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By: Rick Fannin
Step 5 And The Benefits of Confession
Our secrets keep us sick. However, no one enjoys admitting when we are wrong, and this is part of what makes step 5 difficult. This is the step where we:
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."
Admitting wrongs to God and to ourselves is one thing, but actually telling someone else the exact nature of our wrongs can be a frightening task indeed. After years of "keeping secrets," blaming others, and covering up faults, openly admitting them out loud to another human being is drastically different from how we have lived our life in addiction.
Admittedly, it is natural to be nervous about step 5, but do not let this fear cause you to delay in completing this critical step. The Bible warns us on what occurs if we continue to try to keep things hidden, as shown in the verse below.
"Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." – Proverbs 28:13
The AA Big Book provides a warning regarding skilling step 5 as well by stating:
"Most of us would declare that without a fearless admission of our defects to another human being we could not stay sober. It seems plain that the grace of God will not enter to expel our destructive obsessions until we are willing to try this."
This step is also one of the most fulfilling steps along the road to recovery because it allows us to let go of the past and begin true healing. Don't let pride or fear hold you back from the blessings found from confessing your faults.
Purpose of Step 5 and Confession
Take note of the sequence of wording within Step 5. We must admit to God and to ourselves before we are ready to admit to another person. This confession of our wrongdoing and sins is Biblical, as illustrated in the verses below.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." – 1 John 1:9
Once you have had the integrity to become honest with God, then becoming honest with yourself and another human being becomes much easier. You may question why do I need to admit my wrongs to another person. Again, this process is also rooted in Biblical instructions, as illustrated below.
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." James 5:16
Perhaps more than any other step in the process, step 5 provides the chance to hold yourself accountable spiritually. It allows unloading the burdens of the past and finally be done with them.
Eliminating pride and overcoming fear
There is no double that step 5 can be a very humbling process, which is good because deflating pride and ego and becoming humble is one of the main objectives of step 5. Addiction is a selfish, self-centered process where our primary concern is what we want, what we want when we want it. This self-centeredness is rooted in our ego, pride, and selfish desires. Without step 5, there is no room for God in our life because we are fully ourselves. Step 5 deflates the ego to make room for God to move into your heart, help to sort out the thoughts in your head, and begin to direct your steps of action. This concept of deflating pride and being humble is also Biblical in nature, as illustrated in the following verses:
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall." – Proverbs 16:18
"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor." – James 4:10
When preparing for step 5, it is natural to fear sharing many of your deepest, darkest secrets with someone else. Our pride wants us to feel like we're doing good and moving on from all that destructive behavior. Step 4 forces us to look back at all of that, and step 5 brings it out into the open, revealing everything so that you can move forward without being haunted by your past.
There is an underlying fear, fueled by our ego, that when we share our inventory with someone else, they will judge us and think poorly of us. Our ego wants everyone to like us, and the fear of judgment becomes a barrier that we must overcome in working step 5. However, consider this, continuing to allow your past to trip you up contributes to you judging yourself and contributes to you thinking poorly of yourself. Step 5 requires humility and transparency regarding what you have done. However, if the person you are sharing your inventory with someone of us who has also struggled with addiction, there are good chances that they have many items on their inventory of things they did in addiction that are very similar to yours.
We tend to place everything on a hierarchy so that we can judge things. We may have done that with our drug of choice and justified it by saying, "Yeah, maybe I have a problem drinking, but at least I am not sticking a needle in my arm." This habit of rationalizing things by putting them on a hierarchy may come into play as you compare your wrongs against the wrongs of others. However, a Biblical perspective can help you overcome your fear of your inventory being worse than others. God sees sin as sin. Failure to obey his commandment not to eat of the fruit in the Garden of Eden is judged the same as lying, stealing, and even murder.
Furthermore, everyone has sinned. So, regardless of what is on your inventory, it holds exactly the same weight in God's eyes as what is on my inventory and everyone else's inventory of wrongdoing. This can be seen in the verses below.
"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." – James 2:10
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." – Romans 3:23
Freedom Found from Step 5 and Admitting Wrongdoing
There is great freedom that is found by completing step 5. It is a relief not to smell the rotten garbage when you take the trash out, and it is a relief when we take all the garbage from our past out of our heads by sharing them with God and with someone else. This cleaning out the past's wrongs helps get rid of some of our "Stinkin' Thinkin'. Quite often, these hidden secrets keep fueling our negative emotions, which fuels our desire to drink or use drugs to numb the pain away. The process of exposing what has been hidden in order for healing to occur is Biblical, as illustrated in the verse below.
"You can't heal a wound by saying it's not there!" – Jeremiah 6:14
Step 5 is also an opportunity to get to the root cause of your addiction. By looking at your inventory, you and the person you share it with may identify patterns from your past. Connecting these dots and identifying these patterns equips you to break the cycle of dysfunction going forward.
While it's easy to give it titles like envy, jealousy, anger, or whatever, many people find that it's really fear. Fear is nearly always at the foundation of all of our negative emotions and dysfunctional behaviors. This might be why the Bible mentions fear 365 times!
Rather than looking at step 5 as a fearful experience, think about how clear your conscience will be once it's done. Many people call it "freedom" and say they experience peace and calm they haven't felt in years.
The AA Big Book also describes the benefits of Step 5 in that we are able to "get rid of that terrible sense of isolation we've always had." We may have struggled with a fear that others could never know of our past because they would see how different we are. By sharing your inventory with a sponsor, and the sponsor sharing elements of their inventory with you, then you begin to see yourself as inclusive rather than excluded, separate, and isolated. There is great freedom in knowing that you are not alone.
More than anything, the return on investment from Step 5 is that you become free of the fear that the things you have done could never be forgiven. When we admit our wrongdoings to God and repent, God is faithful to forgive us, as shown in the verse below.
"But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." – 1 John 1:9
And by confessing your wrongdoing with a sponsor, the sponsor may continue to share their recovery story with you. They may share the fear they had that their loved ones would never forgive them for the hurt they had caused. When they begin to share how things are now and the relationships that have not only been restored but made better than ever, it gives you hope. You begin to realize that if this person can be forgiven and has done things similar to mine, then there is at least hope that my loved ones may forgive me too. The AA Twelve & Twelve book describes that freedom from step 5 as this:
"Provided you hold back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The dammed-up emotions of years break out of their confinement and miraculously vanish as soon as they are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquility takes its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined, something else of great moment is apt to occur. Many an AA., once agnostic or atheistic, tells us that it was during this stage of Step Five he first actually felt the presence of God. And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God as they never were before." '
Benefits of Step 5 and Confession
Conscience is purified
The weight of sin is heavy, and you don't have to carry it! "A good conscience is the palace of Christ; the temple of the Holy Ghost; the paradise of delight; the standing Sabbath of the saints." – St. Augustine
Grace is increased
Restore your relationship with God! "Courage! God asks of us only our goodwill. His grace does the rest." – St. Theophane Venard
Will is strengthened
Confession prepares you for spiritual combat. "Having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone." -Pope Francis
Self-knowledge is increased
It is a virtuous trait to have self-awareness. "Self-knowledge puts us on our knees, and it is very necessary for love. For knowledge of God gives love, and knowledge of self gives humility." -St. Teresa of Calcutta
More rapid growth in virtue takes place
That's what we all want… right?! "Ask Jesus to make you a saint. After all, only He can do that." – St. Dominic
Humility grows – Remember it was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men saints! "Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak." – G.K. Chesterton
Bad habits are assisted in being overcome
"Don't let your sins turn into bad habits." – St. Teresa of Avila A spirit of mediocrity or lukewarmness is assisted in being overcome – We are called to greatness! Don't be lukewarm… the Bible doesn't speak highly of lukewarmness. "All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics." -Pope St. Pius V
Greater self-control is achieved in daily living
We have to be aware of our weaknesses! "Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking." – Clement of Rome