Every step of a 12 Step Program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and other “anonymous” recovery groups, is extremely deliberate and comes with its own set of challenges. In Step 4, you are challenged emotionally with the prospect of confronting the fear and pain that comes with taking a moral inventory.
Often called the “confession” step, Step 5 “admit to a higher power (according to beliefs), to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrong.” Step 5 is where, in the recovery process, the Program turns from taking stock of the past to starting to build a new, healthier future, free from addiction.
Step 4 and Step 5 are connected in a deep way. In the 4th Step, you undergo the often painful process of confronting and documenting your wrongs internally. In the 5th Step, you sit down with one or more other people and confess everything you’ve documented to get all of it out in the open, allowing you to start fresh.
Here’s a breakdown to answer your AA Step 5 questions, and how working it can be crucial to your recovery.
What Does “Admitting Your Wrongs” Mean?
In order to understand the value of working Step 5, you have to understand Step 4. While it’s explained in more depth here, Step 4 revolves around the concept of Taking Moral Inventory. This means exploring your past, especially as it relates to your addiction, and uncovering the actions, inaction, and mistakes that sustained your addiction.
Addiction is often rooted in a person’s negative thinking, and the mistakes and failures in their lives contribute to a negative view of themselves. The theory behind Steps 4 and 5 of the 12-Step Process of Recovery is that a person cannot truly find lasting recovery without bringing all their mistakes, missteps and moral failures to the forefront of their own mind in Step 4, before sharing them in Step 5. The idea is that this sparks a sort of emotional catharsis, from which a person can start a new journey with a clean slate and nothing to hide.
How to Complete Step 5
There are three parts to Step 5 in AA:
- Admitting your wrongs to yourself
- Admitting your wrongs to God or a higher power (if you believe)
- Admitting your wrongs to another person
It can be argued that the first part of the “confession” step has already happened before Step 5 begins. In Step 4, you’re expected to document your mistakes in every area of your life and give deep consideration to the role of each in your alcoholism or addiction. The result is a physical list.
By the start of Step 5, you’ve already admitted your wrongs to yourself by completing your moral inventory.
The next step is to admit your wrongs to a higher power if you choose to believe. This is done through considered prayer, not unlike a Catholic’s confession to a priest minus the presence of another person. Speak to God, out loud, if it helps:
Almighty God, my inventory has shown me who I am, I admit to my wrongs, yet I ask for Your help in admitting my wrongs to another person and to You. Assure me, and be with me, in this step, for without this step I cannot progress in my recovery. With Your help, I can do this. Amen.
This is the typical prayer said during Step Five of AA and other 12-Step support groups, and it effectively turns your learnings during Step Four into a dialogue with the higher power of your choice.
Why Confess to Another Person?
The third part of Step 5 is often the most difficult for addicts. After you’ve completed the emotional labor of confronting your mistakes, admitting those wrongs to yourself is easy. Admitting them in prayer can be more difficult, but with the reminder that a higher power (if you choose to believe) will forgive your sins, it can be a relief to get things off your chest.
When it’s someone in your peer group, however, you may be reluctant. What if they think less of you when they hear the mistakes you’ve made as a person and as an addict?
But confessing to another person is just as important as confessing to yourself or to a higher power. In an analysis of the philosopher Carl Jung’s writings published in the Journal of Religion and Health, the author quotes a theologian on the value of confession and forgiveness: “Confessing one’s guilt is an archetypal experience, one so deeply anchored in the very structure of human psyche that the need for it will never disappear.”
Who Should You Confess To?
The value of confession as a concept shouldn’t overshadow the deeply personal nature of the information you’re entrusting to another person, so you can’t just confess to anyone as part of your completion of AA Step 5.
Alcoholics Anonymous recommends that confession be treated with delicate hands, and ideally, should be trusted to a member of your AA or another twelve step group. If possible, this other person should be your sponsor or someone else who you’ve known for long enough to develop a deep interpersonal connection during your recovery.
That said, everyone who works all 12 steps of AA and similar groups understands what it means to confess in Step 5 and will not underestimate the value and the reward in what you’re doing in your recovery.
Why Is the Admission of Wrongs Key in Recovery?
If we think of the 12 Steps as a mountain, the first four steps are spent climbing up. You’re taking the difficult steps to confront a problem and then open up about the causes and how addiction has affected your life. When you reach Step 5, it’s sort of like you’ve reached the top of that mountain, and on the way down you can pick up the pieces, making amends and repairing relationships and other aspects of your life. Step 5 represents the transition from an internal process to an external one: When you’re ready to admit your wrongs to yourself, in prayer (if you choose) and to someone close to you, you’re ready to make a commitment to recovery in full.
Get Started with FHE Health
If you’re reading this, you’ve already made an important step toward recovery: taking the time to learn more about what’s asked of you for lifelong sobriety. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, FHE Health can help. We have life-saving inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that can help you start your own journey to recovery.
Our 12-Step Series:
- Why the 12-step Program Still Works
- Step 1: Why the 12-step Journey Begins with Powerlessness
- Step 2: What is a Higher Power?
- Step 3: God as you Understand Him
- Step 4: Your Moral Inventory
- Step 5: Admitting Your Wrongs (This Blog)
- Step 6: Addressing Character Defects
- Step 7: Removing our Defects
- Step 8: Willing to Make Amends
- Step 9: Making Amends, How to Approach Step 9
- Step 10: Ongoing Inventory
- Step 11: How to Deepen Your Connection with a Higher Power
- Step 12: Sharing Your Spiritual Awakening With Others
- Understanding AA Lingo
- The Principles of AA