To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.


Looking at a big to-do list can make us feel overwhelmed, no matter how worthwhile the items on the list may be. Discussing them with others can give us the motivation and accountability we need to get beyond that unproductive inertia, as well as the perspective to determine how accurate (or not) the list may be. After taking a moral inventory at the fourth step and identifying our strengths and weaknesses, Step Five of a traditional 12-step program requires admitting “to God, to ourselves and to another human being” the exact nature of what we’ve done wrong.

This is not an occasion for self-flagellation, but it does call for strict honesty. The word “exact” is significant because, it we don’t know exactly what went wrong, then we’re likely to keep on doing it regardless of our good intentions. Actions have a cascade of consequences, not all of them expected or fully understood; so it’s necessary to look at them in detail and trace the chain of cause and effect.

Blogging can be helpful for several reasons. I’ve found that writing about my thoughts and actions gives me more insight into them because I have taken time to reflect on an issue and to consider different aspects of it. Reading articles on other blogs can shed light on how people are dealing with similar situations. Exchanging comments can amount to the online equivalent of a support group, provided the comments are encouraging and constructive. And in general, blogging nurtures feelings of connection to the community and the world.

When we get caught up in negativity and lack any meaningful reflection on what we’re doing, then our choices are likely to result in problems we never imagined might happen. If I choose to make daily visits to a political forum that’s full of gleeful snarky attacks, it may seem harmless at first—but after a while, my worldview subtly shifts toward considering such behavior normal. This is because the definition of “normal” is not based on any objective criteria, but comes from whatever we encounter regularly.

It’s an insidious process… healthy routines and positive social interactions may fall by the wayside, replaced by long hours at the computer reading and posting sarcastic comments about political adversaries, while also arguing with other forum members. That in turn causes family and friends to feel neglected. Their expression of such feelings may be perceived as hostile, now that it has become normal to see ugly personal attacks every day. At that point, it doesn’t take long to get swept into a nasty downward spiral where it seems like the world is full of enemies.

Without striving to be exact about the problems caused by addictive behavior, we never gain the perspective needed to see how the pieces all fit together. Causation can be very tricky. When unexamined assumptions stay in place for a long time, they can prevent us from learning from our mistakes and growing emotionally, in addition to other kinds of harm.

One way to look at it is like the bushes growing in my yard, which had a lot of dead branches this spring because of the harsh winter. Some branches died all the way back to the main stem. When that happens, the bush needs to be pruned carefully, snipping away a tangle of dry dead stuff. There’s a high chance of getting poked even through gardening gloves, especially if it’s something with thorns. The work takes a long time, finding the base of each dead branch and cutting it off. But it has to be done to make room for new growth to sprout, or else the bush will never be healthy again.


Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Six.

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