We Write Alone but We Are Not Alone: Fifth Step, Part 2

Step 5 – Admitted to the world, to another person, and to ourselves the exact nature of our disease.

I grew up Roman Catholic and I love being Catholic. My brother Scott calls Mass the longest dinner party in history. Yes, the Church has issues, lots of issues, and the Church has slaughtered people all in the name of a homeless pacifist who was probably a little crazy and definitely a lot poor. But I love the Catholic Church even though it is so, so flawed.

cath church

In Catholicism, there are the seven sacraments. I’ll try and name them all, though I can never get it right. Here goes: Baptism, Dopey, the Eucharist, Dancer, Sleepy, Confession, Holy Orders, and Vixen. Oops, that’s eight.

Anyway, Confession, or Reconciliation, is the sacrament where you go and tell the priest your sins. But notice, it’s really not called Confession any more. It’s called Reconciliation. By talking about your sins, the priest represents the entire church, Jesus, God, and you are forgiven. You are reconciled with the community and everyone feels better.

speakIn 12-Step programs, we call that healing through our mouths.

Some kind of magic happens when you admit where you are wrong, where you tell someone about your troubles, where you air out your dirty laundry. Let me give you an example.

My book had just come out. I was working on marketing. I was terrified. I was dying. Now, them crazy Catholics would say that I lacked faith. And I did. I truly believed that I was alone in the world and DESTINED to fail. That is one of my character defects. I think that of all the people in the world, I have been chosen to fail. Forever. A failure.

I’ve been working the steps long enough to know that when I’m in that space, I need to reach out, and so I called two writer friends, Chris Devlin and Angie Hodapp. They met me at a Village Inn and I think I even blogged about it at the time.

So we all got into a booth, flirted with the waiter, well, I didn’t, but the girls did, and then I spilled my guts. I admitted my fear. I talked about my character defects. I let them in on the freak show that is my head.

And Angie said, “Yeah, I understand. But everyone is afraid.”

Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone any more. Suddenly, I found courage where none had been before. I was shrived. I was reconciled back into this family or writers and artists who create and sell and fear.

That is the power of the 5th step. When another person witnesses our struggles, our dark places, our foibles, our sins.

I’ve heard a lot of 5th steps, and people thank me for listening. I then thank them. Because it’s a sacred thing to bear witness to another person’s life. Everyone is helped.

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So them crazy Catholics were smart to include Reconciliation in their list of sacraments. There is power in talking. Suddenly, our thoughts become real in our words, and so, we can see how silly they are, or how real, or how unnecessary. And all the power is removed.

We heal through our mouths.

Not sure how much more I have to say about the fifth step, but next week I’ll add more. Like most things, it’s simple but oh so powerful.

Thanks, everyone reading along!

Step 5 Introduction: My History as Bart Simpson

Step 5 – Admitted to the world, to another person, and to ourselves the exact nature of our disease.


Writing is a solitary thing. No, really. One of my favorite bits from the The Simpsons is the summer where Bart breaks his leg. And he’s alone. And he gets weird. At one point, Lisa invites him out for something, and Bart, reduced to a pale, raccoon-eyed creature, hisses at her, “No, Lisa, I can’t. I’m working on my play.”

Spending large amounts of time alone is not good for human beings. We get strange. But as a writer, that’s one of the job hazards. I got used to being alone, though, even before I chose to write in every spare second I had.

I grew up in the basement of my house watching TV and working on my play. I was pale. I had dark circles under my eyes. And I was alone. I built multiverses out of legos. I read dark tomes. I watched Happy Days. Lots of Happy Days. Real life couldn’t compete with all that alone time.

I can still go there, and so I can write books. If I had been more well-adjusted and popular, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to be a writer. What’s done is done, though.

The thing is, after I wrote in isolation for years and years, fourteen years and hundreds of thousands of words later, I wasn’t making much progress. And I was lonely.

Somehow, I got the idea that writers were like high school theatre people. Not sure where I got that. It’s not the truth. I was driven to meet other writers because I was desperate to improve and I needed help. So I reached out.

We write alone, but we are not alone.

All of that is a long intro to Step Five. Step Five in its basic form is reading our inventory out loud to another person. A real-life person. Someone who can listen and keep quiet about what they heard. Some people use priests for this. Others call 411. True story, someone dropped an inventory on the poor gal working the information desk.

The process of reading our inventory, listing our inventories, admitting to our petty resentments, makes it real. As we read, we are admitting to ourselves what is really going on. Another person bears witness and represents the world. Get out your rosary beads, light the incense, get your Catholic on—this is a confession.


We’ll talk more about step five next week.

Pulling My Covers: Fourth Step Example of Fear Inventory

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Okay, so way back when, I posted an example of my grudge list, where I list my resentments but then my part in the resentments.
Click here for In Jail For Killing My Critique Group Partner: Step Four Example.

fearNow, that resentment against that cow Betty Smith was all about my deep fears about the quality of my books and if I would ever find an audience.

I listed my fears right at the very end: I’m afraid that I’ll never get published. And I’m afraid that if I do get published, I won’t have an audience.

So now I go deeper into the fear and look at the history of fear, what I’ve done to try and handle it, and the results. Generally I struggle against my fear blindly, or I do nothing. I love that one. I’m afraid so I’ll complain and complain.

Here is an example of the first part:

Name the Fear History of the Fear How has self reliance failed me? Please Marching Orders: What kind of person would the Divine have me be?
Fear I’ll never get published or write books people can read. The sad thing is that I have one rejection letter. I have a long history of soul-crushing fear, but no history of rejection or failure. I simply don’t try. Now I have this new game of the Hail Mary pass – the perfect idea. One more excuse not to try. Ask the Divine to remove this fear. The Divine, for now, would have me be a writer who writes and seeks publication.

So here I had all this fear and I had no history. At that point in my writing life, I had simply not tried. I assumed I’d fail and I was too afraid. It wasn’t until I saw my marching orders–well, it’s not a soldier’s job to question, it’s a soldier’s job to do the task set before them.

And I walked through my fear, I queried a bunch of people, and I got a publishing contract. My book has been well reviewed and much of my fear was groundless. A popular idea in the 12 Step program circle is to say FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Or put another way.

Fear knocks on the door.

Faith answers.

No one is there.

So as you can see, knowing your enemy is key, and being able to list your fears, getting them on paper, and analyzing them can be a very powerful experience. But the problem is that I get to the point where I can name every single demon plaguing me, but I still can’t change. They say once you know better, you do better. That’s not me. I can inventory all day long, I can do all this work, but when it comes to changing my behavior, I rebel.

That’s where steps six and seven come into play.

One last thing about the fourth step. You might have fears that aren’t tied to a resentment, and so you would go through and make sure you caught everything. That’s why this is a searching and fearless moral inventory. We do take stock of as much as possible.

However, it’s interesting that nearly all of my fears come into play first as resentments. I get upset, angry, or lapse into self-pity and it’s only after I really look at this stuff that I learn that fear is driving me.


And still, I have trouble letting it all go. So let’s get into six and seven because that’s where the magic happens, or so I hope.

I have trouble with steps six and seven because of the “God” thing and because deep down I am a rebellious, contrary person.

But I’ll show you that in a minute.