M(3), 5/18/15: Confession May Be Good for the Soul, But It’s Brutal for the Ego
Today’s well-attended meeting (16 in all) focused on the fifth step in the 12-step program:
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
I don’t know if I ever mentioned this before, but of the 4 weeks in the literature rotation, Twelve Steps and Twelve Tradtions is my favorite in terms of simplicity. I have no work to do except read and share my thoughts on the step. And after a more hectic than usual weekend, being up half the night with a sick child, and subsequently feeling under the weather myself, I needed an easy week.
16 meeting attendees + pre-selected reading = no work for this meeting chair.
Plus I have a phenomenal built-in story about step 5 (read about it here) that even makes my sharing a no-brainer, so I was ready to kick back and soak in the wisdom of the large group.
And then… crickets.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, felt like sharing on Step 5. I would have been fascinated if I wasn’t so annoyed… don’t these people know how tired I am?
Finally, when the silence got to be entirely too awkward, people started to share. Then it got really interesting.
You see, my experience with Step 5 appears to be pretty unique. For those unfamiliar with the 12-step program, it is the second of the action steps. In step 4 you write out a lengthy inventory of your life up to this point, listing all sorts of not-so-fun facts about yourself. You can read more about step 4 here. Step 5 you sit down with your sponsor or a spiritual advisor, and you talk to that person about all those horrifying facts you learned about yourself through your inventory.
Needless to say, anxiety can run high when it comes to step 5.
For me, I was anxious to get on with step 5. My anxiety was more about doing step 4 improperly, and so I wanted desperately to sit down with someone experienced so they could confirm I did a good and thorough job.
Apparently though, my desire to share all of my character defects is not one shared by the group this morning, and when people finally started to open up, they admitted this is not a favorite step for them.
The two big issues that came up amongst all the shares: trust and judgment.
Feeling secure enough with the person chosen to hear your fifth step is a common concern. Several people spoke this morning about choosing to go outside the 12-step fellowship and enlist the support of a therapist or a spiritual advisor, because trust was such an issue.
Another friend, one who usually has her hand up first, was one of the last to share, and admitted that doing step 5 felt akin to surgery, it was so painful. She learned a lot, but she won’t be opting to do it again anytime soon. Given that she has nearly 30 years of sobriety, I assume that she is okay to opt out of repeating the experience!
So finding the right person, and establishing the right relationship before undertaking such an emotional experience is critical.
Judgment came next as an issue, and apparently is a two-sided coin of worry. First, the obvious fear of being judged by the person who is hearing your fifth step. Second, and equally anxiety-producing, is the releasing of self-judgment. One attendee, put it quite succinctly:
If I take the whip off my back and forgive myself, what’s to stop me from picking up a drink later? Don’t I need this guilt?
The room fell silent for a moment or two after that share, presumably with each of us imagining our deepest regrets and second-guessing our resolve to move on. At least, that’s what I was doing.
I had the good fortune to have a follow-up discussion with both the woman who voiced this concern, and the woman who is my new sponsor. The bottom line seems to be this: if you believe in inherent nature of human beings as flawed but redemptive, then the refusal to forgive yourself after admitting your mistakes and making an effort to amend them is an act of ego. If you believe that someone else has the right to be forgiven, then why are you an exception to that rule?
This discussion got deep, obviously!
So as not to end on this somber note, here are some of the benefits that come as a result of taking the action of step 5:
- Ending the feeling of isolation and the fear that you are the most flawed human on the planet
- The gift of self-compassion, rather than the self-flagellation to which most of us are accustomed
- Several, myself included, experienced a significant “God moment” during the process of step 5, which resulted in a deeper spiritual connection
- A feeling of lightness, as if a heavy burden had been removed
All in all, great meeting. Now, is it time for bed yet?
I’d say my eyes still being open counts today. I have my final meditation class tonight, and the next miracle will be that I don’t fall over asleep in the middle of it!