Steps 4 & 5: I Can Breathe

A photo by Andrej Chudy.


Steps 4 & 5: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves & admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.


My therapist wanted me to make a list of all my secrets.  Maybe I scribbled through the three that were sending me to hell, maybe not.

“I don’t need to see them,” she reminded me.  “Then we will say a little prayer and shred them.”

No biggie, my pretty parts thought.   I’m an open book.  Vulnerable?  Check!  Genuine?  Check!  I’m real—always have been.  The problem was that I had not always been.

It’s a nice thing to tell oneself, that people really, truly know you.  But pre-rehab Claire practiced a distracted type of genuine.  Like when you’re trying to write a blog post while Yo Gaba Gaba blares in the background; not quite all the way at the keyboard and not quite all the way with the kiddos.

I stood between the belief that full transparency alone would save me and the fear that God’s love, my friend’s love, David’s love would tire after the emotional terrain my secrets would drag them through.

That night, holding my breath, I wrote my pretty-enough secrets: I wasn’t a virgin when I got married.  I stole more than five pills from David.  The Wonderful World of Roses (which I cited for my sixth grade science fair) was not, in fact, a real book.

After confessing and shredding and praying I though, wow, what a great exercise, what a brilliant starting point to begin my journey toward healing and reconciliation.  It was, too. We saw themes and threads on my page that gave us real insight into where most of my shame was burrowed.

But three stains remained and I just couldn’t get them clean.  The fourth & fifth steps are the hardest for many addicts, for many humans.

No amount of charm or beauty, no amount of church-appropriate vulnerability, no amount of service work or prayer or bad religion or working out or starving or sparkly house-cleaning or good child-rearing or altering reality was working.

So one day, while journalling about the discord inside me and how confusing it felt, the three little hernias popped out of my pen onto the page.  I gasped.

How could I keep ignoring the deep wounds begging for some attention?  My humanity was ready to stop suffocating.  I texted David.

“Can we talk?  I have three secrets, and I am flipping out…”

I wrote this poem right after that exchange.


Three secrets.

I had three.

But after


of applying layer

after layer after layer of cement on top of them


I ran out of cement

and I couldn’t keep up with the labor costs

and I’m pretty sure others could smell

the corpses



And I Love myself.


“I need to tell you three secrets” I said.

“Give ‘em to me” he said.





Now, instead of  avoiding the deep chasms in the pavement

instead of fearing what the uneven surface would do to my wobbly ankles

I get to dance

with freedom

with him

with them


And I am fully known


“I love you still!”


Then I exhaled for the first time in my life.


Some of us, like David, might not hold secrets like mine —- felony secrets.  His were smaller, daily shames about small daily comparisons and failures.  They still defined his worth, just like mine did; and to him they weren’t small.

Or maybe you’re like me, and you feel like there’s just no way someone would still love you or choose you if they knew.

Your ugly part, your stains that won’t wash out, your shame? Jesus has been dying (and actually died) for you to let Him run it through that holy washing machine.  I never understood why the song “Amazing Grace” captivated the ages until that poem poured out of me.

Grace, Love, they are the deepest needs we have.  Freedom is ours, there is no condemnation in Christ, you guys.  Perfect Love makes you perfect.

Perfect Love delights in loving us, paying no mind to the caliber of fuckitude we cause.  Until you finally complete steps four and five you can’t fully access the boundless Love that creates New Life.

And our secrets?  God loves those, too.  If God loves all of us then surely others can, too.  Surely we can learn to love ourselves.  Surely, this would change the world.



PS- Here is a link to the AA Inventory prompt; this tool has changed my life and created a deep, lasting peace.  If you’re a human, and you want freedom, DO THIS.

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