Step Five: Journey Through the Twelve Steps

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This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

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

You’ve now done the grueling work of self-assessment involved in Step Four.  While Step Four can feel like a battle to work through your character defects, the Fifth Step may be even more challenging.  It involves bringing another person into your story, allowing them to hear the full extent of your wrongs, and being open to receiving their acceptance of you.

In this process, you’ll face your denial by admitting to yourself the extent of your wrongs.  You’ll also be acknowledging God in this step, who knows the full extent of your wrongdoing, beyond what you are aware of yourself at this time.  Rest in the truth that God, knowing all your wrongdoing ahead of time, chose to love you, accept you, and offer you forgiveness despite all of it (Romans 5:8).

Why is the Fifth Step important?

Addiction is driven by shame and isolation.  For women struggling with sex and love addiction, these two categories are intermixed: shame about struggling with what is a “man’s issue” leads women to withdraw from others who may be able to relate to them.  They then feel lonely and hopeless, drawing them back into the false intimacy of the addiction.  Having someone who knows your story gives you a break from the loneliness you’ve experienced in your addiction.

When you share your fearless moral inventory, you’re able to receive community and acceptance in a way you’ve likely never experienced.  Words of encouragement from the listener can change the negative internal monologue you have with yourself and provide new vocabulary to be kind to yourself.  Confessing these wrongs helps you to leave behind the double life of addiction and come out of hiding, releasing the burden of your secrets.  It establishes trust with God, yourself, and others.

It is essential to review your Fourth Step with complete honesty in the presence of another person to experience healing.  Whatever we are holding back can become a stronghold that drives us back into the addictive behavior.  It is important to express every detail, even if it is difficult to do so.

How to Work The Fifth Step

Bring your fearless moral inventory to God.

In order to successfully complete the Fifth Step, you must rely on God as your strength.  This task is too daunting to complete on your own, which is why the Second and Third steps precede it.  We need to be fully honest with ourselves and God to see that he loves us and accepts us, meaning we are lovable and worthy of care.  This offers an extra layer of support in case our trusted individual with whom we share our moral inventory does not respond how we expect or need.  Humans are imperfect, but God is perfect and will be able to provide all the compassion and support you need.

Remind yourself of the truth that God was with you and loved you even when you were in the darkest and deepest moments of your addiction.  If he was with you in those desolate places, he will certainly be with you as you step out in sharing them with someone else.

Release any denial or self-deception that may still linger.

After completing your fearless moral inventory, sit with a journal and record any reactions, emotions, or experiences you’ve had as a result.  Imagine sitting across from your trusted individual to share your inventory and write down the sensations, thoughts, or feelings you might have in that situation.  Pay special attention to any areas of defensiveness or fear that may be plaguing your mind.  Notice if there are any parts of your story that you are planning to leave unsaid or ignore in the course of the discussion.

Remember that, in order to see the full effects of completing the Fifth Step, it is essential to share the full extent of your knowledge about your character defects.  As you notice areas where you get stuck, explore if you are struggling with self-deception or denial.  Rid yourself of excuses you make to hide or avoid acknowledging the painful parts of your inventory.

Acknowledge (and receive!) the good as well as the bad.

In the course of completing your moral inventory, you were asked to write not only the character defects and wrongs you’ve committed, but also the positive aspects of who you are.  This can be the most difficult part of the process for some, as it directly contrasts messages of shame.  But it is necessary both for you to acknowledge and claim these positive characteristics within yourself and to hear your trusted individual share words of kindness and encouragement.  It can also be helpful to engage with Scriptural truths that remind you of your identity in Christ and the positive aspects of who you are because of God.

Set up 2-3 scheduled sessions with your trusted individual to share your inventory.

Select a person who you can trust to hear your moral inventory and provide encouragement and confidentiality.  This can be a sponsor, a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, or a therapist.  It is generally discouraged to have this individual be a family member, spouse, or individual who has been directly affected by your behaviors – having a neutral audience can help you to feel more comfortable with being completely honest and prevents further harm.  Make sure this person can identify your deepest feelings related to your inventory and reflect them back to you.

Honestly share your fearless moral inventory with your trusted individual.

Outline for this individual each aspect of your inventory of character weaknesses.  When discussing actions, describe what you did, when you did it, and what you were thinking or feeling when doing it. Include information not only about acting out behaviors, but about other areas of your life where these weaknesses have affected you.  Stating these items out loud can help you to break through denial.

Expect fears of rejection to come up in you.  You’ve likely never been this vulnerable with anyone in your life.  It makes sense that this would feel terrifying.  Remind yourself that the person with whom you’re sharing will feel honored by your choice to be genuine with them.

Be open to hearing about your trusted individual’s personal journey and similar actions or feelings they may have experienced.  It helps you to feel a little less alone in your recovery journey.  It also creates support as you feel that your experience is more normal than you initially thought. 

Continue to come back to this step in the future.

Remember that you will continue to discover new aspects of your character, both positive and negative, throughout your lifetime.  Accept the fact that you will continually need to come back to this inventory and have additional conversations with your trusted individuals in the years of recovery to come.  Do not feel the pressure to have 100% of your character defects figured out at this point: offer what you are able, and trust that the rest will come out in the process.

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Do you feel consumed by shame in your sex and love addiction and aren’t sure of way out?  Do you feel isolated and alone, withdrawing from your friendships because they can’t understand what you’re going through?  Are you longing to get the burden of keeping a secret off of your chest?  At Restored Hope, I specialize in working with female sex and love addicts and partners of addicts to experience freedom and hope in their recovery journeys.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to schedule your first counseling appointment at my Ann Arbor or Novi locations.