We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Early in recovery (and as a recovering Catholic), this step reminded me of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as Confession. In my younger years this meant going into a stall where there was a thin veil between me and a creepy old man who wanted me to admit all my failures in life. It was particularly important to discuss impure thoughts and impure actions. That’s right, sex fantasies and masterbasion. This was supposedly the only way to actually commune with God, through another human being, in a creepy space, talking about creepy things. Is it any wonder that I became agnostic?
So, I ignored the part about God in this step. It’s as simple as that.
In most situations people working through step 5 share their fourth step inventory with their sponsor. This has become the convention in the 12 step community, but it’s important to recognize that this is not a requirement. The requirement is that the fourth step inventory is shared with another human being and the book makes it clear that this may be a friend, a doctor, a therapist or even a member of the clergy.
Regardless of who you choose to share your fourth step inventory it should be with someone whom you trust and someone who will not divulge your story to others. In short it must be someone who you feel safe sharing your inventory with openly and honestly.
No one should feel obligated to share their story with a sponsor. If you do, it’s probably time to reconsider your sponsor choice. This is my opinion and is not fact but I feel strongly about this because the approach to the fourth step recommended in the book can have undesired consequences in some situations, particularly when working with a sponsor who has no formal training.
The book emphasizes that we must find our part in the resentments we carry with us. I know people who were asked what “their part” was in their childhood sexual abuse by insensitive sponsors, and subsequently relapsed because of their guilt and shame.
As I mentioned in the last post I spent an afternoon talking with my sponsor about my fourth step inventory. It was a good experience and I was able to recognize that he and I are both human, and as such subject to faults.
Many of the people I’ve met over the years talk of a great feeling of relief that accompanies the fifth step. With no disrespect meant to my sponsor, I cannot say that I felt this great unburdening.
This was not because the session with my sponsor was unsatisfactory or unproductive. Prior to coming into recovery I’d been to see several therapists in my life. I already knew the value of sharing my dark thoughts and secrets. I’d already experienced the great relief that came from talking honestly about my past. And so, this conversation was no big deal for me.
I felt the same relief that comes from unburdening myself as I’d felt in the past. I can imagine however that it would have been more momentous if I’d never experienced the healing that accompanies the brutal honesty required in telling our stories to a trusted human being. Indeed, that’s exactly how I’d felt after the first few sessions with a professional therapist.
Sadly, in the United States, we have a problem with access to health care, mental health care in particular. Of all the providers I’ve ever seen in my adult life only one or two had accepted insurance. There is a very real economic burden associated with quality mental health care in our country. This may be why the fifth step figures so prominently in the lives of so many in recovery. Many of us have never been afforded this opportunity before in our lifetimes. I am grateful that I have been privileged to have the access to quality health care that I have.
The fifth step is about getting honest and sharing our the truth of our lives with another trusted human being. There is something powerful to giving voice our darkest secrets and our transgressions. There is something powerful in just being heard.
It is also about forgiveness, and maybe this is why the recovering Catholic in me saw the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the step. However it’s not that we are forgiven by the listener, rather as we become more aware of our selves, the patterns that have driven our behaviors, the fact that we are not the worst person in the history of the universe, and hopefully that we have some assets as well as our defects; we can find it within us to forgive ourselves. That’s when healing begins.