Episode 131: Step Five with Angela and John

In this episode, Angela and I continue our discussion of the 12 Ssteps, today, focusing on Step Five, which involves sharing our story with another person. We cover a lot of ground here, taking a look at who we should choose to listen to our fourth step, what role should that person play as the hearer, what value is gained from doing this and how thorough should we be. This is followed with a discussion of our experiences with therapy and the benefit we see in doing that.

Transcript

00:52 John S: So Angela, you’re back from Phoenix, Arizona.

00:56 Angela B: I am, yeah. I went to the Secular AA Conference there, the third Biennial Arizona Secular AA Conference. And it was great. Yeah, it was really good. They had wonderful speakers, they had wonderful panels. It was super organized.

01:15 John S: Good.

01:16 Angela B: I was very impressed with what they were able to do in one day. It was good. Some of the panels they had were, the first one, I believe, was on dogma and ritual in Secular AA. That was kind of cool, they were very prepared, they had researched the word dogma and the word ritual. [chuckle] Just all sorts of stuff. So that was interesting. And then, Greg got up and he talked about the conference in DC and some of the panels and things that were going to happen there. Let’s see, there’ll be people who do art in therapy, art in sobriety, and a certified Tai Chi specialist. There’ll be continuous AA meetings, which I don’t know if there was at the last one, but I thought that was cool that people can bring the format of their AA meeting and take one of those spots. And they’re still going to be taking oral histories there, which is important so that we can have an archive of people who are secular in AA, and what their story has been.

02:29 Angela B: And then there’s going to be a lot of science-based recovery information and speakers. So yeah, Greg talked about that. And then there was a panel on how to survive a conventional AA meeting. And it talked about just translating words, and whether or not you want to say that you’re secular or not. Just different things like that that people are curious about, and what works for them. And then the one that I thought was really great was the raising secular awareness in AA through service work. And yeah, that one was great. It’s something that I’ve become passionate about, as I should be for my role, I guess, in Secular AA. But I really like it because it talked about having a GSR, a group service representative, for your group. When we started our group, we kind of had one, but we weren’t that involved.

03:29 Angela B: We were more concerned about our group and maintaining a group and stuff. But then over the years, the more you think about it, if you do have a representative, and then they move up in the service structure and become part of the district, or on different committees, the more people that you have that are involved, the less likely you’re going to have difficulties within your area of your group, because half of you will be on whatever committee is voting whether or not you should exist.

04:00 John S: Right.

04:01 Angela B: So I really liked that aspect. As well as just that it does raise awareness. Sometimes people are scared that we’re here, because they don’t exactly know what we do or how we get sober and stay sober, and they have strange ideas that were sacrificing goats over burning Big Books or something. And so when they see that we’re just people in recovery like them and that we’re doing stuff for other people in recovery, which is important , then, yeah, it becomes less of an issue having groups like ours. So that was really great having or listening to that group and hearing the different avenues that they went, like being a part of intergroup or a central office because some places don’t have an intergroup or a central office. Yeah, so that gave some interesting things.

05:00 Angela B: I also spoke a little bit afterwards on that, about working in the prisons. Because in our area, the person who coordinates the AA groups that go into prisons is the religious services coordinator at the prison. Yeah, so they get a little bit… They got confused as to who I was and what I was going to do, because they weren’t actually aware that the group, the two women from our group that were taking meetings in there, were doing a secularly formatted meeting. And so they weren’t aware of Secular AA at all. And so when I had volunteered to be a speaker for that, which in our state you can speak like four times and you don’t have to go through as much background check, they didn’t know what that was. [chuckle] And so, and then I was confused, because I was getting a call from the state of Idaho Department of Corrections and the religious coordinator. And so it was kind of funny.

05:58 John S: That’s funny. They just, they put AA right in their religious services category, I guess.

06:00 Angela B: Yeah, yeah. And so, so anyway. I’m just bringing awareness that if people are wanting to do that, that that might be something that they’ll need to think about, or just know when they get ready to do that. And then the last panel was tolerance within Secular AA and one of the great things about that panel was, it was mostly Gen X or Millennial age people. And I really liked what they had to say. Again, they’d really thought about what they were going to say and presented it well and one of them, I liked that she said something about part of the tolerance is knowing that I may not believe in the same god that you don’t believe in.

06:51 Angela B: So keeping that as a thought when you’re in a secular meeting or at a secular conference and such. because sometimes we can get just as rigid and judgmental as a lot of us are frustrated with traditional or conventional AA as being. So, yeah, so it was a great experience, I really liked it. I liked that they had the timings on it, so that there was plenty of room after each panel where people from the… Who were attending to come up and share their experience. So it wasn’t just questions, it was a sharing experience, because… Yeah, that’s what a lot of us like to do, is give our take on it. Or reflect on what somebody else has said and how that might have affected us, or… Yeah, and so there was plenty of time for that and I thought that was important for the kind of event that we had. So, yeah. And there were people from all over. There were a couple of people from Langley, British Columbia.

08:01 John S: Oh, wow.

08:01 Angela B: Wanting to do one like that. And so, they were there. And Colorado and Montana. And then California, and other places a little bit closer, so…

08:12 John S: Wow.

08:12 Angela B: So that was pretty neat too. The people who had travelled.

08:15 John S: I know they recorded it too and I send an email to Beth and asked her if she could send me some of the recordings so I could post on AA Beyond Belief, but I know eventually they’re going to be posted on their Arizona website and I’ll just steal them from there if I have to.

08:30 Angela B: [chuckle] Sounds good. Sounds good.

08:32 John S: Alright, so we’re going to do step 5, and I think we have some stuff to finish up from step 4. But I can’t, I can’t really remember what we were going to finish up. I did get an email, though, from someone who had a question and it was kind of an interesting question. And I think that back in my early days I would have absolutely been able to answer this question, but I don’t know the answer now. But she says, “What’s the difference between self-centeredness and self-seeking?” I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” But at the time I did this back like, a gazillion years ago, when I was very studious in the Big Book, there was a definite difference. But I just can’t remember what it is now. I was just thinking that self-seeking is just like that you’re doing something… You have ulterior motives. Your motives are for yourself. And then selfishness is just like a general attitude of… That you carry about.

09:31 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know the definitions necessarily, either, but in my mind, self-seeking is doing stuff that… It’s more of a neediness. You’re doing something to get something you need, whereas self-centered is more of a place that your ideas and thoughts come from where you are at the center of the universe.

09:57 John S: Yeah.

09:58 Angela B: And whereas I can easily be self-seeking, and wanting something to go my way. And to me it kind of goes a little more with being manipulative and such. But yeah. That’s a good question.

10:10 John S: That question came from Megan, Megan F. And I also, I don’t… When I first did this… When I first got in AA, I never thought of myself as being selfish, and… And I don’t know if I really was the selfish bastard that they painted me to be. [chuckle] You know, really. But I guess I saw some value in at least asking the question. I could see, just through my addiction to alcohol, that I was doing things that I was doing just to keep my addiction going. And so I was thinking about myself and my needs and my problems and all of that kind of stuff. My world was pretty small, it was just me hiding stuff from everybody else and manipulating people where I could. But those were behaviors I had. I think that deep down I really wasn’t… I don’t think there was really anything that was seriously deep in my psyche that caused me to be just a selfish bastard.

11:15 John S: But I did, I was behaving, at the time in selfish ways, I suppose. But I just remember at the time my sponsor just kept beating in my head how selfish I was, and it was really kind of harmful to me at the time, because my self-esteem was already pretty low and then to have that thrown on top of it. But, I don’t know, I bought it and I tried to look at where I was selfish and self-centered and I guess I learned something about myself. But there’s some, I don’t know, I think there’s some caution that should be taken with that as well.

11:52 Angela B: Yeah, I agree. I don’t think that my sponsor, either of them, really talked about being selfish. Because I think that is a little bit more on the harsh side.

12:09 John S: It is harsh. That’s exactly the word that I was thinking. It’s a harsh way of looking at it. It’s like instead of… Yeah, it’s just…

12:16 Angela B: Right, yeah. So I think it’s more of the ego deflating part of the fourth step, that some people, I guess, need or the intention of it, at the time.

12:27 John S: Dr. Wilson needed it, I guess.

12:28 Angela B: Yeah, you know, seriously.

12:31 John S: Yeah.

12:31 Angela B: So I think that that’s where that comes from, but it’s not something that we talk about very much at… I think occasionally, if I’m working with somebody and they just can’t see a part in their inventory, usually later with the 8th step or something, and they’re struggling on how they need to make amends to this person who isn’t a great person anyway, or something like that. Then kind of looking at in what ways were you being selfish in that relationship is something we talk about a little bit more, but it’s usually after we’ve gone through and looked at both the negative and the positive of what our coping mechanisms are.

13:19 John S: Yeah.

13:20 Angela B: Because then it’s not as personal. I think earlier on we do take it as… Okay, great, I’m selfish too, so I’m this selfish self-centered drunk. That just goes around destroying things, and the truth was I had some of those behaviors, but I wasn’t a bad person.

13:39 John S: No.

13:42 Angela B: In my regular life, I didn’t go around wrecking super havoc, I was somewhat functional, I had lots of different jobs because I would get mad and leave them or not show up and stuff, but in general, I wasn’t that person on the street that was accosting people and stuff, I did good things, I helped people, so I wasn’t that terrible horrible person that needed an ego deflation.

14:11 John S: Yeah, yeah, yeah, focusing on that kind of stuff just kind of takes you away from the facts of what happened in my life. It depends on the person and everything. I guess I did find some value in it, in the end, but yeah, like I say. And we also got an email from Judy from Asheville, North Carolina, and Asheville’s a really beautiful place. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there.

14:35 Angela B: No.

14:35 John S: My uncle had a cabin there and I got to spend… Oh, three or four weeks there once. And it was just wonderful. Anyway, they do have a secular meeting there. And she says that these podcasts have helped her with working the steps and she says that their group there, it’s an Atheist, Agnostic and Freethinkers Group, they meet twice a week. So she kind of fills in her meeting time with podcasts.

15:02 Angela B: Yeah.

15:03 John S: That’s cool.

15:03 Angela B: Very cool. I like that. There were a couple of people at the Phoenix conference that came up to me afterwards and said that they listened to the podcast and really liked it and that was kind of cool, because I sometimes forget that people listen to our podcast sometimes.

15:20 John S: I know.

15:22 Angela B: Sometimes we’re like we’re doing this for us and making sense of our history in AA and everything, and then someone’s like, oh, that was really helpful and I’m like, oh, yeah, it’s on the internet.

15:33 John S: It’s amazing, when you stop and think about the reach that this has, it blows me away. I’m like you, I never really stopped to think about how many people that we’re reaching, but a lot of people. In fact, we got an email from another person, his name is… Oh, gosh, well, this is from Peter. We got a lot of emails this week. Peter, he listens, he listened to episodes 127 and 128, he really liked those. Oh, yeah, this is the guy, he’s from New York, and he’s traveling through South America for the next five months. So he’s listening to our podcast as he travels around.

16:14 John S: That’s kind of cool. And then Chrissie B, I have to write her back, she wrote like a really long email, so I’m not going to be able to read all of it, but she’s just really nice and she found this podcast, she’s also an adult child of an alcoholic and I think that’s how she got into the program, and she does have a sponsor who’s a believer but she’s been able to work that out anyway, she likes the podcast.

16:48 Angela B: Cool.

16:48 John S: So yeah, I mean that’s kind of nice to hear from people and usually what I find, the people who listen, who write, who listen to the podcast, they usually write in more detail about who they are, how they feel about the podcast, they go into more, I guess, it’s a deeper connection than there is like if you leave a comment about an article that you read, it’s a completely different sort of a comment than the podcast comments that I get. Now, so occasionally, YouTube aside because YouTube is weird, it’s crazy weird. I kind of like that too, because YouTube will criticize me, the people are different, which is cool, that’s fine. Alright.

17:34 Angela B: There was one on the Facebook group, though, that I noticed that somebody had was curious about the sex inventory. Yeah. And relationship inventory as I prefer to call it.

17:56 John S: I looked at it that way, too, actually.

17:57 Angela B: Yeah, and so I thought I would look at that a little bit from what I got from what the person posted and other people said. So, again, I thought I’d reiterate that I look at it as a relationship inventory and that it’s really continuing to look at patterns and behaviors or tendencies that I might have that no longer service. So my first sponsor didn’t break it out into separate inventories, it was all together, but my second sponsor did, and I found it really helpful, because I actually had some different patterns that I used in romantic relationships than I used with everyone else, like co-workers or family or something like that, and I’d never really thought about it before, that I behave differently in those situations.

18:53 Angela B: And so by doing that, I got to see those patterns in a different way and then I wrote out a relationship ideal, and that kind of put into what I would like myself to be in relationships, so kind of like an affirmation thing. And that was helpful for going into relationships after that because it gave me a framework of something to look at as I’m getting into relationship or deciding if I want to continue. I had this little ideal thing, and does this person in this situation fit into the person that I want to be in sobriety and in society, or am I lying to myself and just trying to make this person fit, which I was really good at doing, or I did frequently, before.

19:47 Angela B: So yeah, so I think it’s just more of being very specific about that part of our life, because it’s not something that we do talk about very much in regular society, let alone in the rooms, and it’s really pretty important. One of the things that you’ll often hear in AA meetings is the two things that’ll take you out are romances and finances. And yet it’s something that we don’t really talk that much about. So he also talked about it in the meeting level, and that’s an area where I think generalization is still important. I think it’s helpful, particularly at my home group, to talk about if you’re struggling in a relationship, you don’t have to, but I do, and other people have, and that’s more of an honesty thing, and also because it is so difficult with romances. When you get sober all of these feelings come out, and when you’re in a love relationship, they seem to explode sometimes, and you’re like, “Where is this coming from? And I haven’t felt this way or why am I so angry?”

21:04 Angela B: It seems like they’re amplified within relationship and so they’re often unexpected. So, sharing it with the people that you’re walking through sobriety with is really helpful so that they can help you, they know where you’re at with things. If you stop showing up at the meeting, they can send you a note to see how you are, and just walk through that experience with you. But I know for my first several years that if somebody tried to talk about relationships, people would get mad and say, no, we don’t talk about that here. And for me, it’s a significant part of my struggle in sobriety when I am struggling.

21:49 Angela B: Most of the time, things are pretty smooth sailing for me. There are things that come up, and I get to learn all sorts of learning experiences and such but, yeah, the relationship stuff is still difficult, and so having my group be able to walk through that with me and know where I am and show the honesty and then it also shows people who are newer, that you can walk through this that you don’t have to drink again, even if your heart is broken or something happens that you regret or whatever.

22:26 Angela B: And it also allows the other people there to to empathize and to start doing these things that we need to learn to do to be productive members of society, like show empathy and reflective listening and just to be open and… And I think, at least in my group that some of the people, it’s the first time they’ve felt almost the privilege of somebody being honest with them about their feelings and being vulnerable, and that feels good, sometimes scary, but it feels good to know that somebody’s trusting you with something that’s vulnerable, and so again it’s something that I think can benefit people to share where they’re at and what their struggles are with it. You don’t have to go into great detail, but yeah, for me it’s an important part of my sobriety.

23:21 John S: Yeah, I remember actually going through that, I mean the inventory part of the sex inventory thing, and I honest to God didn’t relate to the Big Book the way they did it, because I just came from a different perspective. I was in my mid-20s, alcohol drove me away from people. I didn’t really have any relationship, other than relationships that I wouldn’t start, it was just… So for me, I had to learn about relationships, when I was getting sober, I had to learn how to do, have a relationship when I was getting sober and that was a painful process, because I was really, I was an adult, I was an adult, but I was learning what I should have learned in high school.

24:10 Angela B: Exactly.

24:11 John S: It was kind of embarrassing in a sense, but anyway, it’s… Yeah, anyway, that was an interesting little post in Facebook, I liked what Dale said, he says, I don’t want to talk about sex with anybody but his wife.

24:26 Angela B: Yeah, well, you know, if that, if your wife is still around and when you can go through then, that’s great. But for a lot of us, that’s not the case.

24:36 John S: Sure.

24:36 Angela B: It’s hard to keep people around or want people around. The other thing with that post that I wanted to touch on is that people responded to it with talking about sponsorship, and trust and who you should sponsor or who you should share a fifth step with. And so, getting into the fifth step, most of what I’ve read, and my experience has been that you can share your fifth step with anyone.

25:01 John S: True.

25:02 Angela B: But for me, when I’m taking somebody through it, I usually go through a couple of sections or a couple of people or lines within each section with the person that I’m sponsoring, just to make sure that they’re going in a good direction. Sometimes when they start going through it, they take responsibility for everything in their life, even if it’s not theirs, and so when they’re getting started correcting that early is better than showing up to do a fifth step, and having it all wrong. And that can be very disheartening for people.

25:41 Angela B: So going through it that way is what I usually do, unless somebody wants to take it to somebody else, which is, I understand, as well, and so I know people who have taken it to priests even if they’re not Catholic and people who take it to doctors or their therapist, of course, or a trusted friend that’s outside of the program that doesn’t know a lot of the people or things that the person is talking about. And yeah, it’s really, I think the point is to get relief from a lot of our secrets that still have a hold on us.

26:28 Angela B: Ideally, the sponsor… In the sponsor dynamic, they’ll relate to most of what you wrote. At least it’s been my experience in sponsoring. You can relate to a lot of the things. It’s not out of the ordinary. And both of my sponsors generally showed a lack of being impressed [chuckle] with my crazy, wild, horrible person that I was. In my mind, it’s… Yeah, the shame is really that I thought I was going to wow them with a couple of shameful acts in my past, and they didn’t reinforce that shame, even if they didn’t have the same experience. They talked in a general way about similarities. And so that was super, super important, because as I’ve said before, there’s a critical voice that a lot of us have, and it likes to point out those things. And so in doing that, it kind of let the voice that is more soothing have more power like, “Okay, see? This person didn’t freak out, didn’t run away, didn’t decide to unfriend you or whatever, because of this.”

27:47 John S: But wouldn’t that be funny if you…

[chuckle]

27:49 John S: If somebody wants to do a fifth step with somebody, and the person was like, “Oh, man. You’re a freak. You’re just so… “

[laughter]

27:55 Angela B: Yeah. That would be… Oh, but isn’t that… I think that’s what the Facebook thing was about was, like who’s trustworthy to do this, and it’s like…

28:04 John S: Yeah.

28:04 Angela B: You know? And I’m sure you’re going to get some email from that comment. But I’m sure there are some people that that’s happened, or maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but maybe it felt like that, you know?

28:17 John S: Yeah. Yeah.

28:18 Angela B: And so… So yeah, so it is a possibility. It’s very much a vulnerable place. And so sometimes, if you can, do therapy while you’re going through the steps or getting sober, I think that’s important, because that person can help you discern who to share your fifth step with, if the person you’ve asked to sponsor you seems to be an okay person to share that with or not. But yeah, for me, the release that I got from doing fifth step wasn’t like a burning bush moment or a big a-ha, it was really more of that letting my critical voice back off a little bit, and it was more of a sense of grace from that voice and a feeling of, yeah, you might be somewhat normal and average and not that significant as far as shame is related.

29:20 Angela B: And so I felt like I didn’t have to hold on to those feelings of shame as tightly as I had been prior to doing a fifth step. So I can’t say that they’ve all gone away, and I’m happy, joyous and free. A lot of therapy has helped me be more so, but that’s kind of what my experience was. So I’d say, if people are concerned about doing a fifth step that, yeah, try to be discerning on who you choose as a sponsor. It’s hard early on, because you’re new, you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s possible to ask somebody to be a temporary sponsor as you check out different groups and see people’s behavior, and then that might help you. Or if you’re able to, then definitely therapy is always my first suggestion for people. Because while I was able to do this in recovery, some of it is luck, and I just didn’t have the money to. And so what we’re doing here is, again, suggestions on how to do it, but yeah, I would never suggest doing the fifth step, or fourth step even with just anybody that you saw in AA. Some discernment is helpful in that.

30:44 John S: Yeah.

30:46 Angela B: Some.

30:46 John S: I haven’t sponsored very many people since I’ve been sober, which is kind of funny. I mean, it’s interesting, I guess, that people don’t look at me as being a sponsor, probably because I don’t really act like I know anything or I have any answers or…

[chuckle]

31:03 John S: I’m kind of a mess myself. I don’t think anybody looks at me as someone that can help them out. But I have listened to two fifth steps, and that was a really… Those were wonderful experiences. They were very special experiences.

31:19 Angela B: Yeah.

31:21 John S: The first one was a younger guy, and he went into detailed, really amazing detail through his entire life, and it took several hours, and I did mostly listen. I listened, and I think I made him feel comfortable, because I did relate to him. I mean, I had no problem relating to him. There was no judgment or anything, and it was just… It was just his opportunity. I think the benefit of it is from the teller to listen to themselves more than anything else and to be heard. That helped him. But the second one I did was… And this was the most recent one, and it was after we started our secular group, and this guy my age wanted to do it with me, and he came over to my house, and I liked it, because what he did, he just touched upon some key moments in his life that he felt from his self-reflection of what impacted him, had the biggest impact on him.

32:33 John S: And that worked for him, and I can understand why, because when you go through your fourth step, you might have a lot of different things, a lot of different resentments and memories and all this kind of stuff. But you can probably boil them down into just a few things, honestly, a few critical things, but anyway, either way, it works well, it depends on the person, I guess. But it was a real honor for me to be able to listen to it and they were just very relaxed, comfortable situations.

33:13 Angela B: You didn’t make them do it on their knees in a coffee shop? That’s cool. No. [chuckle]

33:19 John S: When I did mine, though, this was awful, okay, so he had me… Okay, the first one we did, it was like a two or three-day ordeal. Anyway, the first time we were private, in the AA hall but the second time, and this is when the whole sex thing and inventories on sex and religion, all that stuff, was at a park and we were on a park bench and all these people would be walking by and I just didn’t feel I had a lot of privacy and I was afraid to say anything as people were walking by [chuckle] so I’d wait for them to pass. It just wasn’t good. You really should do it, like where you can close the door and have some privacy.

34:02 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, particularly depending on the extent of it. So yeah, with younger people, I find doing them more exhaustive I guess, because they oftentimes don’t know their patterns yet. And so by writing all of it out and then looking at it, you can see the patterns easier and then go from there on. What is the most important stuff? And with one of the people that I am working with now, who’s been in the program for a very long time, I am just taking her through the steps in a secular way. So she’s been through them before, so we’re just kind of… It’s kind of like doing the steps light and the… She’ll just share a couple of things with me that are still either bugging her or that she still struggles with. And then we talk about how the literature, how people in Secular AA deal with the same kind of thing and work through that.

35:06 Angela B: And so, yeah, so it’s a little bit different for me as well, but I do also really feel privileged for when somebody does share a fifth step with me or share anything and I think that’s part of what AA has to offer that some of the other things don’t or how it creates more of a sense of either community or belonging, at least with another person is that we go from a sense of shame, or feeling bad about ourselves to wow, another person is sharing their vulnerability with me. And so it gives you more of a sense of pride in yourself which I know people are like, “You have to get out of self,” in a lot of AA meetings, but again for me getting into self was important and so yeah, and so it helped me to kind of see that I had changed, to see a change in myself, I guess, that I might not have noticed until I had that experience of somebody sharing their fifth step with me, and realizing, yeah, that I had changed, that this person trusts me, and gave me an extra sense of being trustworthy and what I need to do to maintain that.

36:23 Angela B: So yeah, that was one of the cool things for me. One of the things I was thinking about when we were getting ready for this part of the podcast of 4 and 5, I wanted to do something more on it, but really what I was thinking about, I was watching the Con Marie or Marie Con tidying up stuff, and then I was thinking about the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh process as being kind of like the tidying up process. Did you watch any of… She has a Netflix special, she has like the bug for tidying up.

36:58 John S: No, no, no, I know, I think I know what you’re talking about, I must’ve seen it, yeah.

37:02 Angela B: Yeah. But basically, what she does is she has people go in and she has it in different sections of what you do, but the first is going to all of your clothes, closets wherever you have them and then throwing them all usually on the bed and then you pick up each piece and decide, is it useful, does it bring you joy, is what she says, but is it still useful to you? And if it is, then you put it in one spot and if it isn’t, you decide whether it goes to Thrift or garbage, and you think it as you go to do that. So a little bit wooey in the Japanese tradition, but it’s an interesting thought. And so I thought that, that’s kind of how I feel like when you’re going through the fourth step, you throw all your stuff out there with your resentments or all your stuff out there with your fears or your relationship stuff and you examine each thing and figure out what your patterns are and stuff and then you decide if that is trait or characteristic is useful.

38:07 Angela B: And then if it is, you kind of set it aside to deal with later or to put it away in a way that you can understand how to use that tool, or you put it someplace else so that… So you don’t use that one as much, like manipulation or control or whatever. But anyway, I thought, I was laughing as I was watching that. And each section she was going through and how they did that, how to properly look at each thing. And then for me, I don’t ask for any deity to take away my character defects. So I liked the idea of folding it up and putting it in a proper place so that if I need to use a disassociation [chuckle] because I’m being kidnapped or tortured or something, I can still take that out of my tool box and use that. That would really suck, if something were to happen like that and then God took that away from me. And so that’d be a bummer, but that’s not how I think about things. And so it made me laugh at, The Art of Tidying Up Your Brain or something along those lines, and sobriety.

38:39 John S: So what do you think that people should expect from someone that listens to their fifth step? I have heard some people, sponsors will actually try to draw stuff out of people. I never did that, so much. But do you think that the person who is listening to the fifth step should be asking questions or trying to guide the person in any way?

38:39 Angela B: Yeah, in my experience. First, it was like listening to the whole thing, so how I do it and how my sponsors did it was just listen to the whole thing, and yeah, and have that part. But then the way that I do the sixth and seventh step is going back to it and looking at different aspects and asking questions about, “Did you really have a part in that?” or, “What did you… What did you learn from that particular experience that you’ve been holding on to all this time?” And so if it’s like… For me, at a young age, I learned that I needed to have a lot of control, because adults couldn’t be trusted, and so I’ve taken that with me, and it’s not always helpful in working with others [chuckle] and being cooperative, because we’re all adults, and so sometimes I have to remember that, yeah, I’m working with other adults.

40:41 Angela B: We’re all adults and that I need to let other people do some of the work or something along those lines. Or in relationship, having interdependence and cooperating in that way. Sometimes that old habit of adults can’t be trusted will pop up, and I’ll need to take a look at that. So yeah, so when I go through and we’re doing 6 and 7 with the people I work with, we do look at those a little bit, but not during the actual fifth step. It’s more of the as we continue through the steps.

41:20 John S: Yeah, this really does set you up for steps 6 through 9, doesn’t it? Because I think what it did for me when I… When after I did my fourth step, and I had all that stuff in my head, and then I took it to my sponsor and spoke it to him, it gave me some clarification, I guess, I really… For me, I really did get the sense that I wasn’t bad, and I wasn’t unique in a bad way. I wasn’t a serial killer or whatever. [chuckle]

42:00 John S: I was just a… I was just a regular person to a certain extent. I mean, I had these human traits. I felt like, I don’t know, I felt… I did feel like I was on the right track, and I had a… I had a better understanding of myself, and I had an understanding of the people who raised me, and I was able to have, in my case, some understanding of forgiveness, I guess, because I could see that… I knew where they came from. I just had an idea about who I was and why I was that way, and I knew to… I had a pretty good idea of who I needed to straighten things out with and who I… And what I needed to change about myself, because I did see some patterns. And in my case, one of the things was I was really insecure. I had a lot of fear and insecurity, which kind of makes sense from the way I grew up.

43:00 Angela B: Yeah.

43:01 John S: But just being aware of that helped me figure out, “Well, how can I become a more secure person?” which is a lifetime’s work.

43:15 Angela B: Right. [chuckle]

43:16 John S: I think I’m better than I was for sure, but there’s always going to probably be some insecurity and so forth, and maybe that’s good, but it was a huge part of who I was. And so it did help. I mean, I don’t know, I guess I could have probably done those things without the step 5, but I think the step 5 just really gave me some good clarification. I did get some feedback from my sponsor. I think mostly I got… Mostly he would… He listened, and I think he, he would notice like if I was ever pausing, or he noticed if I was having some difficulty talking about something. He knew that that was the thing I probably really needed to talk about.

44:08 Angela B: Right.

44:09 John S: And he did a pretty good job of drawing that out, of making me feel comfortable enough that I could share that. So yeah, so it did help a lot. And so it’s almost like these steps all kind of flow together, but kind of from that, my list was made, I knew who I needed to make amends to or whatever, and I knew what I wanted to change about myself. I had a pretty good idea.

44:40 Angela B: Right. Yeah, that’s been my experience too. So with 5, again, some of the feedback was more on the checking with me on my part if that part… If that really was my part, because, again, I would often… Let’s see, how should I say this? And early in AA, in the conventional ones, I’d hear a lot about selfishness, like we talked about at the beginning and stuff, and so when I went to go do my fourth step, a lot of my part, I was thinking about the selfishness, and that I must have been selfish in all of these different things, otherwise we wouldn’t talk about it so much, right?

45:23 John S: Yeah.

45:23 Angela B: And so it was a lot of correcting that part, my part in things, and having another person’s perspective to help me see those a little bit more clearly. And so that’s part of why when I’m working with somebody on it, I have them do a couple early on with me, so that they can get a better idea of how to look at their part instead of taking full responsibility for everything or thinking that they were always the selfish one in each situation, because that’s not always the case. And so, yeah, so that was my experience with doing 5. And then, again, the rest of it all runs into each other up until 10, which is basically redoing a lot of what you’ve done before, but…

46:15 Angela B: But yeah, it was in 6 and 7 that I got to hone the coping mechanisms that were less useful for me and see what they were and why I used them, where they came from, and then develop… For 7, it was more developing new strategies that I wanted to use if those situations came up, we literally wrote them on note cards, “Okay, if this comes up, what are you… What would you like to do? What would you like your response be? How would you like to act? Where you feel like you’d be more in integrity with who you want to be.” And so yeah, so those… The 6 and 7 often get overlooked, particularly in Secular AA, because they are talking about God and giving thanks to God. But…

47:04 John S: I know, if you focus too much on the God part you really miss that, you really miss what’s really going on there. And yeah…

47:10 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, but they were super important to me.

47:14 John S: because… Yeah, me too, I think those are two of the more interesting steps, actually, that… because when you’re going through traditional AA, honestly, there’s not a whole lot to be done with those steps.

47:26 Angela B: Right, right, yeah.

47:28 John S: God does it all. So you don’t really have to do anything, I mean, you give lip service to it, I guess. And it’s really funny if you… I’ve talked about this before, but if you go to a regular meeting where they talk about their character defects, everybody says that God hasn’t removed them, they always say that, they say, “Well, God still hasn’t taken my character defects, and blah, blah, blah.” And it’s like, I guess, well, maybe there isn’t a God that does that, I don’t know.

47:55 Angela B: Right, yeah. Or even if there was, maybe that thing’s expecting you to do the work about…

48:01 John S: Yeah, maybe you should do something about it anyway.

48:05 Angela B: So anyway. Yeah, I’ve experienced that as well.

48:06 John S: So I look forward, I do look forward to talking about those steps. That’s really the, honestly, that’s where the work really happens. I did, I went to therapy before I did steps 4 and 5, but I was going to a place that charged on a sliding scale, and it was this counselor who has a master’s degree. And he was very helpful, but we didn’t really go into a lot of details. But after I did steps 4 and 5, I went to a psychologist for therapy and I went through group therapy, and then I went through individual therapy. I was in therapy for a couple of years anyway, it was quite a deal. But it was helpful to me because I would… That’s… And I guess what I’m trying to say is, that’s really where I started working steps 6 and 7, is through… Was in therapy. That’s when I really started making some changes about figuring out how I want to cope with life going forward.

49:09 Angela B: Right.

49:11 John S: And it did, it was helpful and I haven’t… It’s been many, many years. I still see a shrink, because I’m on medication, but we don’t ever talk about stuff. And I was talking to you, I saw her yesterday, and she said that she really believes that just taking the medication isn’t really enough, that you also need the therapy to really make the changes. And I don’t know why, we were just talking, but it kind of put in my head that maybe it might not be a bad idea for me to look at doing that again. It’s not like I’m super miserable or anything, but it’s been a while.

49:54 Angela B: Right, yeah. Yeah, no, I’m very much a supporter of therapy and various types of therapy, and maybe we need to do a podcast on therapy, but…

50:07 John S: Yeah, yeah.

50:08 Angela B: But there are different modalities and stuff, and I didn’t know that when I first got into therapy, that there are different modalities that people are generally trained in, and finding out about those. Now, with Google you can go in and look at it and see what makes sense to you. I’ve had a lot of different therapies throughout my life. And what’s working well for me right now is EMDR, and I shunned EMDR for a long time and thought it seemed stupid, but…

50:44 John S: What is EMDR? What is that?

50:45 Angela B: It’s… I can’t remember what it stands for, it’s like Eye Movement Desensitization… Yeah, something like that. And it started out with putting someone’s… The therapist would put a finger in front of your eyes and go back and forth. And so that’s what I thought was kind of dumb. But it has a lot of research behind it now, and what my therapist does is I actually hold on to two little egg type things that have a buzz to them, and then I have headphones that have a little bing going back and forth, and then we talk about some of the difficult stuff that I’ve been through, and talking about it and having my brain and body concentrating on these other things, different stuff will come up that I didn’t know about or feel before, and it’s been really helpful for releasing some of the pent-up emotions that were still there, that I’ve had tons of therapy and gone through the steps and do all of this stuff, but there are still some little things that I didn’t realize were affecting me.

51:53 John S: Yeah, yeah.

51:54 Angela B: And this was a way to bring that out. And then it’s supposed to help your neurotransmitters develop a new path then, so when something resembles whatever that situation was, instead of going into panic or a negative behavior thought pattern that I had developed, it creates a new neural pathway and so it doesn’t affect me as much as it did previously.

52:13 John S: Interesting.

52:13 Angela B: So yeah, so that’s one. But there’s lots of different kinds. Just the regular talk therapy or psychotherapy, looking into things more, there’s yeah, quite a few modalities that I’ve been researching as of late, to work with, particularly trauma and stuff. I also attend therapy with my partner. And that’s really important, it is difficult to find a really good couples therapist, particularly depending on where you are. In some places the best ones congregate because they get paid a lot more. But I think that that’s important and something that people who are in recovery and in relationship should consider doing, and a lot of them don’t.

53:06 John S: Yeah. That’s a lot of… It takes a lot of courage to do that. And I can see how helpful that would be. The most difficult part about relationships for me being married is the communication. To communicate, say what I need to say and to not be afraid to say it, to not be afraid of a fight, if that’s what happens. It’s like that’s the thing with me, it’s like, if something bothers me I’m so reluctant to bring it up because I don’t want to rock the boat, I guess. But what ultimately happens, the bad part about that is I’m not letting it go, it’s still, I’m still bugged by it, and it does come up in other ways. And so, it’s so much better.

53:58 Angela B: Yeah. It’s never about the fish, if you’re fighting about the fish tank or something, it’s never about the fish, it’s always something else.

54:06 John S: That’s right.

54:07 Angela B: Yeah. And so going to couples therapy, my partner isn’t an addict or in recovery in any way and so some of it is having another person help translate that sometimes I behave in weird ways or whatever, and this is why, and some of it is helping him be able to speak in ways that… Like in meetings I can share just about anything, I’m pretty comfortable because I know my group and I know their level of empathy, and most of them have experienced similar things to me, but when you’re in close relationship, yeah, there are different things that come up, a different sense of vulnerability and sometimes it’s just not as easy for me to share those things with somebody that I’m very close to, because there’s a much higher fear factor of, “What if they don’t like it? What if they run away? What if… Whatever,” and so doing so in couples therapy helps put another person, a neutral person there to be able to share some things that maybe we’ve struggled with for a long time and haven’t been able to share because it’s been too scary for one or the other. So I highly recommend it. It’s super helpful for me and definitely if you’re struggling and going to get a divorce, at least try it.

55:36 John S: Yeah. I agree.

55:36 Angela B: I know several people who have given up 15-year marriages without going to couples therapy and it’s like, “Come on.”

55:42 John S: I agree, I totally agree with that. I agree, you should just give it a shot because it might be fixable, it might just be something that you just haven’t talked about, you just haven’t… It’s just helpful, yeah, I agree with that.

55:55 Angela B: Yeah. And so going through the steps… We kind of got on a tangent, but going through the steps has helped me also go to couples therapy because I have worked on so many things and I know so many of my go-to coping mechanisms, that when we are in therapy talking about different things, I can feel more assertive or clear in what is and isn’t my side of the street and whereas if I had gone to it before I had done the steps or something, I think I would have been more insecure or something along those lines. But it also, if my partner brings up something that’s annoying him, and I know that that’s part of something that was in my inventory, a character thing that I’ve been trying to change, then I can also accept that a little easier because I know it exists so it doesn’t hurt as much that somebody I love has noticed that within me so…

57:00 John S: Yeah. Well, AA is kind of like a… It’s like a kindergarten in a way, it kind of get you ready.

57:05 Angela B: Exactly.

57:05 John S: It gets you ready for real psychology, because… [chuckle]

57:09 Angela B: Exactly.

57:09 John S: because you kind of like, “Okay, I really am fucked up here, and there is actually a scientific way I can deal with it.” I don’t know. But yeah, it is part of it. That’s part of my recovery, so.

57:22 Angela B: Oh, definitely, definitely.

57:24 John S: Well, I think this was a good conversation, I hope it has helped people with step 5.

57:32 Angela B: Yeah.

57:32 John S: It’s a scary step, but it’s… Once you do it, I think it’s… I think it’s worthwhile, I would encourage people to give it a shot.

57:41 Angela B: Yeah, and hopefully they have some more ideas on if they’re concerned about it, of who they can share it with if they choose to do it. And then, again, as we always say, these are just suggestions, not everybody takes steps, not everybody takes all the steps, not everybody does steps the way that we’re talking about. And so it’s all just stuff that has been our experience that we’re trying to share for the people who are interested.

[music]

58:12 John S: And that’s another episode of a AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. Hey, if you’d like to help out our site and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all, go over to iTunes and leave us a review, hopefully a favorable one. You can also help out financially with either a recurring or a one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief. Or through PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief. And you can always visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.


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