How Not To Be A Gorilla

This is a recovery lesson that focuses on confessing the dark secrets of our past out loud to another person. What could be more fun than that?  Actually, it’s not as scary as it sounds when we approach it within the context of the 5th step of recovery. And this step is almost always accompanied by major breakthroughs in our recovery and our healing so it’s well worth any temporary discomfort!

In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the reasons we need to admit our wrongs to another person and what we stand to lose and gain by doing so. We’ll also go through some practical steps for how to complete Step 5.  (And I should note that this is my personal take on Lesson #13: Admit, which was developed by the national  Celebrate Recovery program.)

This lesson goes with principle 4 of the 8 principles:

Principle 4: Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to god, and to someone I trust.

“Happy are the pure in heart.” —Matthew 5:8

And it goes with step 5 of the 12 steps:

Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” —James 5:16

This step of confession was placed at Step 5 in the process because there are 4 other steps we would have taken before we’re asked to admit our wrongs out loud. We would have realized that we can’t fix our own life (Step 1), but God can (Step 2), and we would have made the decision to let Him (Step 3). And then we would have made a searching and fearless moral inventory—a physical list of our issues (Step 4). And now at Step 5, we’re asked to confess those issues out loud—to share our moral inventory—with someone we trust.

Celebrate Recovery Teaching Series
A series of articles on recovery. I’m on a team of leaders who do the teaching at the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Church of the City. I’ve edited some of my teachings into blog articles in the hope that it might help someone else as much as it’s helped me to study for and write these lessons.

Why Admit My Wrongs?

A really common question (and one I ask often) is, “Why do I have to admit my wrongs to another person?” Isn’t it enough to admit those things to myself and to God? It turns out there are really good reasons why we need to confess out loud.

Many of us have been keeping secrets almost all of our lives. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, every day those secrets take a toll on us in the form of emotional exhaustion, negative self-talk, loss of self-respect, and remaining a slave to our habits. We become trapped by our secrets. And the weird thing is that we’re somehow able to admit them to ourselves and to God, while at the same time convincing ourselves of a bunch of lies; that we’re different than everyone else around us, that no one would understand, or we would be hated or ridiculed if they knew, or that we don’t fit in because everyone else has their lives together while we’re all messed up and wearing a mask to try and hide it.

It’s like the story about the guy who worked at the zoo. The Friday before their biggest weekend of the year their famous Gorilla died and the owner didn’t have time to bring in a new gorilla for the big weekend. So the zoo owner offers this guy $1000 if he’ll put on a gorilla suit and sit in the cage all weekend, pretending to be a gorilla. The guy needs the money so he agrees to it. And it turns out he’s really good at acting like a gorilla. By Saturday afternoon he’s got a huge crowd around his cage and he really starts showing off. He ends up climbing over his enclosure and hanging from the net ceiling above the lion’s den next to him. The crowd is cheering and clapping as he swings around and suddenly he loses his grip and falls into the lion’s cage. From inside his gorilla suit, the man starts screaming, “Help! Help!” Suddenly a lion pounces on him from behind and whispers in his ear, “Dude, shut up! You’re going to get us all fired!”

When we finally get to that place in our recovery where we’re ready to admit our issues out loud to another person it can be a scary thing. We get all nervous but we know we want to get better so we have to take this next step. So we work up our courage and mentally prepare ourselves for the worst, and we finally say “Alright this is it. I’m doing it.” And then, before we can talk ourselves out of it, we go up to our friend, or our spouse, or our sponsor and just blurt it out, “I struggle with this.” And all of a sudden it feels like we’ve been pretending to be a gorilla and telling our secret makes us feel like we’ve just fallen in a lion’s den where we’re about to be torn apart.

But in my 8 years in CR hearing all kinds of testimonies and stories about when people finally break down and admit their struggle to someone else. They don’t get torn apart. That’s a lie. You know what responses they actually get? When they admit their issues within the context of Step 5 of recovery it seems like the two most common reactions they get are “I know” and “me too.” They’ll hear “I know” because the person they told was already aware of the thing they were struggling with. Or “me too” because the person they told struggles with that same issue. Somehow we convince ourselves that we’re the only person wearing an animal costume at the zoo, and it’s only when we finally admit it out loud to someone else that we find we’re not alone after all.

At some point or another, we all believe lies about what will happen if we ever take off our masks. In this world, there are spiritual forces at work, and that is so true in recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the successful 12-step recovery program on which CR is based, they teach:

“We are given a daily reprieve from our addictive or compulsive behaviors contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” —Alcoholic Anonymous

Our spiritual enemy wants us to cower in the shadows, afraid to name our sins. But here’s the thing, when you name your sins, when you take off your mask, when you share your moral inventory, your dark secrets don’t get bigger and more shameful in the light, they shrivel. In our minds, we build it up like our secret is some horrible, scary, powerful thing. But once you say it out loud to some else, you realize it’s more like an old man behind a curtain. Check out this short video clip:

Your fear will tell you to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. But pulling back that curtain and admitting your secrets out loud to someone you trust actually strips those secrets of their power. And yet, even when we know all this in our heads, our hearts can still be fearful about revealing our secrets, even to someone we trust. We somehow feel like we have everything to lose and nothing to gain. But is that really true?

What Do We Really Have To Lose?

Here are four things we will lose when we do Step 5 and confess our faults to someone we trust.

  1. We begin to lose our sense of isolation. Our sense of aloneness will begin to vanish. We realize that all the other “animals” in the zoo are just like us. We’re not the only one in the world going through this struggle, and we don’t have to do it alone.
  2. We will begin to lose our unwillingness to forgive. When people know our faults and still accept and forgive us, we start to do the same thing with others. Have you ever noticed how we’re much less judgmental of someone when we know their story? Often times I find I respect and even love that person more because they’ve been so vulnerable. How many times have you heard someone’s testimony in a recovery meeting, and maybe it’s someone you didn’t think much of, but once you know their story you see them in a whole new light.
  3. We will begin to lose our inflated pride and/or false humility. When we’re in denial some of us start to believe that we really are the person we’re pretending to be—our pride puffs up almost as a layer of protection against being hurt or being found out and we act or believe we’re doing better than we really are. On the other hand, some of us go the other direction and start believing that we’re nothing more than the sum of all our sins—we act or believe that we’re doing worse than we really are. But when we confess our issues out loud we gain a realistic sense of perspective that fosters true humility. The best definition of humility I’ve heard comes from Thomas Aquinas who said, “Humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us.” God sees our faults, He’s not blind to them, but He loves us in spite of them. And, of course, he sees every good we have, too, because every good we have has come from Him in the first place.
  4. We will lose our sense of denial. When we’re in denial about our issues, it’s like we’re dying on the vine. Un-confessed sin drains us and tears us down. You can hear that kind of struggle in the words of King David from Psalm 32:

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
—Psalm 32:3-5

Being truthful about ourselves with another person breaks down our denial. We begin to feel clean and honest. We begin to accept ourselves as we are, not as we wish we were, and not as we are pretending to be. And once our denial begins to crumble we know we’re on the path to healing. Remember the old recovery saying, “We are only as sick as our secrets”.

What Do We Have To Gain?

Here are three things we will gain during Step 5.

  1. We gain healing. Look at James 5:16 again: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” The key word here is healed. This verse isn’t about confessing so that we will be forgiven. God already forgave us when we confessed our sins to Him. Now He says that when we confess our sins to one another the healing process will begin.
  2. We gain freedom. Our secrets keep us in chains—bound, frozen, unable to move forward in our relationships with God and with other people. Admitting our sins breaks those chains so God’s healing power can start. Psalm 107:13-14 says “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and gloom and broke their chains apart.”
  3. We gain support. When you share your inventory with another person, you will find the opposite of isolation and ridicule. You’ll find support and realize you don’t have to do this all on your own. The person you’re sharing with will help keep you focused and provide feedback. And if you find yourself slipping back into denial and starting in with the excuses—It’s really not that bad; They deserved it; It really wasn’t my fault—your support person can be there to lovingly challenge you with the truth. But most of all, they will support you by listening to you and really hearing what you have to say.

How Do I Choose Someone To Talk To?

So let’s get practical now and talk about the specific things you need to do as part of Step 5. Here some guidelines for choosing the person to whom you will read your moral inventory:

  1. Choose someone of the same sex that you trust and respect.
  2. Ideally, you want to find someone who is a growing Christian and who is familiar with the 12 Steps. They don’t necessarily have to be part of the CR community, but this group here is probably the best place to start looking. If you’ve been a part of a recovery community for any length of time you’ve noticed that those of us in recovery are comfortable around rigorous honesty and emotional vulnerability. In fact, we almost come to expect that out of all our relationships because it’s so authentic and healthy. So if you choose to confess to someone who is, themselves, still in denial or not used to this level of honesty, they may not know how to support you properly.
  3. Ask your sponsor or accountability partner. This is by far the most popular choice. Just be sure they have completed their own Step 5. The process will go more smoothly if the person is familiar with what you are doing. They’ll have a sense of empathy and if they can share their own personal experiences you will have a healthy exchange.
  4. Set an appointment with the person; pick a day and a time and put it on your calendar. And make sure that you’re going to be able to talk uninterrupted at least two hours; no kids, no pets, no emails, put your phones on “do not disturb”. This is important stuff so take this time seriously.

Guidelines for Your Meeting

So when you finally get together, what do you do?

  1. Start with prayer. Ask for courage, humility, and honesty.
  2. Read the Principle 4 verses found in the Participant’s Guide 3, Getting Right with God, Yourself, and Others.
  3. Start sharing, and keep it balanced. Make sure to cover both the weaknesses and strengths that are on your moral inventory list. This isn’t about beating yourself up, it’s about being honest and balanced.
  4. End in prayer. Thank God for His forgiveness and ask Him for the strength to continue on in your recovery.

And there you have it. A little CR lesson I call “How Not to be a Gorilla.” May God bless you in your recovery as you seek Him.

Thanks for reading!