Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
The 5th Step instructs us to read our entire written inventory to another person before God. Don’t sit on your inventory for weeks or months as you will just accumulate more resentments along the way and it can easily spiral into the never-ending inventory! Schedule a time to read with either your sponsor, another trusted guide in the Steps, or some mentor or confidant such as a family pastor.
We must be thorough and fearless. Remember that we read our inventory to initiate the process of letting go. We have been honest with ourselves, but now it is time to be honest with another person, which is humbling and requires courage. Here we are given the opportunity to shine a light on our past as we expose, uncover and hold our character defects under a magnifying glass. We dig it up once more, let it out, and confess our skeletons in the closet. Exhuming what we have buried and what shames us the most can be humbling and humiliating, but it is also crucial for the consummation of this process. There will be no “entire psychic change” unless we do this, and do it completely. If we confess 99% of what we’ve done but leave that one BIGGIE out, we may fail, and all of this work will be for naught.
The reason why everything must come out is that the gas tank cannot be filled up until the previous tank is completely empty. Every last drop. Once we are cleaned out, the light can finally turn green, enabling something new and powerful and wonderful to pour in and saturate our entire being. We are filled with the light and the power of God. By showing the courage to expose our darkest selves, we have earned the capacity to be replenished with spiritual strength, courage and quietude.
Once again, please remember that if we don’t go the distance, there won’t be much in the way of relief. Relief comes from a clear conscience. It comes from doing something we never dreamed we could do. It comes from fortitude and perseverance. As we push the boundaries of our respective comfort zones and find the guts to walk through our painful and agonizing feelings, this is where we find the gold. This is what creates the condition for love to come in as our fear begins to vaporize. We can now move forward and continue to evolve spiritually.
Sure things will still bother us and old grudges that have vanished may come back to haunt us. This is normal. Some of our old habits, attitudes and character flaws are not meant to disappear overnight, and we can chalk this up to God giving us more opportunities to work on them, which may be necessary to wholeheartedly put them to rest. It also continues to teach us that much of what bothers us is stuff that bothers us about ourselves. Remember that it is much easier to find others annoying than it is to face who we are and what we are made of. To perpetually escape accountability and responsibility is no way to plow through life, and if we continue on this way, we end up blind and miserable. The effect may be subtle at first, but eventually it will take its toll.
With inventory, we make what is unclear clear. We see things as they truly are… but don’t beat yourself up too badly. It is easy to become foggy and confused. We often contort what is happening before us without even trying to or being conscious of it. It is human nature to alter reality to self-protect and preserve our fragile pride and dignity. We alter reality to defend our honor and our very existence. However, if we are to crack open our narrow little world and experience the “fourth dimension of existence” as the Big Book promises, we must blow up the dearly beloved yet stubborn and intolerant frame of mind we have depended on for so long.
We can equate this process to growing up and maturing out of the developmental narcissism of childhood and adolescence that robs us of being able to step outside of our shoes and understand that other people feel and experience things in their own unique way, different from our way. This process of inventory challenges us to climb out of our caves of narrow, insular thinking and emotionally immaturity.
When we are ready, we quietly go to read. Whether it is our sponsor, pastor or trusted friend, the important thing is to read to a person whom we trust and who is honest, someone who understands this “life-and-death errand” we are on, as the Big Book succinctly describes. Some of us may not have a large enough chunk of time to finish our entire inventory. Let’s face it, we have jobs, families, relationships and a myriad of other duties. In that case, we can simply read a portion of our inventory and then schedule another time to finish.
This may be your greatest chance to induce a spiritual experience and free yourself from the chains that bind you, so please, read it all. Everything. Leave no dark secret or rock unturned, as the fate of your very soul may be at stake. Even if it is excruciating, embarrassing or perhaps even criminal, confess it all or else… All that has been buried must see the light of day.
*When we have read our inventory to a trusted guide, and when we have also confessed any other hidden ‘skeletons in the closet’ that must be exorcised, we have taken a 5th Step.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The 6th Step instructs us to meditate for one hour directly after we have read our inventory. We must now get quiet and let our inventory settle. We gather our thoughts to identify, understand and accept the common themes, patterns and skews we’ve discovered about ourselves. We prepare our heart, mind and body to let go and have God remove these defects of character and replace them with the spiritual principles of love, compassion, strength, honesty, courage, patience, tolerance and other-centeredness. In order to do so, we must sit quietly for a time to slow down our minds and clear away the ashes of inventory so that God’s power may come flowing in.
The idea behind this time of stillness and awareness is to open us. As our emotional walls begin to crumble and our psychic discharge falls by the wayside, the unlimited power of the Universe pours in and saturates us with peace and sanity. As you unleash the power of your mind, you can begin to create your own reality. Should you continue to engage in the practice of prayer and meditation day after day, you will witness your life changing.
Some of us feel uncomfortable with meditation, but there is no need to worry about it or be frightened. There are many active and structured ways to meditate, especially if you are the type who likes specific instructions. You can also simply follow your breath and engage in basic meditation. Sit or stand, close your eyes, and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. If thoughts come fast and furious, an effective way to stay in the moment is to say the words “in” and “out” in your mind as you breath in and out. Doing this will prevent your mind from wandering and eventually you should be able to just exist in the moment with a clear mind, or at least a slower one.
Sitting quietly without distraction and breathing is an incredibly powerful tool, one that few may realize the true benefits of. Meditating brings us back into the present moment and elevates awareness, leading to greater clarity and acceptance. Even if our minds wander off into the future or the past, we can simply let the thoughts come and let the thoughts go. There is no need to hold on anymore. Thoughts and feelings don’t have to stop us dead in our tracks. They do not have to control our lives. As we move forward, consistent meditation will gradually re-align us, harmonizing the mind and body by allowing us to accept our existence and what is happening around us. The simple practice of breathing quietly and remaining still can literally alter your brain chemistry, balancing levels of crucial neurotransmitters that make us feel calm, grounded, balanced and whole. There is now a plethora of scientific evidence that reveals such positive changes to our brain due to meditation and mindfulness.
When you are suffering from depression, anxiety, addiction, fear or mania etc., and when your mind is cluttered uncontrollably with thought after thought, there is no greater relief than a serene mind. Mind or thought control is empowering and it prevents us from ever feeling too overwhelmed by what is occurring both internally and externally. Even if we simply reduce the thoughts to one at a time, this alone can provide tremendous relief. So become familiar with meditation. Try several methods. I’ll share with you a more structured meditation that I learned while in treatment up North. It is easy and can have a marked effect in a short amount of time. This might be good for certain people who are not only very busy but have a difficult time sitting still.
Progressive Tensioning/Relaxation & Controlled Breathing
Close your eyes.
Take a few deep breaths.
Starting with your toes and moving up successively, begin to clench and hold each part of your body.
Once your entire body is clenched, hold for a few moments.
Slowly and successively release each part of your body, beginning with you toes and again moving up.
Once you have relaxed each part of your body, take a few more deep breaths.
Begin to breathe in through your nose to the count of 4.
At the top of your breath, hold to the count of 4.
Breathe out to the count of 4.
Hold to the count of 4.
Repeat this controlled breathing for about 15 minutes.
This meditation sort of forces the issue, producing natural endorphins in your brain and raising levels of dopamine and serotonin. If you really begin to meditate everyday as if your life depended on it, you will not only change your brain, but you may well change the entire course, or at least the tone, of your life.
I think we often fail to realize how much our outer lives are directly connected to our inner lives and our brains. If you truly desire and are willing to work hard for it, you can change the dynamics of your experience by changing what goes on inside of your mind. Meditation can cure countless ailments such as depression, rage, jealousy, fear and anxiety, as well as physical illness and disease. Meditation unlocks the potential we all have within that has been sitting dormant. It unleashes the power of the mind and thus the power of the body. I personally believe that the effort and practice of meditation allows us to gain access to the power of God, and that He is the one who produces the subsequent changes we see in our lives.
As noted, there are also many guided mediations that some of us may prefer, as sitting silently without moving can be too difficult at first. There are many wonderful self-help gurus and Zen masters, for instance, who offer guided mediations where you can simply listen to their voices as they give you instructions. Hearing a gentle voice can be calming for some, as if a friend is there to guide you. Eventually, however, you should push yourself to practice alone without the ease, comfort and distraction of a guide. But hey, anything is better than nothing.
In our 6th Step meditation, we have a focus. We may review our inventory internally, identifying the common patterns we’ve discovered by writing our 4th Step. I remember my own 6th Step, standing alone in an empty chapel late at night, breathing in and out. I put the word ‘inventory’ in my mind and suddenly it went on auto-drive, summarizing the many truths I had unearthed during the process of writing. It went something like this…
‘God, given that I have been self-seeking in so many ways – always wanting to be seen as brilliant, beautiful, funny, cool, tough and never weak, self-conscious and insecure… given that I have been selfish by putting my comfort and needs before others, by plying myself with drugs and booze at the expense of others, by needing to keep and protect my pride and ego by sacrificing honesty, by being unable to see how others were feeling or what others were going through… given that I have done the very thing I resent in others, and resented others to avoid the truth about myself… given that I have failed to see how I’ve caused the many negative and painful situations I’ve found myself in, given that I have lost and pushed friends and girlfriends and even family away by only taking and never giving… given that I have been driven by fear and avoidance of all things uncomfortable, given that I’ve been afraid of what others think of me, afraid for others to see me vulnerable, afraid of rejection, afraid to suffer, afraid of depression and becoming my father, afraid of failing to accomplish and use my gifts, afraid of life, afraid to love others and to truly love and accept myself…
…God, I humbly ask You to remove my defects of character and replace them with love. Replace them with Your principles of strength, courage, honesty, kindness, patience, tolerance, service and other-centeredness. Thank you, God. Thank You so much.’
You get the picture. Each of us is going to have our own unique experience in these Steps, so it certainly will not look the same, nor should it. Our job is simply to do the best we can. The most important thing is to breathe, try to be still, and harness the totality of your inventory experience.
Now it’s time to let them go in the 7thStep.
*When we have meditated for an hour with the intention of understanding and letting go of our inventory, and when we have become ready and willing to have God remove our defects of character and replace them with love, we have taken a 6th Step.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Once we have finished our 6th Step meditation, we fall to our knees, open up the Big Book and recite the 7th Step prayer out loud. And why not? You’ve just mounted the task of a lifetime. Don’t you want to see the fruits of your labor, the results of your painstaking work? Trust me, you will not want to miss this. Turn the page. Don’t stop now.
“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your bidding. Amen.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous, p.76
I debated whether or not to share my own 7th Step experience because I didn’t want to set anybody up with expectations. The truth is that we all have a unique, personal experience taking Steps, so try to simply go through this process without thinking about it too much or expecting any particular thing to happen. Some of us will experience the wash of a great calm. Some of us will feel as if a tremendous weight has been lifted off of our shoulders. Others will just continue this process and slowly change over time. A gradual change may even make us stronger in the long run, so try not to worry about it or judge it too much. We just have to keep moving forward and getting stronger, knowing that with each right action we draw closer to God. I share my personal experience here to simply provide hope, that it might inspire just one more soul to embark on this spiritual path and become equipped and willing to go help others.
I remember my experience vividly. How could I forget? I had a profound spiritual experience that night, and one that certainly stepped outside the bounds of traditional science. After reading my inventory for almost twelve hours and then meditating, I walked back from the main chapel into the small room where I read my inventory, got down on my knees and began to recite the prayer. I remember telling myself not to think about it or expect anything. Just recite. Deep down I still doubted whether any of this would actually work, whether this process would be validated by experiencing this “entire psychic change”… but then I finished.
In an instant, my mind, heart and soul were forever changed. It was the single most mind-blowing thing I’d ever felt and it had nothing to do with drugs and alcohol. As I uttered the last word of the prayer, I thought to myself, ‘Holy s**t, it worked’. I laughed and cried simultaneously, and then suddenly something came down from the universe and hit me like a lightening bolt. It was the hand of God.
I couldn’t help but let go and forget about trying to understand what was happening to me. The Holy Spirit was altering my mind and body, and it was unprecedented in its power. It was limitless and capable of anything. In every sense, it was beyond the scope of human understanding and conception. It was a force, and it contained within it pure freedom, pure emptiness and pure love. It flowed through me for a brief time, and when it was over, my mind was reset. There were no thoughts. There was no fear. All of it vanished and I knew with every cell in my body that I was okay and that I would be forever. I knew that anything was now possible. Truly amazing.
It was then I realized that there exists an ACTUAL power so unreachable (and yet reachable) and so beyond our realm of comprehension that it’s somewhat pointless to even discuss. I also realized that this power so boundless and so beautiful was indeed God. One brief zap was all it took and my new life began. I felt so grateful. I cried, and since that night I thank God everyday for what He did to me, for touching me and saving me, for removing my obsession and restoring me to sanity. I also thank Him for my family, friends and all of the amazing blessings I have in my life. I have since realized that everything good that I do is powered by God and everything good that I have is from God and is God. It would be wrong for me to take credit for what happened to me that night, for my willingness to continue changing and helping others since then, and for every wonderful thing that has ever come my way.
I hope this recount is more helpful than not, but either way, it was that experience which propelled me into this new life and has driven me to do this work ever since.
So in the 7th Step prayer, we ask for strength to carry on and do God’s will. If we have been cleaned out and are going to move forward spiritually by making our amends, we will most certainly need some power. It is not selfish to ask God for strength because we are doing so to empower ourselves to go serve, to continue growing, to pray unselfishly, to start meditating, to be more disciplined and to simply be a better person. These are some tall tasks and that is why we ask for help. I found that as an addict and even before I took Steps, there were many things I couldn’t do for myself. We have to accept this predicament. We also have to accept that power can come from non-human sources. Finally, we must accept that what we need may lie beyond the scope of human faculty. We must never be afraid to earnestly ask for a miracle.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to know there exists an abundant and limitless force that we can access which can propel us to accomplish and face all sorts of things in life, things we could never face or accomplish previously? Well, there is. This isn’t fantasyland. This is not a fairytale made of fluff. This is real. God’s power can be accessed, and when we choose to tap in, we find that we can do amazing things we never even dreamed of. The sheer strength of will one can gain from these spiritual actions is amazing. Personally, I have no fear of the world anymore. In fact, I have no fear of anything, and I want you to feel that. It is yours for the taking if you want it bad enough.
*When we have kneeled down and recited out loud the 7th Step prayer as it reads on page 76 of Alcoholics Anonymous, we have completed the 7th Step.