Step Five – Building An Arch
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., March 1989
I first heard about Step Five from my sponsor. He had recently taken him, and it didn’t sound like fun. His immediate reaction to his own “spiritual house cleaning” was to launch me upon a Fourth Step. He wanted to give away what he’d received. I thought, “What happened to ‘This is a selfish program’?”
Step Four took a very long time. At all of it I balked. I thought I could find an easier, softer way, but I could not. With all the earnestness at his command, my sponsor became cunning, baffling, and powerful, constantly reminding me that half measures availed me nothing. I hated him.
The day finally came when even I had to admit that I’d completed Step Four to the best of my ability. That’s what had me so upset. The best of my ability didn’t look so hot in those days. I called my sponsor to tell him I’d finished, expecting to take a six-month to a one-year sabbatical from the Steps after this arduous trek into my life. That’s when he lowered the boom. “Great,” he said. “The best time to take the Fifth Step is right after you finish the Fourth. Meet me at my home tomorrow at six.” Son of a gun! “Who do you think you are?” I thought, but aloud I said “Okay, I’ll be there.”
I hung up the phone and said to myself, “I bet Bill W. didn’t have to go through this!” I used to think the Big Book referred to Step Five when it said, “What an order! I can’t go through with it.” I thought, how can talking about all this junk that I never wanted to write down in the first place make any difference?
By the time I finished Step Five, I knew that I was well on my way toward “building an arch” through which I would “walk a free man.” What happened? Did God convert me into a religious AA dervish? Was I brainwashed by some mystical technique into an AA true believer? Did I go into permanent shock? None of these things happened. The truth is much simpler. Step Five simply accomplished exactly what I was promised, based on the tried and tested experience of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This is what happened. For starters, I had prepared for Step Five by making a beginning on the previous Steps. I had my Fourth Step inventory which had given me new awareness, albeit a not completely objective one. Nevertheless, I had it. Though the temptation to avoid sharing with “another human being” was nearly overwhelming, my fear of not following my sponsor’s instructions to the letter was even greater.
I arrived at my sponsor’s home promptly at six. I didn’t want to be late for my “funeral.” He ushered me into the living room and 1 sat in what was obviously the condemned man’s chair. Given to redundancies in times of hysteria, I commented on the weather at least twice, and God only knows how many times I mentioned the state of local AA affairs. Then my sponsor said those terrible words: “Why don’t you get out your Fourth Step so we can get started.”
I feared that doors automatically sealed themselves during Fifth Steps. But I prayed to God and “asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” “Okay, where do you want to begin,” I asked, hoping for mercy. “Why don’t we begin with your grudge list,” my sponsor said. “But before we begin,” he added, “why don’t we pray and ask our Higher Power for guidance. After all, this is a three-way deal. God is very much a part of this. It’s his grace that brought you here.”
Sometimes sponsors can really surprise you. This was one of those rare times. We prayed, then he became his old self again, indicating that it was time I began. We went over my grudge list, item by item. I read and explained. He listened and commented. Before we were halfway through the list, I began to realize that the advice, counseling, and experience he shared was not only his but that of others as well. It was the experience of one drunk talking to another, but it was also the resonating voices of countless men and women in AA who had shared their experience, strength and hope with each other. Was this God-consciousness? I wondered as I continued my disclosures.
Finishing the grudge list, we assailed my list of fears. To my surprise, I discovered my sponsor and I shared some of the same ones. By this time, occasional laughter interspersed the more serious portions of the unfolding panorama of my life. I was beginning to feel a sense of relief. It continued to grow even as we discussed pertinent aspects of my “list of major human failings the Seven Deadly Sins.” It was incredible! As years of humiliation, pride, and fear fell away into harmless debris, my sense of isolation actually began to dissipate. I no longer felt like a freak, a pathetic caricature of humanity, incapable of integrating myself into the world about me. The existence of God’s presence was no theory; it was fact. God was with us and my cup did indeed run over. It overflowed with his love as it was translated into the experience, strength, and hope of two twentieth-century alcoholics joined in the miracle of a spiritual awakening known as recovery.
Those secrets that I’d sworn to take to my grave were now dead and buried under the fertile soil of new freedom nurtured by truth and sharing and laughter, moistened by tears of relief and joy, and warmed by the sunlight of the spirit. “Step Five works! It really does!” I marveled. I knew now that the man who was leaving was not the same man who had fearfully entered this Fifth Step sanctuary just a few hours previously.
Today, after many revisits to Step Five, I know that my initial experience was no fluke, that “God does move in a mysterious way his wonders to perform,” and that Step Five is one of those wonders. I’ve also been privileged to share in the Fifth Step experiences of others. Since there is nothing like personal experience to qualify one for this extremely personal spiritual awakening, I would suggest having done the Fifth Step as a prerequisite for hearing someone else’s. We must be prepared to share our own Fifth Step disclosures, laughter, and tears so that the experience of others might be as profound as our own. Being able to keep confidential the disclosures of others is also essential. This experience is only between God and ourselves.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” If we’re willing to expose the pages of our lives to the love and understanding of our Higher Power and a fellow alcoholic, we’ll surely know a new freedom and a new happiness. We’ll discover that love is never having to feel alone again; that God’s presence in our lives has become profound; and that the unity of the Fellowship of the spirit can be ours so long as we are willing to pass it on.
Chico C., West Palm Beach, Florida
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., March 1989