Our past articles on the Twelve Promises have not really tied into the Twelve Steps or Twelve Traditions for the assigned months. This month, however, is a little bit different. The Fifth Promise most certainly relates to the Fifth Tradition, and in a rather significant way. While Tradition Five is all about the need to tell our stories and help others benefit from our experiences, the Fifth Promise is about the realization that we are capable of doing this—even if we believe our experiences to be so unique as to prohibit the average person from relating to them.
Remember that addicts and alcoholics are not your average people, at least not in a certain sense. We may come from all walks of life, but we already share something significant in that we all suffer from the same affliction. The Fifth Promise helps us to remember this. No matter what harms we may have committed, no matter how bad we may feel about them, there is someone out there who feels just as bad (or possibly even worse). This may be true whether the person in question shares similar experiences, harsher experiences, or even milder ones. By demonstrating our willingness to follow the program and discussing the ways in which we are benefitting from sobriety, we have the power to help such people.
We will discuss this in a bit more depth below. For now, remember this—helping others is one of the best ways to help ourselves. When viewed through this lens, the point at which the Fifth Promise is fulfilled will be the point at which we have stopped holding ourselves back and have begun helping ourselves in a way we may have avoided in the past. And fortunately, unlike some of the other promises, the Fifth Promise is one that we can play an active role in fulfilling.
Fulfilling the Fifth Promise
The Fifth Promise, as written in Chapter 6 of the AA Big Book, is as follows:
“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.”
While this seems like a fairly complete thought, there are two parts which must be given equal consideration. The first (which is actually listed second) is that our experience can help others who have suffered from the same disease. The second, listed first, is that this holds true no matter how awful our own experiences may seem. In other words, we may have done terrible things while in active addiction. With lowered inhibitions, this is only natural. Nonetheless, there are many who will still benefit from hearing our stories.
And why shouldn’t they? Really think about that for a moment. Have not all addicts and alcoholics done things that they now regret? Have we not all wished upon occasion that we could turn back the clock and eliminate our past transgressions? Of course we have. And while we may attempt to fuel our denial by saying that others have done worse than we have, we must also take a long hard look at such individuals and realize that their willingness to recover makes our own lack of willingness somewhat trite.
In other words, the people who have done the worst while in active addiction may actually work as role models to “high-bottom” addicts and alcoholics who feel that they never suffered consequences. For if even those who have gone through the wringer are able to recover, who are the others to say that they cannot? At some point, we have to look at ourselves honestly and realize that our lives could be much better if only we learned how to stave off that first drink. And those who have had the worst struggles are the ones who will illuminate this message the most clearly and the most effectively.
To fulfill the Fifth Promise, we must realize that our experiences can be grasped by people who have not necessarily experienced them at all. To fulfill the Fifth Promise, we must be willing to share in a room full of others who share our disease, for the dual purposes of unburdening our hearts while also allowing others to see just how far we have come. Even in early sobriety, we never know who our words might touch. This is one of the major implications of the Fifth Promise, and this is why (unlike many other promises) it may often come true long before we have reached Step Nine.
How We Can Benefit Others
This is something we discussed at great length when talking about Tradition Five. Our experiences can help others by acting as an example, showing how we were able to climb out of the rubble and lead better lives than that which we previously led. This doesn’t just show the benefits of recovery, but also the manner in which sobriety can improve our lives. No matter how much a person hears about these benefits, they may not believe them until they truly see them in action. By fulfilling the Fifth Promise and acting as examples to others, we can deliver this very message to those who require it the most.
We can benefit others by sticking to our stories and not allowing others to hijack them. This may not sound like a big issue, but it is something that occurs when you allow your experiences and your stories to fester. Do not simply hope that people learn everything they need to learn by being nearby. This will not fulfill the Fifth Promise. You must instead hope that individuals within the program learn how to share their experiences, regardless of outside enterprise.
Addicts and alcoholics can benefit others by sharing any and all experiences that may have played a part in their addiction. It doesn’t matter if we believe these experiences to be beyond the pale. Instead, we must understand that our experiences are acceptable in the eyes of anyone who has undergone the torment of alcoholism and drug addiction. We must accept that no matter how much we try to remove our past, it will never change in the light of the disease. In other words, we are stuck with what we have gained. We must learn how to accept our past, or we will never discover the proper path to uncover the future.
But do not worry. We understand why this concept may worry you. As such, we have developed a proper path and have learned how to deliver our messages in a very direct fashion. By following our methods, you may easily learn how to cross the paths in front of you and replace Wonderland with your own interpretations of the mental world. It is not that difficult. Simply follow the paths we have laid before you, and you will see what we are talking about.
Taking a Look at the Scale
Did that Wonderland example confuse you a little bit? Fear not. Think of Wonderland as if it were a construct created by Alice to deal with previous transgressions. Perhaps the Dormouse and the March Hare were not so much characters as people she had dealt with in the past. We’re all capable of building such constructs in our minds.
Now, imagine the Fifth Promise has taught you to view the entire world in a similar manner. Yes, there are those who may not understand certain stories regarding certain people with whom you have dealt in the past. Yes, there are those who cannot relate to some of your transgressions. But the ones you believe to be the worst are also stories to which some people need to relate. No matter what you have done while under the banner of lowered inhibitions, there is somebody out there who has done the same thing. And without knowing that there are others like them out there, they may go through life constantly feeling as if they are alone.
The point is that your experiences always have the potential to help somebody, no matter how unique you may believe your experiences to be. The fulfillment of the Fifth Promise is the moment at which you begin to realize that. Thus, you may fulfill the Fifth Promise simply by being open and honest about your experiences, until the day comes that someone informs you of the manner in which you have helped them. And even if this never happens, you may fulfill the Fifth Promise by sharing for the sheer sake of unburdening your own heart. Because whether you are aware of it or not, somebody in the crowd will gain something from listening to your tale.
No matter what fears may convince you that nobody can relate to your story, you must always maintain hope that somebody out there is waiting for a story precisely like yours. When you come to realize that your story has been told numerous times by others, the Fifth Promise is rather easy to fulfill. Simply maintain faith, and it will become easier and easier to share your experiences with those who most need to hear about them. It may sound odd to those who are new to recovery. But give it time, and you will come to learn just how vital this lesson can be to your own sobriety.