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Recovery the Fifth Step

Recovery: Step Five

If you are working on your recovery, you are hopefully in a program or working with people who are teaching you how to work the 12 Steps. Most people who seek treatment at an inpatient rehab center are not ready to address Step 5 of the 12 Steps until they complete inpatient treatment and go to an extended care or aftercare program.  That means you won’t be ready for Step 5 until you’ve got several months’ sobriety under your belt.

In order to work on Step 5, you must be satisfied with your work on Step 4. Here are Steps 4 and 5:

Step 4: You made a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.

Step 5: You admitted to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.

Your moral inventory should include lists of your flaws and resentments. You also need to think about your fears and also the people you’ve hurt, in all the many ways that it’s possible to hurt people. In Step 5, you confess your moral inventory. But Step 5 is very specific about how you confess: You certainly do not need to go atop a mountain, beat your chest, and should mea culpa. Actually, Step 5 is a confession that serves as a way for you to ensure that your moral inventory from Step 4 is complete.

Most people feel a little wrung out once they’ve completed Step 4. It’s draining to think of all the things you’ve admitted to yourself. Your weariness will then be infused with some level of pride that you’ve completed the moral inventory and that you’ve admitted all these things to yourself. However, until you confide your secrets to someone else, you cannot move forward in recovery. That’s what Step 5 is all about.

When you confess your moral inventory to God, you are validating that you have in fact done all those things, felt and believed all those things. Your list then becomes more real to yourself, and you really begin to see yourself as if from another person’s eyes. As you talk to your Higher Power about this, you are simultaneously running through this list in your mind and asking yourself if you’ve been honest about everything you’ve done. Did you leave anything out? Did you sugarcoat anything?

There’s a story about a man who works the 12 steps but never confesses his deepest, darkest secret to anyone. Finally his sponsor tells him that he knows he has a secret, and unless he shares that secret with at least one other person, he will end up hunched over a bar someday, some place. The idea is that you can’t move on until you share your deepest, darkest secrets.

Sharing your secrets with a trusted person, then, is important if you want to move beyond the work you’ve done at an inpatient rehab center. It’s the only way you can reclaim yourself as the person you used to be before drugs or alcohol made your life unmanageable.

Eventually in your recovery, you will make amends to the people you’ve wronged, as long as making amends doesn’t hurt them further, but for now you need to experience the lightening that sharing your secrets will bring. Everybody who is a sponsor in AA or NA has gone through Step 5 himself, and he or she will not be judgmental of you. Confessing the truths about yourself will set you free.

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