Step Five suggest that we, “…go to the properly appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it…We often find such a person quick to see and understand our problem”(A.A. p.74).
There is a scene in the HBO series, “The Sopranos” where the heroin addict, Christopher Moltisanti , tells another member of the fellowship, JT Dolan, his inventory of murders he has committed. At the end of the scene, Christopher kills JT, presumably because he knows too much.
All too often, “sponsors” want to know and hear all sorts of details from the confessor on Step 5. The sponsor ends up playing the role of lawyer, doctor, therapist, marriage counselor, financial planner, and who knows what else with a newcomer.
The minute we put our work on a service plane, the alcoholic commences to rely upon our assistance rather than upon God (A.A. p. 98).
Is it the role of the sponsor to hear such intimate details?
Our Big Book tells me to prepare a written fearless and thorough moral inventory.
I recognize my moral inventory when looking at the part I played in my resentments, fears and harms to others. I discover the truth about myself. I learn that I have been selfish, self-seeking, fearful, jealous, envious, greedy, lustful, hateful, slothful, slanderous, arrogant, self-loathing, intolerant, inconsiderate, impatient, and dishonest.
These are the character defects or shortcomings I confess to another person. Someone who is a close-mouthed, understanding friend who is quick to see and understand my problem. Such parts of my story I tell to someone who will understand, yet be unaffected. Someone who can keep a confidence (A.A. p. 74). Someone who will not try to change my plan. I pocket my pride and I illuminate every twist of character, with-holding nothing.
The recovered alcoholic who showed me how to work the 12 Steps, said, “You are to give NOR receive names and details. You and others can’t wipe names and details. The point being, if someone tells me the names and details of certain events, I find I cannot forget them. Furthermore, I end up becoming a garbage can for other people’s wrong-doings.
I often hear in the rooms, “what’s goes on here, stays here.” I don’t believe it! There is no confidentiality in the “rooms”. Everyone knows who is relapsing, who’s fucking whom and so on. I knew of a fellow who blurted out in one of the 12 Step rooms that he fucked a 13 year old crack whore. Everyone in the group became judgmental and shunned him. He committed suicide within a year. Moreover, there is no legal (i.e. lawyer/client privilege) protection for the newcomer who shares intimate criminal details of people, places and things he/she has done.
If you read the story, “He Sold Himself Short”, in the Big Book, you will read the story of Earl T. the man who founded Chicago A.A. Earl met with Dr. Bob one afternoon, and worked his entire program in four hours! When they came to Step Four, this was how it was handled:
“Dr. Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory (Step 4), he brought up some of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm and resentments. We wen over these at great length and the he finally asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed. When I said yes (Step 6), we both knelt at this desk and prayed, each of us asking to have these defects taken away” (Step 7). (p. 287 in 2nd and 3rd editions and p. 258 in 4th edition.)
When I work with newcomers on Step Four and Five, I used the Big Book as my instruction manual. What I hear is a written, moral inventory. I do not engage in an archaeological dig on the newcomer. I hear their column four, their part in their resentments, fears and harms to others. I hear the moral side, not all the specifics. Therefore, following the Big Book’s instruction on taking the Step Five to the properly appointed authority, I instruct the newcomer to do the following:
1) Criminal details need to be discussed with a lawyer. Whatever is discussed with your lawyer remains privileged and cannot be disclosed to a third party. That’s for the newcomer’s protection. I will hear the moral inventory, such as dishonesty, selfishness, self-seeking, inconsideration, etc., but no names or details — I encourage the newcomer to work that out with the lawyer when working on Step Eight and Nine.
2) Psychological/emotional details need to be discussed with a professional therapist. Traumatic situations that have created emotional/psychological damage should be handled by someone, that is a therapist or psychologist who is trained to safely unravel such situations. For example, if a 45 year old man was molested as an eight year old boy, I will ask them to look at their part in it. NOT as an eight year old innocent who has been assaulted, that traumatic incident should be dealt professionally with a therapist. But, I will hear their moral inventory, that is their part as a 45 year old man who continues to play the victim and blame everyone and everything on a 37 year old event. I will hear their moral inventory of selfishness, self-pity, victimization, blame, suspicion, intolerance, etc.
3) Medical matters need to be discussed with a medical doctor. Too many sponsors try to play doctor with their sponsees. If you’re on meds, such as antidepressants and you want to get off them. Tell your doctor and work out a plan, but follow your doctor’s instructions. If you don’t like what your doctor is telling you, get a second opinion from another doctor. But, sponsors have no authority advising newcomers on what meds they should or should not be taking.
4) The properly appointed authority for a newcomer’s moral inventory, is a priest, or minister, or a spiritually fit 12 Step sponsor.
I have used this approach for more than seven years now, with more than 600 experiences of working with newcomers of all ages, addictions, and circumstances. It works! Furthermore, it protects the newcomer and sponsor from potentially disastrous situations.
What’s been your experience hearing Step Fives?
3 thoughts on “Step Five and the properly appointed authority”
Vulgarity should not be condoned. Christopher is an extreme example, devised for sensationalism and effect to market advertising desires. It presented a horrid example of 12 step meetings. 30 years of 12 stepping I have found people need to know there are two tables to share things on. The table in the "rooms" and the table in the "kitchen". I also caution people to not tell me anything that would make me an accomplice. I do not GRANT forgiveness/absolution. My job is to direct him towards this fearless and moral inventory by explaining what the goal is and using a dictionary to make sure ALL words are understood. Having better than an 80 % average with people I work with which includes not only staying sober but staying connected to A.A. I am humbled by the miracle of GOD’s love for each and everyone of us. And how this expression of love is demonstrated individually and freely.
My Big Book only has 3 columns – There is no column for “my part in it” – this column was added by Joe and Charlie and their ilk. It is not therefore taking people through the steps the Big Book way. An additional thought is that saying that a person who has been traumatised as a child has had any part in it is an act of shaming the person further. Attempting to have someone do step work without prior work with a trained therapist is just wrong and potentially dangerous.
I have tried to add a reply to this post yet it appears to have been rejected. I have been sober for over 42 years and have never had to be “taken through the steps”. I took my own moral inventory using the 3 column model in the Big Book. I took this to a trusted closed mouth friend in the fellowship. It probably was not as thorough as I could do today but as I heard on a speaker tape: it was not how thorough or accurate it was but what was in my heart when I did my inventory and step five. Joe and Charlie added an extra column to the steps inventory and therefore technically following their model is not as outlined in the Big Book. They also took the bits of the book that backed up their own beliefs and left out other sections. Our book on page 164 reads: “Our book is meant to be suggestive only, we know but little” – so why are advocates so keen to dismiss any new information about alcoholism, addiction and mental and emotional problems that lead to feelings of self-pity and worthlessness (spiritual or internal feelings of incompleteness). The spirit of the program is love – I find very little of it in dogmatic approaches to the book or AA as a fellowship.