The fifth step in a 12-step program
reads, "Admitted to a loving higher power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."
Talk about a leap of faith. After we spend our fourth step writing about everything that pisses us off or terrifies us and what our share in each of those situations is, we're supposed to share that with someone else? Are you kidding me with this stuff?
And yet, it works. Some people do it all in one fell swoop (or, more likely, in several fell swoops over a few days or weeks); others read their fourth step to their sponsor or co-sponsor (or therapist or friend) bit by bit as they are writing it. Either way, what it means is that they get emotional support. They get to find out that all the problems and mistakes that they were ashamed of are no big deal. That others will be able to hear them without judging them, and even share their own experiences of having done the exact same thing.
A trustworthy human often has other parts to play in this step, like pointing out patterns that the person working the steps did not notice. Or making connections that can only be seen from outside this work. And, of course, cheering them on.
When I worked my fifth step, an amazing thing happened. I spent several weeks reading all of these things to my sponsor, hearing back from her about all the insights she got from it and all the patterns she saw and how they related to my codependency. When we finished, we did a tiny little ritual from The Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps to honor the work I had done, and went in to our meeting. And all of a sudden, I started noticing my patterns. I saw myself obsessing about how nobody would like what I had to say, and I remembered what that was about and that it was all in my head, and I was able to stop. I noticed myself dissociating from what people were saying by staring at everyone's shoes instead, and I had compassion for myself and laughed about it and stopped. I was freed from so many of the obsessive, controlling patterns that I had been engaging in. I had learned what effect they have on me and why I do them, and I was ready to move on.