Step five is the simplest of steps to work, yet it is without doubt among the most difficult to do. Addicts who’ve completed step four have put together an inventory of their wrongdoings, character defects, weaknesses, fears, and just plain crazy behavior. After doing this, they sometimes feel more alone than ever – riddled with guilt, shame, and remorse, and completely convinced that they are the worst person ever. In such cases, the idea of sharing one’s step four inventory with another human being is downright frightening.
That said, most recovering addicts find that they cannot successfully maintain sobriety while continuing to live a double-life filled with secrets and shame. Still, a lot of addicts, after completing step four, tell themselves that their most distressing and disturbing memories and behaviors should not be shared, and in fact should probably be taken to the grave. Many recovering addicts actually embark on step five fully intending to leave certain things out. This 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 – the very emotions that drive addicts to drink and/or use in the first place.
The answer to this, of course, is to properly work step five, holding nothing back.
The practice of admitting one’s character defects and bad behaviors is ancient, present form the beginning of time in almost every form of spirituality and/or religion. That said, religion is hardly the sole advocate of this spirit-saving action. Everyone from ancient philosophers to modern-day therapists has argued for the need to develop meaningful insight into one’s personality flaws – insight that can only truly be gained through open, honest, and complete revelation with an understanding, trustworthy, nonjudgmental person.
Selecting the person with whom you will share your step four inventory is the start of working step five. Remember that you will be sharing things about yourself that should not become public knowledge, so the person you choose should be someone you trust. Most often addicts decide to work step five with their sponsor. This makes a lot of sense, as the addict’s sponsor is the person most directly involved in helping the addict maintain lasting sobriety. But if you don’t feel comfortable working step five with your sponsor (or don’t have a sponsor), a clergy member, a therapist, or even a trusted friend will do.
After that, the process is simple. You simply share your step four inventories with that other person, holding back nothing. Sometimes that person will ask questions or point out patterns of behavior they see. Other times he or she will simply sit quietly and listen. Occasionally the person will interject with an admission of his or her own – typically this is to tell you that he or she has engaged in similarly shameful activities.
Most recovering addicts find that as they begin to share their step four inventory, a sense of relief sets in. Grudges, resentments, fears, and toxic shame that have lingered and contaminated the addict’s soul for years begin to miraculously vanish as soon as the underlying events are exposed. Many people state that completing the fifth step was the turning point in their recovery, 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 12-step fellowship.
In general, most people are amazed at how good it feels to finally reveal the very worst of themselves to another human being. And the fact that the person who hears this is willing to talk to them afterward? That’s just the icing on the cake! For many, this is when the terrible isolation of active addiction finally beings to lift. The sense of being alone in the world and not fitting in dissipates. Addicts, maybe for the first time since entering recovery, begin to feel somewhat normal, accepted, and less ashamed. In other words, they see the light at the end of the tunnel, and, armed with this new sense of hope, they are ready to proceed with the remaining seven steps.