by Paul S. (Punanai 2011)
“You’re not a bad man, Paul,” he said.
I tried not to cry as I turned away, watching the passing streetcars and teens playing on the football field. I was unsettled and yet settled. Finally. All I could do was try to take in what my sponsor had just said. I heard those words echo in my mind over and over again.
Not a bad man.
A bad man — that is how I defined myself throughout my life, throughout my drinking career. It was a belief that was as real and tangible as a plastic vodka mickey gripped in my trembling hands. The idea that I was a bad person was stained on my spirit like red wine on a tablecloth. The unshakable truth, as I saw it then, was that I was permanently broken. Defective. An unwanted item at a garage sale, destined for the rubbish bin. So why not drink to that? Or for that? Or at that?
When I shared my fourth step inventory on that cool fall afternoon, sitting on those high school bleachers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was it validation that I was second-rate? Was it judgement? Was it about trying to manipulate yet another person in my life?
I knew deep down that it wouldn’t be any of those things. My sponsor had shown me nothing but immense love and acceptance up until that point, so I felt safe in many ways already. On the other hand, I carried a lot of fears into our several step five meetings (I had a lot of inventory, let’s just say!). Fears that had always haunted me and blocked me from the Creator.
Step five was an exercise in trust. Complete and utter trust. Trust that I could share of myself — all of myself — without filter or façade. That I could discuss my darkest and deepest resentments, fears and harms, and not be rejected. For an alcoholic like me, all fears boil down to the big two — rejection and abandonment. And to feel either felt like death itself. So to have my sponsor hear it all, and have him accept and love me further, unconditionally, was like having a dark curtain pulling away from my spirit. It was like a weight lifted off of me that would never need to return.
The greatest gift my sponsor gave me during this step was the gift of empathy. Letting me know that I wasn’t alone in my trespasses and feelings, listening with his ears and heart equally, sharing his own experiences when necessary, shining a torch of clarity on the fuzzy events… these things taught me how to listen to others. How to take in their darkness and focus on the light within. Knowing when to talk and when not to talk. To hear the unspoken between the words. When to hold someone.
Step five isn’t confession, although there is a confessional aspect to it. It’s about putting it all out there — to take that leap of faith and place our trust in someone else, in the Creator’s hands. It’s about seeking the truth — our truth — about what fuelled our alcoholism. I saw how I acted towards others, how I harmed and resented them, how my fears propelled anger and isolation. I saw how my ego and instincts ran wild. I was able to see, with clearer eyes, and with my sponsor’s help, exactly what the underlying causes and conditions were that pushed me towards the bottle.
I came to see that I wasn’t that bad boogie man I had made myself out to be. I wasn’t a piece of crap that had me cursing myself loudly and literally punching myself in the face because I felt I deserved it.
Sitting down beside another man and pouring this out to him put me in the vulnerable position of having someone know me fully and completely. Nothing held back. And to not have him leave in disgust was a great relief. And a first for me, as I tended to push others away because I feared they would eventually see the ugly me and leave me. But I was never ugly… even if some of my actions were.
So, with his hand on my back, as I wiped those tears, my sponsor let me know that I, like him, was a good person. A man on the mend. A brother of the fellowship. A child of the Creator. Another traveller on this journey.
Having that connection to another human being allowed me to grow in so many ways. I gained more humility. Acceptance. Grace. And I have used this experience to help those whose fifth steps I’ve had the honour of hearing. Sharing the exact nature of our wrongs and gaining clarity through sharing with another, we start to move past the shame and anger that anchors us to our illness. It breaks the shackles.
Step five showed me that I am worthy of love, that I am accepting of love and that I am the keeper of love. My old unshakable truth was truly shaken, and a newer, gentler, kinder one put in its place.
We are not bad people.