“So, I thought writing out my moral inventory was ugly hard,” I said as I finished contemplating my fourth step.
“Oh? Why is that?” asked the 12 Step Program.
“Well, because I have done some really horrible… I am so ashamed,” I quietly replied.
“Now take that list—“
“And burn it? Absolutely!” I said enthusiastically.
The Program gave me the side eye, “Nope, share it.”
“Great idea— Wait! WHAT?”
Hello. My name is Katie and I am a recovering Evangelical Christian. I am working out my Fifth Step: Share with God, yourself, and another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
I have done some stuff for which I am ashamed. Anyone else? Anyone at all? Sigh. That is the way it feels. Or that I have worn my masks so well, that people weren’t able to see the hurt and scared human being… it feels that way too.
Last month, I listened to Dr. Edith Eger on a podcast say, “There is no freedom without responsibility— that’s anarchy.” Part of taking responsibility for my actions was bringing them into the light. So I treated this as a time for confession. Part of me was excited to experience a rich part of a religious tradition that was absolutely lost in the evangelical movement. The other part… mortified.
I pondered going through it with my therapist. He canceled last minute. I very briefly considered my mom— sorry Mom, I couldn’t do it. I thought maybe I could anonymously throw myself at the mercy of the Catholic confessional. But I decided that I wanted to use this moment to attempt to be really brave, experience real vulnerability. So I approached a person that knew me (or the person thought they did… confession really lays a person out bare) and asked the pastor of the church I attend.
I will not lie and say it was easy or that I wasn’t a puffy, snotty mess or wasn’t scared about the pastor’s reaction. This was difficult. You know that nightmare where you are late for school, can’t get into your locker, surrounded by people then realize you are naked? This was nothing like that. This is the nightmare within the nightmare. The one where those things you have kept safe and secret, even though they are eating you alive with shame and guilt, are now being put on display by your very own hands. It was the nightmare where you wished you were just running around naked, because for someone reason… that might actually be easier.
So I started my story at the beginning and kept going until the very end, present day. And with tears running down my cheeks, I asked, “What kind of person does that make me?”
And the response I was given, “Human.”
Another person saw all of the shitty stuff I had done in the past 35 years and gave me the gift of acceptance. Neither one of us liked or were proud of my actions or thoughts, but, by sharing them and accepting that I did indeed do those things, I stopped fighting them i.e. acceptance does not equate approval. Which is what I think this step is actually about: not just making a list of all we regret and are guilty of, but accepting all we have been so we can move forward to become someone freer; allowing another person to catch us as we crumple so they can help us stand back up.
Here is the catch though: I believe we can only experience actual acceptance when we are willing to open ourselves up and put down the glamours for an hour or two. It means maybe not taking down the walls, but lowering the drawbridge and crossing the moat for one person to see how muddy, bloody and bruised we actually are.
While sitting there I embraced myself in the moment. I tried to be as fully present as I could. Checked in with my fidgeting thumbs, listened to the words coming out of my mouth, made as much eye contact as I could bear with Pastor, felt the roaring of my heart and when I took a breath, I listened for a still small voice. I never heard a voice— I can hear your sigh of relief from here everyone. But there was a fullness to that office that went beyond the two humans in it. A holy otherness.
I can’t say that this step is for everyone. I wish I could say that everyone that does this is going to find a safe person. I was only 67% sure that this would be safe for me, and the pastor is a human who I am sure have their own mess of stuff to work through. I won’t say that everything feels hunky-dory now or that it has solved any problems.
But I will confess this: It felt really good to feel sunshine in my spirit for a few hours. And that interior castle complete with moat? When I turned to go back in, I abruptly realized it was a lot more hovel-cave like than I would care to admit… so I left the door open.
Thoughts. Comments. Questions. All are welcome.
My Step 5 Playlist
- Storyteller— Morgan Harper Nichols
- Hearts Content— Brandi Carlile
- Both Sides Now— Joni Mitchell
- Peace— Rich Mullins
- The Chain— Ingrid Michaelson
- Higher Love— James Vincent McMorriw
- Flashlight— Barden Bella’s start at 2:15
- Reflecting Light— Sam Phillips
- The Color Green— Rich Mullins
- Hold Out Your Hand— Brandi Carlile
Resources that I found beneficial: