5th Step

Addicts Need To Clean Out The Broom Closet

Q. In the past I stayed sober, but didn’t really feel it because I didn’t work the steps. Every time I try to start them, I give up. I think I am scared to do the actual step work because I hate bringing up my past. It causes resentments and depression all over again.

Imagine that we have a dirty kitchen. We sweep everything up, mop up the messes, and throw everything into the broom closet. We throw the garbage in there, too. Eventually we’re going to have to go in and clean out that closet. It’s a nasty job, but deodorant sprays can only do so much.

You can probably see where we’re going here. An addict’s head is the same way. We stuff all the nasty stuff and try to cover up the stink with alcohol and other drugs, but it gets worse and worse. When we try to do without the “deodorant,” we discover that it doesn’t work very well for us. At that point we can do one of two things: get high again (which hasn’t been working for us either) or go in and clean out the closet. It’s a nasty job, but we if we have help, and if we do a good job, it isn’t long until the kitchen is liveable again.

Most of us can relate to where you’re coming from. For just about any alcoholic or addict, looking at the past can be pretty scary. But if we never open the closet and look inside, how are we going to get rid of all the trash? It's impossible to make our past go away. We have only two options, deal with it, or turn our brains off again. There is no third way.

The 4th and 5th steps come where they are for a reason. They’re preceded by admitting that we’re powerless, that with help we can overcome the old obstacles, and becoming willing “to turn our lives over the the care of God as we understood him.” Whether or not we believe in god, we have to have that willingness. If we don’t, then we aren’t ready to do a 4th step, let alone a 5th.

The thing is, we don’t have to do it perfectly! We do the best we can. Maybe we’re not able to do a fearless inventory, but perhaps we can be a little bit fearless. The same is true of the 5th step. We can trust a little, and share what we’re able. The important part of that step is admitting to ourselves the exact nature of our wrongs, anyway, not someone else’s wrongs. If we were abused, were an abuser — no matter what our secrets are, it is always going to feel better to get them out and tell someone about them. That closet, remember?

Another thing: anyone who has been around the rooms for any length of time has heard things that would likely curl a newcomer's hair (and if our sponsor hasn’t been around for a while, we can find an old-timer to help us with the 4th and 5th — it’s allowed). The chances are pretty good that whoever we choose will have similar stories of their own. Most of us aren’t all that different. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. We can always go back and repeat the step later — with a little more trust, and a little more fearless.

The important thing is to do the best we’re able — to get a start.