A core principle behind the Fifth Step is that in sharing our list of assets and liabilities, we learn more about ourselves, see through our blind spots, find out what is true, where we are misguided, and what areas we need to work on.
My Fifth Step was a true consciousness changing life-affirming breakthrough. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been able to honestly share who I really was on the deepest level with another human being. It was the beginning of the end of a life of feeling somehow different than, and isolated from, everyone else. It was the point where I finally felt a sense of truly belonging to the human race. It may well have been the first time I felt true acceptance and honest compassion for myself. When I think of my experience with my first Fifth Step I remember the results more than the process. It seemed less like something I did than something that happened to me.
The strangest thing happened to me when I shared my Fifth Step with my sponsor. I read off my list of resentments, my assets for recovery, my values and where I felt I'd fallen short, my secrets... you know, all that stuff and it felt really good, but suddenly when I was nearly done I realized how much resentment I had for my bi-polar illness. All the hospitalizations, family problems, job problems, and how it affected my whole life since I was a teenager. I was in tears in no time just trying to explain how much that hurt and how damned unfair it was. None of that was written down in my Fourth Step but it was like the thing that bugged me the most. I learned that this was an important area I needed to explore and work on.
I think picking just the right person to share your Fifth Step with is really important. Spouses, lovers, and family members should not be considered... I mean, there's no law against it, but they are too close and might be hurt or unable to see things from that close perspective that someone with a bit more objectivity and distance might see. Sponsors are good as long as they have experience and really understand the Steps. Many therapists and clergy have training and experience with the Steps and can be wonderful resources.
As a sponsor, it's not my job to judge a person who shares their Fourth Step work with me. I just quietly listen, sometimes asking them to explain little things, and sometimes I share a story from my own life that may relate to what they are sharing. The point is not to bring focus on myself, but to offer them another perspective or insight. Taking another members Fifth Step is a huge honor. To me it's an almost sacred honor. I remember how scared I was when I shared my first Fifth Step. I felt awkward and was worried that my sponsor might think less of me because of my past behavior. Some of that stuff was so embarrassing. Yet she listened to every word and in the end gave me a hug and told me how proud she was of me. She actually said it was an honor and thanked me for trusting her. That's the gift I want to pass along.
It says in the Big Book, that people who tried to avoid the Fifth Step invariably relapsed. They say this is because we hadn't finished our "housecleaning." "They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock." So the best reason to do this Step is to stay clean and sober. I mean, I think that's the reason to do all the Steps, but I've seen a lot of guys get stuck on their Fourth and Fifth and end up having problems. When I did mine, I had a lot of issues that were about illegal activities I had engaged in over the years. It took me over a year to find just the right person who I felt enough trust in to share those things with. I was really on slippery ground there for awhile. But getting all that out finally, and then working on solutions made all the difference.
Without the Fifth Step, we can't be sure our perspective on certain issues still isn't clouded by denial, our ego, or low self-esteem. Remember, our very best thinking got us to the very depths of our disease. Until we do a Fifth Step, the Fourth Step is still nothing but our very best thinking. I think that's really why it's important to share our inventory work with another person.
*Adapted from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous®
*The Twelve Steps of AA are reprinted and adapted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Permission to reprint and adapt the Twelve Steps does not mean that AA has reviewed or approved the contents of this publication, nor that AA agrees with the views expressed herein. AA is a program of recovery from alcoholism only - use of the Twelve Steps in connection with programs and activities that are patterned after AA, but that address other problems, does not imply otherwise. THE THIRD STEP OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS* 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.