Step Five

"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

In step five we tell on ourselves. We tell the whole truth about who we are to God in the presence of another human being. We expose our wounds: our painful memories, toxic thoughts, and wrongdoings. We abolish the facade we have created to give a tour through the hidden rooms and back alleys kept private from the world. We share our brokenness, our ugliness and our pain.

Perhaps we portray the image of a hardworking, friendly and moral person but deep down we harbor feelings of shame and despair or lead a double life. This is normal. It certainly isn't common or recommended to bear your sins for all the world to see. We share these things with people who know us intimately and we can trust. It is when we stop sharing all-together and cling to the one-dimensional image we have created that problems arise. We must expose our wounds to receive treatment.

Our true selves are flawed, inadequate and speckled with all sorts of imperfections. This isn't to say we aren't lovely people as well -it just means we are wholly human. To live with integrity is to acknowledge our shortcomings so that we might open the doors to forgiveness, healing and transformation. God is a surgeon who can work wonders on our souls if only we are willing to confess our illness.

I immediately understood why it is so important to admit my wrongs to myself and God but I didn't know why it is so important to share my inventory with another human being. I knew that God would love and forgive me but I didn't trust another human being to be so pious. Eventually, I just did it because I was told that it was necessary. Now, having had the experience, I get it. I could never have reached such a degree of humility and vulnerability if I had come to God on my own. It takes courage to speak your sins aloud and it makes them seem somehow more real when another person is listening. Seeing through the eyes of another human shattered the last pieces of denial that held my mask in place.

It goes without saying that you should be very careful with whom you share your fifth step. For some people their inventory will be very run-of-the-mill stuff we have come to expect from a life lived with addiction. However, some inventories may include serious crimes, violence, abuse or sexual perversion. It is a special kind of person, usually a professional, who will know how to deal with this information in a safe, healthy manner without letting their own discomfort interfere with the process. Perhaps a therapist or a member of the clergy should be sought if you fear your inventory will be shocking or put you at risk. This isn't meant to be a counselling session but an untrained AA member may unintentionally say something that does more harm than good. It is a good idea to share your inventory with someone who has worked through the steps but if they aren't familiar with the program be sure to give them an explanation of the fourth and fifth steps before you begin.

The role of the listener isn't to counsel or bestow absolution and it certainly isn't to further shame you or point out any defects you might have overlooked. The listener is there for one reason only -to be a witness. It might be helpful if you ask them not to interrupt or minimize your faults which can be a natural reaction when we want to help someone. I was lucky to do my fifth with someone who understood their role very well. That isn't to say there can't be any discussion. Perhaps some clarifying questions are needed by the listener or you would like to hear some feedback. But for the most part you should try to let the inventory speak for itself.

I can't say I felt relief or healing immediately after sharing my fifth. I felt the sting of having my band-aid removed. I felt naked and ashamed. I felt disgusted with myself. My confessor was wise not to minimize or exaggerate for me. I was allowed to feel my pain for what it was. It was one of the single most humbling experiences of my life. In the days that followed I sensed some newfound serenity seeping into my once shame-filled story. Little by little, day by day, I am allowing myself to receive the healing and forgiveness God has been offering my troubled soul.

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