Step 5: Integrity
Probably the most difficult of all the steps to face,
Step 5 is also the one that provides the greatest opportunity for growth.
Integrity for me is all about admitting exactly who I am, what I’ve done and living with the consequences. I struggle with integrity when when I don’t want to admit that I’ve failed at something, when I fall short of expectations that I have for myself, or I’ve done something with motives that are not pure. I always have to tell myself that my integrity is more important than my pride. And, if I’m not honest, I may have to make amends to someone or to myself. That keeps me in integrity. It is a brutally honest way to live. Am I perfect? I wouldn’t be in integrity if I said yes. But, I do walk the line better than I did in the past.
Secrets make you sick. I’ve heard that so often in recovery. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of Step 5 and the ever so significant change that happened inside of me once it was done. The Big Book tells you to take an hour and reflect on what you’ve done after you work Step 5. I thought it was sort of silly when my sponsor said to do it. I mean, what’s an hour going to do? But, it was pretty miraculous. I don’t know who first tried it, but it was a great idea. When I hear friends share about their experience with Step 5, many of them felt a similar relief, peace, calm and transformation that I experienced.
Step 5 is where you take the inventory that you created in Step 4 and share it with another person and God. I really wasn’t so scared to share my stuff with my sponsor, Irene, because I knew she was very kind and I knew lots about her. I was more afraid of the conclusions we’d make about my character defects. I didn’t know if I had it in me to change them or be willing to let them go. You know me. I couldn’t wait to do Steps 6 and 7 in their own time. I wanted to wrap it all up in a bundle. “One at a time,” Irene said.
I went to her house in her quiet room and read the reams of paper that comprised my Step 4. I read the list and explained about the people, places and things I resented, what parts of me were impacted and my part in the whole drama. Often, I needed her help in figuring out my part. I talked about my fears. I told her about the people I had harmed, and I shared my sex inventory. Ugh…yuk. I didn’t want to do that, but I did. We took that inventory and came up with some objective conclusions about my big issues. And, we left it at that. We didn’t try to fix it. I liked that.
I went home, and I felt like I had this HUGE weight lifted off my shoulders. Talk about the incredible lightness of being! It was definitely a relief. Before I unloaded all this stuff, I would feel this wash of remorse and shame come over me when I thought of any of those things I regretted. It would always be immediate. The wash was like a very familiar cloak that made me feel very, very small and unworthy. When I got back from doing Step 5, and after I had completed my meditation, I decided to test it out. Well, I couldn’t just trust the process, could I? I thought of those things I regretted, and I felt….nothing….nada…I couldn’t make myself feel ashamed. Shame had become the Wicked Witch of the West when the water was thrown on her. It melted into a puddle of nothing. I knew I still had to do some things to make amends, and I still felt regret over doing that stuff, but the shame had no power to bring me down. It was rendered impotent against the power of transparency.
In the presence of love, acceptance and forgiveness, shame has no power. That is what I experienced in doing my Step 5. For the first time, by bringing the reality of myself to the light of day, I got loved in return. I got hugged. I got praise for being in integrity. I still had to take responsibility for my actions, but I learned that being in integrity with myself was so much more promising than hiding in shame. It was hard, but it was worth every ounce of sweat. My body remembers that. That’s the beauty of practicing Step 5. Once you do it, your body has memory, and it remembers that being in integrity feels good…it feels powerful…it feels like love. And, it wants to STAY in integrity.
Secrets do make me sick. And, I can’t afford that kind of sickness anymore. Integrity is the cure and the vaccine. But, it’s not an easy pill to swallow. It sometimes goes down with a gag. Sometimes I spit it out. But, I’m like the little girl whose Daddy makes her take castor oil for her cough. I know if I do it, I will feel better, and I will get a big hug just for being a big girl.