Experienced sponsors are well aware of the fact that the same bravery which led the new man to the inventories of Step 4 will be tested in sharing with his sponsor throughout the conduct of Step 5. All through the discussion of inventory presented above, there are many ideas which clearly fall more in the province of Step 5 than in that of Step 4. They are mentioned all through the discussion of writing inventory in hopes that they will be closely associated with their related place in Step 5.
Sitting down with the new man to discuss his inventories is a task which will require his sponsor’s very highest effort and care. Constantly remembering the larger objective of the process and the incredible benefit of a Higher Power -- for both parties -- will be the watchwords for the sponsor. Although the experience of having listened to other inventories in the past is worth solid gold, it is hoped that ideas presented here will be an encouragement to those who have for the first time bravely struck out to begin the serious business of sponsorship themselves
Some spiritual position or Higher Power of your own has placed you in this amazing position to help other alcoholics in this exciting way. The same Great Force has led this new man to trust you and seek your help for his own recovery. How could anyone imagine that you will not be provided with what you will need to see it to its completion? You must not underestimate the great service you can provide through this sponsorship work. It is the promise of the AA program that you will be paid richly in new, deeper and more complete sobriety and recovery for yourself as you undertake this mission!
It may be helpful for the sponsor to direct the attention of the new man to ideas about pain. In some forms, this sensation is quite straightforward. After it becomes mired in years of alcoholic thinking, it may actually be easily denied or even experienced without notice, in any event, it may be a confusing idea.
When a man’s arm is cut in an accident, it hurts. He is designed that way. The pain coming from his wound is a natural sort of directive to him to focus on the injury, perhaps favor the arm and perhaps apply some sort of first aid. In most cases the pain can be described as a way to help him remember the wound and care for himself. The memory of the pain he experienced as a result of the wound may serve to make him more aware of the situation which caused it, allowing him to avoid a repetition of the accident in the future.
Now, to the new man’s pain as a result of alcoholic thinking. The idea of inventory is to very clearly connect the two. At the very beginning of the Step 5 discussion, the sponsor might want to emphasize this idea to the new man. The goal here is to replace old, alcoholic thinking with something new and better. Part of this improvement will be realized by avoiding the mistakes, consequences and the blind misery that alcoholic thinking has caused in the items in his inventories.
“Was man created to suffer?” Even though this is a complicated question, we are convinced that the answer is: “Probably not.” That answer might be explained this way. A man is not exactly created to cut his arm by accident, either. Nonetheless, his physical existence may depend on how much attention that injury can get within the sphere of his thoughts. If men were so designed that they could seriously cut themselves without feeling any pain sensation from the injury, the results could be disastrous. Plus, such men would probably not direct much of their attention toward not doing it again, that is, if they survived the first time.
When we alcoholics injure ourselves by meeting the challenges in our lives with alcoholic thinking, it hurts (“hurts or threatens”). Our dilemma arises from that fact that we get used to feeling the suffering. Somehow, it grows into being something which we can attempt to consider a normal state. We don’t think about what caused it, what our thoughts were, what might have been seriously out of place with the way we saw things. (BB pxxviii) “To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.” Before we made it to the AA program, we probably didn’t even have any good names for something like alcoholic thinking, much less all the explanation our book provides about it. It seems like we were determined to turn ourselves into the guy who didn’t feel any pain from the cut on his arm.
Looking back, it is pretty clear that we were really not getting away with this plan. Denial seemed to offer a little comfort at various moments, but through the whole time, we were actually creating a sizable swamp of unmanageable miseries, suspicions and fear down deeper in ourselves.
Good, honest inventory work is a great opportunity for draining the swamp.
Whether or not “suffering” or “pain” is an intrinsic part of the design in the creation of man, it is fairly clear that the idea of some level of constructive coexistence with the rest of the humans on the earth definitely was a part of this design. Otherwise, we would have killed each other until it became possible to live all alone, that is, each somewhere by himself.
Alcoholic thinking led us inevitably to collision with the other, non-alcoholic people around us. It is no secret that these other human beings cared for our spoiled, selfish ways less and less as time went along. That "hurt or threatened." Like most humans, we had a real desire to fit in better than that. Unhappily, alcoholic thinking only seemed to make sense to alcoholics suffering from untreated alcoholism, and it seemed to insist that these alcoholics continue trying the same ideas until even they could see that life was becoming unmanageable. (BB p59)
None of this was ever even going to start to get better until the new man had a “full knowledge of his condition” (BB p32) and could see the destructive power his alcoholic thought process had unleashed in his own life. For the guy who wants to get free of this, there is nothing left to do but “Trust God and clean house.” (BB p98) The new man who is ready to face facts and make progress is exactly the new man who has spiritually prepared himself, even if he doesn’t think so at the moment, to undertake Steps 4 & 5. A thoughtful level of insistence and encouragement from his sponsor, always based on ideas about spiritual progress and experienced information about the unpleasant alternatives, will be a great help in getting this “inventory job” done.
The new man is placed in the present moment where inventory is concerned. He is facing the reality of doing it “right now.” The sponsor, by benefit of his own experience with recovery, is heartened by his confident hope for a future filled with the active benefits of the new man’s inventory. The sponsor’s calm realism may be the strongest reassurance for the new man’s undertaking, in many cases much more influential than anything that can be said in words.
We know through our sponsorship that some real relief is at hand for our new man, regardless of appearances.
The first two paragraphs of Chapter Six restate what should be very obvious by this point. Here the book and the sponsor both reiterate several central ideas. First, “In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self appraisal insufficient.” (BB p72) The time for lies, embarrassment and secrets must come to an end. Second, “The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking.” (BB p72) Most AA members agree that accomplishing Steps 4 & 5 make all the difference in the world to the new man’s progress toward a lasting sobriety. We have all heard the phrase “the three step polka.” It refers to the repeating of Steps 1, 2 and 3 without the commitment which comes from inventory work, and it usually represents a miserable period of frustration and hopelessness which can definitely lead to a return to drinking.
It also represents a serious sponsorship problem.
Should the sponsor encounter some “balking” concerning the lies, embarrassment and secrets idea, then he will once again turn to the spiritual aspect of the work now on the table. If these things present a problem for the new man facing Step 5, another visit to the Third Step Prayer (BB p63) is strongly recommended. Some sponsors actually instruct the new man to write the prayer at the top of his inventory for clear thinking and encouragement.
The new man must understand that lies, embarrassment and secrets are the remnants of “self, fighting back one last time.” Yes, the sponsor is sitting there, ready to listen, but even more important, the new man must realize that the Higher Power is also at the table. Step 5 says: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (BB p59)
Even if the new man suspects that his Higher Power already knows all these things in his inventory, his sponsor can remind him that his Higher Power might not know whether he is going to go ahead with Step 5! In any event, his Higher Power is now getting ready to “see” him complete his inventory. Why get nervous or afraid now that he has already come so far? Sponsor: honor his fearless bravery. It won’t hurt anything, and it means a lot to him right now.
My first experience with inventory occurred several months after I began to attend AA meetings. I could not call this sobriety, even though I had miraculously stopped drinking, in that I had “secretly” continued my serious drug habits. The man who had brought me to my first AA meeting drove me to his home, gave me a tablet and a pencil and ordered me to begin listing my resentments. I had already been through the Third Step Prayer with this man after he had relayed to me the serious danger that I would drink again if I refused. I had no agreement of sponsorship with him, although I learned later that his every move was being coordinated by other seasoned members of my first group. They had decided that strong medicine was indicated in my case, and they had all agreed that, since he seemed to be the most connected with me, he would be the one to “strong arm” me into some kind of action. (See “Sponsorship for Steps 2 & 3”)
It certainly did not seem to be the case at the time, but now I know that all this unpleasantness was nothing short of pure love. I didn’t like him, and I didn’t trust him. I had absolutely no rational idea of what the Third Step Prayer was about. I sat in his living room, pencil in hand, with absolutely no idea what inventory was about, either. I was convinced that I had no resentments, a condition made inevitable by the fact that I had no idea what a resentment actually was. That evening finished on an extremely troubling note.
Neither he nor the rest of them were even considering the possibility of giving up on me.
Later, after I had officially hired a sponsor (and finally parted company with my cocaine habit), I was once again facing the inventory part of step work. So, I read Chapter Five a few times, and wrote my first Step 4 inventory. The entire thing filled a single page of typing paper. I presented it to my sponsor for a Step 5 discussion which we had on the spot. Afterwards, my sponsor told me that it was a terrible inventory, but that one single thing I had written was possibly, actually true. kindly added that this one honest effort I had made would be enough for a start. John O. was the most sincere, thoughtful and kind man I had met in a very long time. That was twenty four years ago. (see also Sponsorship Suggestions: Introducing AA Spirituality, Steps 2 & 3, page 17)
The sponsor, as he has prepared his new man for inventory, will have explained the process to the best of his understanding. As mentioned before, sponsorship is extremely personal and so is inventory. “But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.” (BB p73) Although this approach might be exactly right, an entire life story might also tend to complicate things. The parts of the life story most important for inventory will be the parts that hurt or angered.
“In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were sore. We were ‘burned up.’” (BB p64 & p65) This sentence is found in our book’s instructions concerning what will be on the inventory. If the sponsor sees some compelling reason to add “all their life story” to these instructions, he must also be prepared to energetically and sincerely handle the full amount brought to him for Step 5. Following the style suggested by the brief and to-the-point example given in our book (BB p65) may increase the odds that Steps 4 & 5 will be successfully completed.
If the sponsor must choose between quantity and quality, experience suggests that quality will be more desirable and effective. If the inventory is thoughtful, sincere and thorough it will almost always produce the right results.
It is amazing that our incredible AA Big Book can cast a net in a manner which seems to catch almost every alcoholic we meet in our program. The AA phrase describing the alcoholic as “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex” apparently originated after our book went to print. Its widespread applicability, especially as it applies to the “actor,” may become very clear during the discussion of Step 5, perhaps more so than during Step 4. It is nice to have another human being around who has had the same problem and who has found a solution for it. (BB p18) The “actor” problem definitely fits this profile.
The sponsor should emphasize to the new man during this talk that he is absolutely not the first alcoholic who has taken this “solution” while fully under the self-driven thoughts of untreated alcoholism. It seems to be an almost universal trait of alcoholic thinking. It has been the discouraging pathway to alcoholic misery for almost all of us.
Lying may seem to be a very understandable trait in the case of dodging the consequences of some action. may make it understandable. That doesn’t make it acceptable, of course, but it when I arrived at AA I had the well-established habit of lying, not only when it meant a way to avoid consequences, but instead, at every opportunity when I thought I could get away with it! It took a while before I began to understand exactly what part of alcoholic thinking was in evidence. Of course, my lies would be exposed rather frequently. Each time my lies fell apart I became resentful (and fearful) of the person who had seen through them. These moments were filled with embarrassment, humiliation (not humility) and fear, but never enough pain, apparently, to prevent my continuing reliance on the same action. When I finally got better at the inventory idea, these events rolled out in massive numbers, each one a repeat of the one before it. destructive, not to mention, painful habit. I wanted to know how alcoholic thinking had been driving me into this self - How did this reflect a “spiritual disease?”
“From it [resentment] stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.” (BB p64) First of all, the legitimate, dramatic actor isn’t exactly lying at all. He is playing a role. If he is really an actor, it is his job to appear to be some character. For the length of his performance, he will become the character described in the script. No one will think that he is lying. He is acting. He clearly does not want to be whomever he actually is, he wants to appear to be the character he is portraying in the play.
Here the sponsor can explain to the new man that everything would have worked out better if he had actually been an actor performing a dramatic script. Unhappily, there was no script. The crazy driving force of alcoholic thinking was pretty much making this script up as it went along. Further, instead of a willing audience which had paid for tickets to participate in some theater, the new man had seemingly inflicted all this on any and every person within range of his “actor.” As could be expected, many of these people became quite tired of the “play,” and wound up on his inventory.
Given this view of the “actor,” how can this part of his alcoholic behavior be some part of a spiritual disease? Perhaps the sponsor can explain it this way. The new man was created to be what he actually is . Under the influence of alcoholic thinking, he employed the “egomaniac” part of himself in an effort to constantly be more than he actually was. The “more” idea, of course, came from his alcoholic fear that he would not be enough. The engine of alcoholic “self” provided more than enough horsepower for this approach to generate serious consequences, and a nice inventory on which to consider them in Step 5.
Step 2 promises a “return to sanity.” (BB p59) What could be more insane than a constant fear that whatever one has been created to be will never be enough? Enough to get sufficient respect? Well deserved admiration? Top quality sex? Exceptional financial success? Even a fair measure of security? Alcoholic thinking seems to insist that any alcoholic with untreated alcoholism has no hope of ever getting any of this so long as he remains who he seems to actually be. He will need to pretend to be more. He will need to be the “actor” in order to be enough more than he thinks he is to convince all those around him that he is actually fabulous.
This relentless “alcoholic inadequacy” is a major, central foundation of Chapter 5’s “spiritual malady.” Considered even more carefully, it is also a central part of our resentments.
This is a “spiritual problem” when he steps aside from his own creation, taking over to “re-create” himself. Who is being driven by the alcoholic “self” to play God here? “This is the how and the why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work.” (BB p62) The creation of any man may not fulfill his every ambition, but this is always an invitation to take action, get busy and get better. With the alcoholic, this seems to become a necessity to be an even better or more aggressive “actor.”
“He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn’t deserve it.” (BB p73) The “egomaniac” thinks that the “stage character” is an absolute necessity. The “inferiority complex” provides the constant idea that “he doesn’t deserve it.” No alcoholic has ever received a Grammy for work like this!
Our book discusses several alternatives in the selection of a person to hear the inventory in Step 5. (BB p74) It is remarkably silent about specific references to “sponsorship” as the accepted approach it has become in modern AA. We assume this is the result of the idea of formal sponsorship arising after the publication of our book.
It speaks very directly about “harming others” by what is discussed in Step 5.
“We have no right to save our own skin at an others expense. Such parts of our story we tell someone who will be unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourselves, but always considerate of others.” (BB p74) The sponsor will be responsible to lead the new man past self-deference, punishing and pointless self-criticism and any attraction to some state of perpetual self-doubt, all forms of alcoholic self-hood. “Hard on ourselves” will mean honest, fearless and thorough. It will have nothing to do with perpetual, righteous suffering or some kind of dark future as the “insane” or “damaged” man we sometimes hear in our meetings.
The Third Step Prayer does not ask for punishment, it asks for deliverance. (BB p63)
The “considerate of others” idea translates directly to the foundation of trust between the new man as he discusses his inventory and the sponsor who listens. A lingering suspicion that confidentiality may, sometime in the future, be violated is pure poison. If the sponsor senses a trust problem with the new man, he must either overcome it or assist in finding him a new sponsor. In either case, it is a task which must be completed before the new man begins his inventory. Sponsor: Remember that a lack of trust does not always mean untrustworthiness. It never means that inventory is somehow out of reach for the new man or that it can be eliminated from his work toward recovery.
Finally, don’t be surprised if the new man suddenly starts to feel a lot better at the successful end of Step 5. (BB p75) It may be the sudden insertion of some peace and hope, at least that is the way it seemed when we were at this point. These feelings may be somewhat “threatening” to a new man who has spent the last several years or decades in the alcoholic swamp. Be sure he gets the full measure of joy from this accomplishment. It’s not a trick. He may actually need some explanation as to why he feels so much better!
Chapter Six finishes its discussion of Step 5 with the instruction for the new man to sit alone with himself and consider frankly what all has happened since he began his step work. If inventory is personal, this final requirement will be more personal than ever. “We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.” (BB p75) The AA program considers something like this to be very much a material fact. As his sponsor, you have been given the great gift of being near at hand when this takes place. Remain ready to assist him, if needed.
The extreme personal continues to increase. What could be more personal than “...being on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe? ” (BB p75)
It is quite reasonable for the sponsor to ask about the solitary reflection on progress and the answers to the questions: “Is our work solid so far? Are the stones [of the arch of freedom] properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand?” (BB p75) The new man may need your help in understanding exactly what this might mean.
The sponsor might call the attention of the new man to a certain sentence toward the end of the inventory discussion in Chapter Six. “We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience.”
(BB p75) It is not unusual for a new member of AA to get discouraged when he sees the sheer magnitude of trust we place in the idea of a spiritual experience. This is usually the result of his comparing his previous experience with spiritual things to what he will clearly need for his successful recovery as it is described in our program. Sponsor: Reassure him that he will, indeed, have what he needs to recover and that he will get it by working our steps. It is the quiet promise of all creation that the new man can, indeed, be what he needs to be.
As this step work moves on from the inventory effort of Steps 4 & 5, it is usually a good idea for the sponsor, once he is alone, to once again pace himself and his own recovery through the ideas at the end of this part of Chapter Six. (BB p75) These questions are posed for the new man to “test” his inventory. Taken to heart, they are also an opportunity for a sponsor to “test” his sponsorship. “We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.” (BB p75) is not limited to the new man as he completes inventory. It is an extremely central, personal part of sponsorship. Don’t freak out if you suddenly start having an extremely personal, good feeling!
“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” (BB p89)
“Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer.” (BB p159)
“They have a new attitude, and they have been saved from a living death. I have enjoyed every moment spent in getting them straightened out.” (BB p150)
“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant that I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.” (BB p42)
“They had seen miracles, and one was to come to them. They had visioned the Great Reality -- their loving and All Powerful Creator.” (BB p161)
So, sponsor, be the miracle that you are!