In Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you admit your powerlessness and that your life has become unmanageable.

This step is incredibly important for a simple reason: practically no one will go beyond this step if they don’t believe they’re really powerless over their lives.

The rest of the steps become fairly simple if you believe in Step 1. After all, if you feel you have no choice, how hard is it to find a higher power and turn your will and your life over to that higher power during Step 3?

If you truly believe that you have no hope, you don’t have many options.

In Step 4, you spent a lot of time and energy writing down all the things that you’re resentful about, that you fear, and that you’ve done wrong in your relationships.

This is a huge amount of work, and it actually makes Step 5 simple in comparison — all you’re doing is talking over your 4th step with another person.

What Is Step 5 in AA?

Step 5 of AA goes like this: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

This step is about honesty and openness. Even though you’ve written all these things down, you might not feel comfortable sharing them with another person — in fact, it might terrify you.

This step is not easy, but it’s a vital part of the recovery process. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it tells you why it’s so important to do this step: “The best reason first: if we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking.”

It’s basically confession, which has an extremely long history in religion and just in the human experience in general. We’ve understood for thousands of years that there’s power and freedom in confessing your wrongs to someone else.

The act of verbalizing these shortcomings allows you to confront the realities of your behavior and the consequences you experienced and caused.

Ultimately, the 12 Steps are a method of changing your behavior for the better. If you want to change your behavior, you have to first understand how you were acting and see what was right and what was wrong.

Only then can you start making real changes. That’s what makes Step 5 in AA so powerful — you’re facing reality, and then you’re using your past as a tool to shape the person you want to be in the future.

However, there are more benefits in Step 5 than simply facing reality.

Step 5 and Guilt, Shame

Many alcoholics and addicts have significant traumas in their past. In fact, trauma is often a catalyst for drinking and using. Many alcoholics/addicts continue to use to cover up past trauma.

Step 5 helps you to rid yourself of the guilt and shame associated with trauma from your past — trauma you experienced and trauma you caused (and then were traumatized by afterward).

This is a very common experience for alcoholics/addicts — doing something terrible that goes against what you believe in, what you feel to be right, and then deeply regretting it later.

Essentially, you traumatize yourself, but equally as common is being traumatized while under the influence, either by being around sick people who were doing dangerous or horrible things or by experiencing those things directly.

This can result in immense amounts of guilt and shame that then lead to more drinking/using. Step 5 is a time when you can release those burdens by telling someone all of them, someone who won’t judge you but will rather help you see the truth of each situation.

Sharing your deepest darkest secrets with another person, and still being accepted, can be incredibly liberating. It can help you to forgive yourself and let go of the negative emotions that may have been fueling your addiction.

You’ll also walk away humbled. Recognizing and admitting your flaws to another person is an incredibly humbling experience, especially if you’ve caused a lot of harm in your past.

It’s a time to admit that, yes, you made mistakes, but those mistakes don’t have to define you, and you can stop making them and become a better person in the future.

Choosing the Person to Do Your 5th Step With

The process of admitting your wrongs and the traumas you’ve experienced can be painful and uncomfortable.

It can bring up feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and vulnerability, so you have to be really careful about who you choose to do this with — if you don’t have deep trust in this person, then you’re not going to be fully honest, which will only harm you in the end.

This is often done with your AA sponsor, but it doesn’t have to be — you can do it with someone close to you that you really trust, with a religious leader of some sort (priests are a common person to do confession with), or even a total stranger.

For some people, this means you want someone non-judgemental, but this isn’t always the right choice for everyone. You may want someone who is going to tell it like it is, who isn’t going to sugarcoat what you’ve done, who will help you see and understand some very hard truths about yourself.

You may need someone to judge you for a simple reason — you can’t do it yourself.

However, you always want someone who is going to support you in what you’re doing. If you think you can’t handle being judged, find someone who won’t do that. If you think you can’t handle someone who is brutally honest, find someone who will just listen. That’s okay too.

To get ready for the step, it can help to talk to others who have gone through the process and get an idea of what you’re in for. It can also help to talk to other people who have worked with your sponsor to find out what it’s like doing a 5th step with them.

Ultimately, try to remember that recovery isn’t something you can do by yourself, and neither are the 12 Steps. Step 5 might be hard, but it’s the only way to get to the rest of the steps — it’s not something you can skip.

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