Sobriety Navigator: Alcoholics Anonymous an overview of Step 5:
Step Five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
After admitting myself into a treatment center for alcoholism and participating in mandatory group counseling as well as A.A. meetings, I heard for the first time that a person was only as sick as their secrets. And, when I inquired further about this concept I was told, “Yes that is correct. A family is only as sick as its secrets, too.”
By the time I’d heard this, I had already taken the first 3 steps of the A.A. program and was working on my 4th step. Then the flood gates opened up. They talk in A.A. about a moment of clarity. That clarity for me came with the realization that alcohol addiction goes hand in hand with secrets. I was not only sick, I was born into a family riddled with addiction and secrets. The knowledge and understanding that I was not just physically sick but emotionally and spiritually sick as well came as a great relief for me. I really wasn’t crazy. I really wasn’t from another planet. I was a generational alcoholic carrying on a family survival pattern of don’t trust, don’t talk, don’t feel. And for God’s sake don’t tell anybody what’s going on in the house or family.
Make no mistake, no one in my family ever made me pick up a drink. Quite the contrary, they couldn’t keep me from it. There was no way I was going to let them play the double standard game with me, “Do as I say not as I do.” I wanted my fun too! I wanted my reward for a hard day at school or at work. I wanted that special feeling of happiness that only comes from drinking. After all, I was doing as society dictated. I went to school or work and I was socially appropriate. But that was beside the point. I knew how to play the roles well in a dysfunctional family. I truly was a member! I had gone from victim-hood to player!
I finished my fourth step by putting on paper anything and everything I had ever done that I knew was wrong, felt ashamed and embarrassed about, or felt guilty about. I sat in the office of my counselor, whom I knew by law could not disclose the things I was about to reveal to her in my 5th Step. It took three concurrent days of approximately 2 hours a day for it to happen. This journey into admitting to God, myself, and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs was quite enlightening. Yes, I took responsibility for my drinking and the dishonest, self-loathing, selfish behaviors that I indulged in.
But what I didn’t realize and was pointed out by my counselor was that I was also taking responsibility for other people’s dishonest, self-loathing and selfish behaviors. How many times as a kid did I see or hear something dishonest, deceitful, appalling, or disgusting, only to be told, “Hush! Don’t tell anybody.”
The 12 steps, the 5th step in particular, was very ego deflating and humbling for me. I had reached a point where I was no longer a victim but rather a player in alcoholism. I also was made aware that by keeping the secrets of others, I was in fact, carrying their shame and guilt and claiming them as my own. Separating my actions and reactions from those of others was quite liberating. I was neither less that nor better than, and it was ok.
There is a great quote I always think of whenever someone brings up the 5th Step. “There is a little bit of good in the worst of us and a little bit of bad in the best of us.”