Step Five: The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

I recently lead a meeting on the following topic, and was asked to turn the prompt into a short piece for a recovery blog. The following observations and inquiries are based on my first-hand experience and work with my own recovery through AA. While this is grounded in the 12 Steps and the approved literature, I am not attempting to amend any AA text or practices.

Insights into Step Five

By: Bailey Bunge

Exact Wrongs to Nature

Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous charges us to, “Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” So what exactly is Step 5 asking us to do? In order to better understand this instruction, I referred to the definition of the word “nature.” According to www.merriam-webster.com, “nature” is defined in part, as it relates to this context as:

1a:  the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: essence

b:  disposition, temperament

4:  the physical constitution or drives of an organism

Step 5 is asking us to understand the exact nature, the inherent character, the basic constitution, of our wrongs in order to accept, own, and eventually, correct them. There is a powerful difference between making a laundry list of transgressions or character defects and understanding what drives them.

Starting on page 55 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we receive instruction that it is only through full disclosure, complete honesty, and absolute thoroughness that we will successfully attempt Step 5. We are being asked for much more than a mere tally sheet. When we truly search for the exact nature of our wrongs, we are gifted so much more than a checklist. We begin to understand our “destructive obsessions,” (Twelve and Twelve 57) which is the first step to repairing them. In this we begin to tear down the wall of isolation and set about becoming who God would have us be. “To those who have made progress in AA, it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move towards humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies. No defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what it is.” (Twelve and Twelve 58) The inventory list we make in Step 4 is the recognition of our deficiencies. Understanding their exact nature helps us correct them. Here is an example:

Step 4 Inventory
Resentment: Cause: Affects: My Part
My husband We fight all the time Personal relationship Trying to control him

 

When we go back to look for our part and add column 4, we identify the character defect “controlling.” Now that we are armed with this bit of self-truth, the cause can move from “We fight all the time. He never does what I want him to,” to an understanding of the exact nature of this character defect. It might look more accurately like, “My trouble lies in trying to control him using manipulation, bribery, punishment, to coerce him into acting as I desire.” Understanding the function of our defects gives us the freedom to grow past them. Being aware of this behavior, we can work to amend it, as we move into a beautiful life, full of progress, not perfection.

Higher Power Auditions

Higher Power Auditions

 

After some conversation yesterday, I learned that not one person had any idea what my cartoon was about. So today, I tried to clarify. (PS- The silver thing is suppose to be a doorknob.) (PPS- I think if one has to explain a cartoon, it might not be that successful )  🙂

-AGK

Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs

Self PortraitAnyone who knows me knows that I love my dogs. I got my first puppy, Dionysus, when I had about 2½ years sober. I had moved into a little efficiency apartment in the Heights area of Houston. I was struggling with loneliness and isolation after sober living. One day, a friend in the program posted on Facebook that his dog had a litter. He lived close by, and impulsively I thought, “Well, I’ll just drive by and look.” When I picked up the first puppy, she wriggled and squirmed. The second, a shockingly tiny thing with big, fluffy ears promptly fell asleep in my arms. I fell in love instantly. I took her home that day and never looked back.

So today, I bring you: Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs.

1. Forgiveness: It is embarrassing to say, but I seemingly made it to adulthood with fully grasping the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness. I just didn’t get it. Instead, I judged people. I held them to impossible standards. When they inevitably let me down, I walked away. I rationalized my behavior in the spirit of self-preservation, without ever understanding the chaos and hurt I left in my wake.

I still had not learned this lesson when I got Dio. I stayed home for the first couple of days I had her, but eventually I had to return to work. I was a waiter, so my shifts were relatively short, and yet, almost every day, I would come home to some sort of puppy induced damage. She chewed through my cable wires, speaker wires, multiple pairs of shoes, my couch cushions, and my linoleum floor. One day she even ate the side of my door. I tried to protect my belongings. I bought her chew toys and bones to no avail. Every single day, as I assessed the new and totally incomprehensible form of destruction, I would become angry. “Dang it, Dio!” I’d say as I stomped my foot. Dio would sense my frustration and momentarily hang her head. And then, much to my surprise, I would instantly forgive her. She, in turn, would instantly forgive me. One day, I realized that there was nothing Dio could ever do that would cause me to stop loving her. She taught me how to love unconditionally.

2. Acceptance: My little apartment had floor to ceiling windows in the front of the apartment. It was one of the original reasons I got the apartment. But at the time, I had not envisioned owning a puppy. Now, had the windows been a normal height, my tiny Dachshund would never have been able to bark at the mailman, the neighbor’s cat, my landlord, bicyclists, walkers, or the kids who lived across the street

The barking was frustrating; I won’t lie. It tended to happen the most just as I was lying down for a nap, and as much as I went “Dio! Shush!” she did not listen to me. Do you know why? Because she is a dog. And dogs bark at things. It is in their nature to do so. So, on some level I had to let Dio be Dio, an insanely protective, vicious, barking attack puppy.

Alcoholics are like that too. We have a shared bond of insecurity and fear, bad judgment and self-centeredness. These shared characteristics are what make us relate so well to each other, and yet, when I see them in you, it drives me crazy. Just sit through a whole meeting for once, dang it! No crosstalk. You can go an hour without smoking. Stop smacking your gum. No need to curse. Eventually, though, I learned that my taking your inventory is not going to do me or you any good. Regardless of how much I wish you would, you will not listen to me. Most often, the life lessons we learn are a direct result of our own personal experience, not things told to us by other insanely controlling people. I learned to let addicts be addicts too.

3. Responsibility: Every family sitcom over the span of television has had the episode where Little Johnny brings home a dog. He wants to keep it. The parents have the inevitable conversation about how owning a dog will teach Little Johnny responsibility.

Dogs require a tremendous about of time and money. Before we go any further, let me tell you that I am not coming at this one from a place of moral superiority. My love for my puppies is equally matched by my procrastination. Even as I type this, I know I am a month overdue for their vet appointment.

There is something about a dog, though, that will eventually warm the heart of even the most cold-hearted, miserly, and selfish addict. Anyone who has a problem sharing their resources should get a pet that requires much from them. Having dogs has taught me that my time and money do not always belong to me. I have cute, lovable, little furry beings that are totally reliant on me for food, health, and safety.

I remember the old Sandra Bullock movie, 28 Days, when they tell her to get a plant. If she could make it a year without the plant dying, she could get a dog. If the dog made it a year without dying, then she could get a relationship. The movie is terrible, but the sentiment is good.

Learning to be a contributing member of society requires one to give of themselves. Sometimes this is difficult. Other people’s character defects can grind on us. Our own behaviors can push people away. But a dog’s loyalty rings true. My sobriety today has been improved by the forgiveness and character of my fierce, little puppies.

Truth Be Told…

Truth Be ToldI’m not an expert on AA history, but I’ve seen the movies and read some of the books. In the mid to late 1950s, Bill W. experimented with LSD. Bill originally sought a remedy for his depression. After a few treatments, though, he came to think that LSD may prove a valuable tool in creating spiritual experiences in people who had otherwise struggled to connect to a higher power.

In the fifties, LSD was still legal and Bill took his “treatments” in a hospital. Even so, in 1958, Bill W. resigned his position in New York over his position regarding LSD. He always maintained that it was scientific research and not a relapse. He would never pick up a new desire chip.

I think this is an awkward part of AAs collective history, a time we don’t often talk about. Bill’s use of LSD blurs the line of acceptable use of medication for psychiatric purposes. But that is not the point of this blog. Since there is no answer, I’d rather not engage in that particular discussion. As my friend reminded me, “To thine own self be true.”

What this reverie did spark in me though, was a curiosity regarding who Bill talked to before undergoing these experiments. Did he have friends who he confided in before acting? I wonder if any of Bill’s friends told him they thought LSD might not be a good idea, or if when these concerns were voiced, if Bill actually heard any of them. I wonder whether or not Bill would have undertaken his experiments into the psychedelic if Dr. Bob had still been alive. I wonder what Bob would have said? I struggle to think, as by all accounts he was the more sedate and rational of the two men, that Bob would have thought LSD was a good idea.

The Big Book says, “We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world,” (73-74). But I wonder if honesty is enough, if talking is enough, or if we also don’t need to listen.

I had a conversation a couple of nights ago with one of my good friends. It was about nothing of consequence, but as I finished, my friend politely and lovingly told me that she thought I was wrong. After she finished, it occurred to me that I had not really expected a contrary opinion. I had asked, of course, for advice, but I didn’t really expect to hear it. It gave me pause.

I think one of the misfortunes of AAs is with time we begin to think that we grow in sanity. When we hear people with thirty years speak in meetings, we are less apt to call them out than the man with thirty days. The book also tells us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle is baffle us,” (84). We begin to trust this intuition, running less and less by other people first.

I am grateful that I have people in my life that love me enough to tell me when I am wrong or otherwise straying from the path. And if I ever try to rationalize the use of psychedelics in order to produce spiritual experiences, and if I cannot hear the craziness in my own words, I only hope I can still hear the sanity in theirs.