Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
After completing your fourth step, you suddenly find yourself staring at step five. Step five is one of the simplest steps to work. However, many recovering addicts approach it with dread. And that is a perfectly understandable feeling to have, given the nature of what they’re about to do – admitting to God, to themselves, and to another human being the exact nature of their wrongs.
With your step four work, you’ve already compiled an inventory of these wrongs – the ways you’ve avoided taking responsibility, misused your anger, been paralyzed by fear, and the things you’re most ashamed of. More importantly, you’ve examined your role in all of these problematic behaviors. As such, your vision of yourself as a victim and your ability to use that as justification for your addiction has been shattered. You now see that you and you alone are responsible for your addiction and the mess you’ve made of your life.
After you’ve completed your fourth step inventories you may find yourself feeling lower than low and more alone than ever. Deeply ashamed of the things you’ve done, you might think you’re the worst person on earth. If so, the idea of sharing the exact nature of your wrongs could be downright frightening. Nevertheless, the vast majority recovering addicts find they cannot successfully maintain sobriety and progress in their recovery while keeping shameful secrets. And you are likely no exception.
Nevertheless, plenty of recovering addicts tell themselves that their most distressing and disturbing behaviors should not be shared. Ever. Not even as part of step five. In fact, plenty of recovering addicts embark on step five fully intending to omit their most shameful behaviors. That said, a lack of complete honesty when working step five is not only unwise, it is downright dangerous. Continuing to compartmentalize and hide from others the worst of oneself creates anxiety, depression, remorse, and more – emotions that can drive you right back to active addiction.
Let me be perfectly clear here: If you do not properly work step five, your risk of relapse increases. A lot.
To get started with step five you must first select the person (or people) with whom you will share your step four inventories. As you do this, remember that some of the information you divulge, for any number of reasons, should not become public knowledge. So the person you choose should be someone you trust. Typically this person is going to be your twelve step sponsor, which makes a lot of sense since this is the individual most directly involved in your recovery and your journey toward long-term sobriety and happiness. Your sponsor is also a person who understands what the steps are about, and values the confidential nature of a step five disclosure. If you want to work step five with a person other than your sponsor, then a clergy member, a therapist, or even a trusted friend will do.
Once you’ve decided who you are going to share your step four inventories with, the process is simple. You just read your fourth step to that other person, holding back nothing. In some cases, the other person will ask questions, point out patterns of thinking and behavior, or tell you that he or she has engaged in similar behaviors. It is just as possible the other person will simply sit quietly and listen. Neither method is right or wrong. If you prefer one or the other approach, you should make that clear before you begin the step.
If you’re like most recovering addicts, you’ll find that as you work step five a sense of relief sets in. Grudges, resentments, fears, and toxic shame that have lingered and contaminated your soul for years miraculously vanish as soon as the underlying events are exposed. Many recovering addicts state that completing the fifth step was the turning point in their recovery. They say that sharing their deepest, darkest secrets not only with themselves and God, but with another human being caused them to feel as if they were finally “a member” of their twelve step fellowship.
In future postings to this site, I will present suggestions for how to effectively work steps six through twelve. For general information about healing from addiction, check out my website. For treatment referrals, click here, here, and here.