Step 5 is also my bridge to self-knowledge, to the acceptance of my human imperfection, and thus to the exhilarating experience in Step 9 when I finally take responsibility for ALL of my life. The latter of course is the step that ultimately catapults me from the past and future into the present and thus creates the bliss I was yearning for in alcohol. That is why we love reading the 9th Step promises.
Back to the 5th Step promises. I will pick the person who hears my 5th Step wisely. In general, it will be my sponsor who has what I want absolutely and that is why I am willing to go to any length to get it. Good choice! I will not postpone making a date once I’m done with Step 4, as Step 4 weighs heavily on my heart and spirit. I will want to share promptly.
I remember my first 5th Step being just love. I was welcomed into my sponsor’s home, she served coffee in a nice AA mug, I spilled the coffee on the white carpet, she forgave me immediately, she invited me to pray with her – Step 3 on our knees- and I felt accepted, wanted and loved as I was. I had never experienced that feeling before. I knew AA was the bomb. But this was even better. It was as stated in 12 & 12 (page 62) the end of my loneliness. Forever. Because Step 5 is forever as I can always repeat the experience as long as I stay close to the program and its principles. I experienced indeed that the “Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy and all-inclusive” (Alcoholics Anonymous page 46). I wasn’t asked to leave. I was loved at last forever and unconditionally.
‘Integrity’ comes from the Greek and means ‘being whole’. A thorough Step 9 will restore my integrity entirely. And Step 5 will provide the courage to do it because I won’t be alone. My sponsor ‘knows me’. She will be on my side when I falter and point the way. She knows how I will be alright (by making all my amends).
When I read any of the BB promises and when I feel that they are not currently real in my life, I can easily take that step again. Spirituality is not linear, it’s timeless, it’s four-dimensional, it’s eternal. So here we go:
(1) I am delighted – If not, have I confided everything in another human being after taking Step 3 and writing Step 4, and am I convinced that I am safe at last? Have I understood that Step 3 is for every day and not just Wednesday and Saturday? If not, I take a quick inventory of resentments, fears, selfishness and dishonesty. Have I missed something?
(2) I can look the world in the eyes – if I can’t, quickly call a sponsor or fellow alcoholic and check what’s keeping me from holding my gaze on all things that the world (and God) offers me today.
(3) I can be alone at perfect peace and ease – if not, am I restless? Irritable? Discontent? Scared? Full of worries? Self-doubt? I need to call and reach out immediately and engage in some serious (and sometimes lengthy) self-examination.
(4) My fears fall from me –Am I still plagued by fears? Then I can go back to Step 3: do I really mean it? Will I examine ALL my fears and write out Who would I be and what would I do if I didn’t have these fears? and share these results with my sponsor, as these are God’s Will for me. (see Alcoholics Anonymous pp 67-68)
(5) I begin to feel the nearness of our Creator – do I feel abandoned? Left alone? Time to examine what I may have left out of my 5th Step out of shame, pride, fear, or sheer neglect. I must write out what happened, what it affects in my moral fiber and where I was wrong.
(6) I may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience – even if I don’t feel it. We are sometimes quite sentimental as newcomers, as we figure we need to feel something. Here I suggest you read the appendix “The Spiritual Experience” in the BB (Alcoholics Anonymous pp 567-568), as the miraculous transformation of my character is often much more apparent to my fellow travelers than to myself.
(7) The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly – remember Dr. Bob stayed really thirsty for a whole THREE YEARS. Go back and read his story (Alcoholics Anonymous page 171). Had he yielded to the pressure, you and I would be dead, in prison or an insane asylum. If I still want to drink, what is it that I am not sharing? What’s my secret that I will take to the grave? Share it.
(8) I feel I am on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe – the world today is my Broad Highway. I seriously am afraid of nothing, just for today. Spirit loves me to pieces. And so do you. I have enough, I do enough, I am enough. I am whole. I have recovered my integrity.
To sum up Step 5 and integrity:
When I have a resentment, I admit it, share it promptly and make amends swiftly. What a relief.
When I am afraid, I talk to God. I pray and ask God for guidance, protection and sometimes loads of courage. It always works.
When I am dishonest, I fess up and rectify it.
When I am selfish, I start by doing service in AA, I take out the trash at home and give my family a break from my incessant demands.
It’s a lot of work. All the time. It takes a lifetime. It gets easier. It becomes pleasant. Take heart!
– Julia, sober since 23rd of September 1985