Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact natures of our wrongs.”
As a child brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, I went to Confession on Saturday afternoon as a ritual. Every week I would begin the mantra, “Bless me Father for I have sinned”.
The next day at Sunday Mass we would sing “O Lord I Am Not Worthy” during communion. To me, these actions were constant reminders that no matter how hard I tried and or how enthusiastically I worked, I was never enough, nor was I ever worthy.
Many of us grew up in a shame-based environment and find it difficult to overcome those deeply ingrained feelings of unworthiness. It took the most disgusting experience in my life – my highly publicized arrest – to make me recognize that God loves me just the way I am.
God loved me as a mischievous little boy, a know-it-all smart-ass alcoholic teenager, and as a 48-year-old cocaine addict. I do not accept the premise that we are all created equally, but I do know that God loves us all equally.
I now understand that Confession, like step 5, is not to lament in remorse about my defects of character. By admitting my wrongdoings to another I am simply disclosing events the that have prevented me from finding the peace of mind that can be only found by aligning my will with God’s will. Sharing the truth about my past is not only humbling; it is the recognition that I must shift my values if I am to fulfill my worldly function – to be happy.
Openly admitting to another person the exact nature of our wrongs is a daunting task. Our ego tries to keep us in darkness through separation, shame and fear, and it uses procrastination as an instrument to prevent personal growth. The ego never wants us to look inward, because if we look deeply enough we may find our higher selves, which would render the ego powerless.
With thorough self-assessment, we will become aware that we are as we see our fellow man. We recognize ourselves in each other and our true nature is based on love and truth. We require the two-way flow of energy that can only be found in fellowship.
Fear not, the liberating effect of vulnerability and total honesty carries benefits far beyond a simple feeling of relief – it provides us with a spiritual bond to our Creator and our fellow man. Therein lies sanity.
Rising above ego-driven shame may seem like a strange idea when discussing the process of admitting the exact nature of our wrongs. Nevertheless, completing step 5 allows us to do just that – rise about the shame and guilt we have carried around far too long.
Step 5 is a major step in on the road to transformation. Overcoming our fears and previous reluctance to face reality can be accomplished with this action-oriented step.
The truth will set us free. Step 5 is not therapy but it is therapeutic. Step 5 is not a conversation; it is a full disclosure and a time to experience real intimacy with another human being. The act of divulging our innermost secrets is a humbling experience; if we are completely comfortable doing it, we are not being thorough enough. Step 5 is the beginning of the destruction of our self-centered and selfish traits. The reward is that we will possess true awareness of who we really are.
So it becomes very important to overcome the fear of sharing our innermost secrets with another human. We choose to rise above our personal discomfort because we have a goal: to have a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps.
Overcoming Fear with Forgiveness
What does forgiveness have to do with fear? The ego deems it quite appropriate to use fear to avoid the process of overcoming resentments. Ego insists that we exist in fear, guilt and shame. As our ego-driven resentments fester, so does our fear. Some of us are so familiar with fear and resentments that we find a sick sense of comfort in being afraid and angry. We must learn to redirect the voice of the ego and seek the voice of the higher-self, the spirit.
In recovery we make many decisions. In step 3 we made a decision to have faith. Now we make a decision to forgive. We cannot afford to pick and choose who and how we forgive. We must completely let go of the toxic grudges and negative thinking that has plagued us for far too long.
Forgiveness is a decision that requires action. We will cover the specific actions in later steps but for now, our goal is to internalize the truth that we never have to live in fear, guilt or shame again. This is different from experiencing these emotions, it is inevitable that we experience a wide range of emotions everyday, however being constantly stuck in the same negative emotions create a misguided perception that we need to live in fear.
Listen to the spirit within – it speaks in a quiet, honest voice. We aim to make ourselves aware of this still, quiet voice, the voice of truth. Our spirits will leap beyond our errors and live in the realm of forgiveness. For each individual, forgiveness is always a two-way street. Forgiveness is the remedy to heal the soul.
Our worldly judicial systems may not be so kind to our bodies and we may have to pay retribution with incarceration. But even then, it is only the incarceration of the body. Faith creates a sense of freedom in the soul that cannot be taken away.
How to Work Through Step 5
Start step 5 with prayer and meditation. This will help clear our minds from anything other than the tasks at hand. We admit to God first, then to ourselves the exact natures of our wrongs and the character defects associated with each item on our step 4 lists.
I suggested that when doing step 4, we use the seven deadly sins as a way to categorize our moral inventories. Most character defects (human traits and flaws) will fall under the categories of pride, wrath, lust, sloth, gluttony, envy and greed. This simplifies and organizes the process of presenting step 5 and makes it easier us to discuss, process and put closure on each wrongdoing. It also helps the person who is listening to our step 5 to stay present.
Usually a sponsor will be the best choice to hear step 5. We may decide to use a clergy member or a close friend, but whomever we choose should be 100-percent trustworthy and willing to give us open feedback. People who have completed step 5 have true empathy for us and will personally understand the courage it takes to expose our innermost secrets.
It is important to allow ourselves enough time to complete step 5 in one sitting because it is beneficial to process the emotions all at once and then be done with it. Remember, this is the first time we are admitting out loud all our mistakes, defects and resentments – it may take some time to process these feelings and emotions.
Choose an appropriate place that is quiet and private. The last thing we want while experiencing this life-changing event is distraction. Every person who has completed the steps remembers precisely where they did their step 5.
I suggest not using a paid medical or mental health professional, acting in a professional setting, to hear step 5. This step requires direct, open and honest feedback, not psychoanalysis.
Herb K., in his book, Twelve Steps to a Spiritual Awakening, suggests that once we have finished reading our inventory, we go to page 75 of Alcoholics Anonymous. It will ask us to answer a few questions:
Did we write down everything that came to our consciousness about resentments, fear and sex?
Have we kept any secrets?
If so, remind ourselves why we are working the steps. Keep focused on the big picture.
This may still seem awkward and embarrassing, but to achieve the most healing from this step, it is imperative to reveal everything we can remember.
Here’s what the Big Book promises about step 5:
“Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drinking problem has disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”14
Herb K. also states, “It’s interesting that you’ve spent several weeks or months writing out a personal inventory – all about yourself. Now you’ve spent hours reading out loud – all about yourself. And the Big Book proclaims that as a result, you know God better.”
This is why steps 4 and 5 are major predecessors to having a spiritual awakening. Neither step is comfortable to experience; both steps take courage to accomplish. The effort put forth to accomplish these steps makes us aware that pain is the price of admission into a meaningful life. We recognize the better we know ourselves, the stronger our connection with God.
What I learned by completing step 5 is that even though my mistakes, my sins, my fears, my resentments were grave, they were typically human. My higher power is privy to my humanness and also knows that I am able to rise above my ego-driven self to live on an elevated spiritual plane.
After going to confession as a child I would feel a small sense of relief after doing complete penance; however, it was more a ritual than a spiritual experience so I didn’t fully realize the benefits of the practice. By the way penance usually consisted of saying five Hail Mary’s and three Our Father’s. It always seemed strange that an assigned penance was to recite the same prayers I would say daily anyway.
As my teenage drinking increased, I stopped growing emotionally and spiritually. By the time I was arrested for possession of cocaine on February 3, 1999, I was morally and spiritually bankrupt. My addiction took me to a dark world that disconnected me from my children, my family, my friends and God.
I am grateful today that I lived through my addiction and that I seized the opportunity to accomplish step 5. As I trudge the path of recovery, I continue to stumble often. However, through my awareness of the 12 steps, I find the strength that prevents me from reentering the hopeless world of addiction.