A Thorough 5th Step

“A confession has to be part of your new life.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

In over a decade I was a newcomer that had no sponsor. I heard many people talk about the 4th step as this big evil monster. I was less afraid of looking at myself than I was at sharing myself. I lived in so much self-judgment and self-contempt I was positive if I let my secrets be known I would be cast out of society. No one could ever accept me if they knew the things I had done. This grandiose and delusional thinking centers at the core of alcoholism. Guilt and shame are among the most potent weapons in the hands of my disease. I’ve heard it said that defects of character grow in the dark but die by the light of exposure. I know it’s true because I and so many others have lived it. The way we translate that in the rooms is the saying that we are as sick as our secrets.

What Does Spirituality Have to do with AA?

Spirituality has been around long before AA. Although, Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization many of their practices come from religion, mostly Christianity. A 5th step is a form of secular confession. Confession itself is not unique to Christianity. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions all practice it.

So why is this a must? The big book goes into a more in-depth explanation on this starting with the chapter “Into Action.” To summarize, they predict that if we don’t do the 5th step, we will drink again. Some may last longer than others, but the rule seems to apply to all. It goes even further and warns the newcomer who does a 5th but still holds on to those “take to the grave” secrets that they will likely drink again as well. I have watched thousands in the last decade be unable to disprove this rule.

How to Make a Connection

Why is a 5th step so important to recovery. The answer is simple. At the root of the disease is the “Spiritual Malady.” This can loosely be defined as a disconnect from ourselves, others and a Higher Power. Everybody has things that happened to them or that they have done that they would not want to be publicized for fear of rejection.

Harboring that fear and resentment has no place to go but inwards and leads to self-rejection and self-loathing. This internal discomfort or “dis – ease” makes room for drinking and drugging to work its temporary magic and allow us to be okay with ourselves, even for a moment. The chapter on the 5th step talks about the alcoholic who leads a double life, and he lives in fear that others will find out about his doings. This becomes a vicious cycle that feeds the obsession to drink.

Transparency in a 5th Step and the Freedom

What’s the best defense? Transparency! The 5th step may be a singular event in the steps, but the spiritual tool picked up and used daily is transparency. Having no secrets is the key to freedom. I remember telling my first sponsor my “take it to the grave” secret about a sexual encounter that I had that had kept me from self-acceptance.

I’ll never forget when he looked at me and said, “That’s it?” almost as if I let him down because it wasn’t bad enough. I had held that secret for over ten years, and he absolved me of it in less than ten seconds. His non-judgment opened a door. The 5th step opened a door in the wall I had placed between myself and humanity. It was a sponsor sized door. That was the missing piece to the equation.

When he walked out of the 5th step, he left the door and slowly I allowed others into it. Now I have a room full of friends that love me as I am faults, mistakes, defects and all. What could alcohol possibly do for me today? A connection was all I ever wanted and needed.

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