“Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another
human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
I walked out of the house with an armful of notebooks and paper, some of it typed up, most of it scribbles on crumpled up notebook paper.
“What’s all that?” my husband asked.
“I’m going to burn it,” I replied as casually as though I were going to the coffee shop to work on a novel.
All that paper was my fourth step. Pages and pages of baggage and resentments and emotional traumas that had been collecting for years in my mind and soul. Everything I had ever felt like drinking over.
I was ready to get rid of it. All of it. The heartbreaks. The manipulations. The lies. It was time to let it all go.
But it was not going to be easy.
Taking the fifth step in AA means baring your soul first to yourself and to your Higher Power. Then it means baring your soul to another human being. Usually that person is your sponsor. It can also be a complete stranger (who you’ve explained the situation to…you don’t want to just walk up to someone on the street and start telling them your life story). Or it can be a minister or priest if you lean that way.
From my perspective, the point of the fifth step is that you are no longer going to carry secrets. The principle behind the fifth step is Integrity. Merriam-Webster defines “integrity” as:
Definition of integrity
2: an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS
3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS
It takes courage to complete the fourth step. It takes integrity to completely and truthfully share that fourth step with another individual. Nothing can be held back.
So I held nothing back. I told all my secrets. Things that I’m not ready to talk about here. I talked about physical and emotional and religious abuse. I talked about resentments towards my parents, towards my husband, towards my brothers and sisters. I talked about all the horrible things I did while I was drinking. I talked and I talked and I talked.
I talked myself to exhaustion. And my sponsor sat and listened. She asked a probing question here and there. She validated me at times and at other times pointed out how I was letting my childhood get the better of my marriage.
Finally, I was paging through a notebook, frantically looking for a particular resentment, she said, “You know what I think we should do with all that? I think we should burn it.”
I looked up at her with relief and fear. How was I supposed to let all of this go? But I trusted her.
And I burned all of it.
I used to pour myself a drink and read through my journals, looking for things to get worked up over – looking for ways to make myself angry and emotional. All of those things burned.
Have I truly let them go? I think the answer is that I have become willing to let them go. When my resentful emotions rise up, I am now willing to turn them over to my Higher Power.
I’ve held on to those resentments and all that pain for a long time. And wounds like that take a lot of time to heal. Taking the fifth step was like cleaning out all those old, festering wounds – letting air and light to the scars. Now they’re salved and bandaged, but they will still take time to heal.
People talk about how much lighter they feel after they take the fifth step. How free they feel. I still feel pain. I feel raw.
Part of this is my bipolar disorder. I can’t feel anything without feeling extremes. Part of this is the extreme weight of the burden I unloaded. You can’t unload a burden like that without becoming completely incoherent with exhaustion.
I must still learn to lean on my Higher Power, trusting every day that my burden will be lessened, my pain gradually lifted, and my scars gently healed.
I have taken a big step on my recovery road. I feel exhausted, unburdened, and so grateful to be sober. No matter what happens today, I don’t have to take a drink.