Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
This, like the step preceding it, is one of those steps that everyone dreads, makes a big deal out of, and then once it's over, breathes a huge sigh of relief. And release.
There is an old adage, confession is good for the soul.
I won't pretend to know much about the care and feeding of the soul (obviously, on so many levels), but I can share that this was a very liberating piece of the process for me.
That doesn't mean I'm not going to do it again as soon as I can.
How It Works
This is perhaps difficult, especially discussing our defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.
-A.A. Big Book p.72-73
This past year, I began working the Steps for the first time in my life. I had reached rock bottom, and could no longer stand being in my own skin, in my own life. Being married to, loving an alcoholic was too much for me. I had no solutions and my life was so far from manageable, it wasn't on the same continent. So I was clinging to the Steps like a lifeboat's ladder out of the depths of my hell, my depression, and basically my death. Life was entering into it less and less.
I completed my 4th Step in May, 2009. However, because of my sponsor being too busy, my job being too frantic, my depression isolating me from my fellow human beings, I did not get to complete my 5th Step until November.
That's a long time to carry around all your resentments and the ugliest set of emotional baggage you ever saw.
I do *not* recommend it.
I also had the scary experience of having groused and come clean about my relationship with my maternal grandmother, but then lived through her death a month later in June. By November I had to rip the scab off and spill my guts again about my complicated relationship with her.
However, in the hospital the night before she died, I was able to tell her I was sorry for being a royal pain in her ass and bank account. And she said she loved me, and that she knew I loved her.
If I hadn't done my 4th Step, I'm not so sure I could have taken responsibility for my part in the complicated web we wove for 40 years.
If I hadn't been in Al-Anon, I don't think I would have known how important amends are to my life. In life in general. And how I would be able to let go of 40 years of resentments so I could really know and feel what a real gift my grandmother was to me. And see that I, in my own bumbling way, had been a gift to her.
The other wisdom I have heard regarding a 5th Step has come from AA members. More than one has told me that leaving out anything in this Step will cause relapse and incomplete recovery. Kind of like healing with a band-aid when there's gangrene underneath.
We are only as sick as our secrets. So when there's no secrets, we get rid of the sickness so we can begin to heal.
Yes, it is scary. Yes, it can be brutal.
But it can also be fulfilling, and even save your life.
So spill your guts. Leave nothing out. And emerge fresh and new for your healing.
Because that's what happens next.