February 26, 2020

The Twelve Steps of Recovery and You, Part 3

For generations of addicts, the Twelve Steps of Recovery are a life-saving “how-to” guide. They guide struggling substance abusers through the process of transforming their lives—from unmanageability and despair to health, hope, and balance.

Twelve Steps: The Fifth Step
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Both alcoholism and drug abuse have been referred to as a “sickness of the soul”.  This is why the Fifth Step is so valuable – confession is good for the soul. Let’s analyze the Fifth Step in greater detail.

“The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs”

This is more than knowing WHAT we did – it is also an attempt at greater self-awareness. If we dig a little deeper to find out WHY we did something, perhaps we can keep from repeating our mistakes.

For example, our addiction-driven actions hurt the people around us. But why were we behaving in such a manner? What were our core feelings? Were we acting out of fear, resentment, selfishness, emotional ignorance… all of the above?

As we progress in our recovery, we learn how to address each of those specific negative emotions as we attempt to change our destructive behaviors and false beliefs. With time and hard work, fear becomes confidence, resentment becomes appreciation, selfishness becomes selflessness, and emotional ignorance becomes empathy for others.

“Admitted to…OURSELVES”

For many of us, THIS is the hardest part of the Fifth Step.

No one wants to admit to themselves that they aren’t the hero in their own life story. We all want to justify, minimize, or excuse our own wrongful behaviors:

  • I only did that because…”
  • “It’s not that bad.”
  • “It’s not my fault.”
  • “You don’t understand.”

But when we move past the denial and deflection and take responsibility, we can begin to move forward in our recovery.

“Admitted to… GOD”

Now that we have accepted responsibility for our actions, we may start to feel overwhelmed with feelings of shame and remorse. In fact, we can feel so bad that we are tempted to go back to drinking and using.

But a surprising thing happens when we talk it over with our Higher Power:

Amazingly, we find our burden easing.

In the Third Step, we made a decision to turn our lives over to something outside of and greater than ourselves. This is what 12-Step literature means when it talks about “letting go and letting God”. We have already admitted that we needed help. Now, we are being specific about WHY that help is needed.

The unbearable weight of negativity – regret, shame, guilt – is slowly lifted from our shoulders when we realize that our actions were largely cause by our illness – the addiction.

You did not CAUSE your addiction. You cannot CONTROL your addiction. You cannot CURE your addiction.

But here’s the best part— YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

It is not your responsibility to struggle with things that are beyond your capabilities. One of the keys to regaining your sobriety is staying within yourself, just as the Serenity Prayer says.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

During recovery, your biggest responsibility is to work the treatment program prescribed by the medical professionals and addiction specialists partnering with you. This removes YOUR ego, YOUR stubbornness, and YOUR will, and allows you to get out of your own way.


Loneliness and isolation are defining characteristics of addiction. Often, even before the substance abuse began, the future addict/alcoholic struggled with the feeling that they didn’t quite “fit in” with the rest of society. In fact, people with anxiety are 3 times more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.

This anxiety and sense of separation from others only worsens in tandem with substance abuse. The sense that no one else could understand how we feel grows. Our shame makes us believe that we neither need or deserve nor should expect forgiveness from others.

This why 12-Step fellowship groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are so beneficial to successful recovery. When we listen to someone else with similar struggles describe their own faults and mistakes with complete and transparent honesty, we begin to realize that we may not be alone.

And when we are able to share our own deficiencies in an environment free from judgment or condemnation, we actually start to feel a sense of safety and belonging. And in the days to come, being able to draw on others for strength and inspiration will be one of the most powerful and essential tools you can use to support your continued sobriety and recovery.

But there are also practical reasons for admitting our wrongs to others –

  • It keeps us honest. We aren’t able to sit back and delude ourselves about our actions.
  • It teaches us humility. Candid admissions are extremely embarrassing, but only by humbling ourselves can we become ready to take advice and accept guidance and direction.
  • It gives us perspective. We learn that no matter what we have done, we are not “too far gone”.
  • It gives us feedback. Sometimes, we are too close to our own problems. Other people may have solutions that we never thought of.
Who Should I Talk to in the Fifth Step?

That depends on your needs and your comfort level. The biggest requirement is it needs to be someone you feel you can trust – many people choose their sobriety sponsor.

Not surprisingly, most people new to recovery do not choose a family member or close friend, because there would be a natural inclination to withhold much of the truth. This is why – surprisingly – some people even choose to make their admission to a complete stranger.

There are some issues that can influence your choice.

If you have medical or mental health issues, or if there are things in your life that you don’t feel comfortable discussing with a layperson, then by all means, talk with an experienced professional:

  • Your priest, pastor, or rabbi
  • Your doctor
  • A licensed mental health professional
  • Your addiction counselor

You don’t have to share everything with just one person, either. Your sponsor, your recovery team, your doctor, your clergyman, and your therapy group might each be appropriate for different portions of your story.

How Does the Fifth Step of Recovery Benefit Us?

When we honestly discuss with other people our own personal failings, we gain a powerful and meaningful insight into ourselves. When we unburden ourselves from our shame and guilt, we enjoy profound emotional relief.

And when that insight and relief are combined, we gain the opportunity to purge ourselves of many of the core hurts and insecurity that drive us to abuse alcohol and drugs.

For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers has served as one of the most-trusted alcohol and drug rehabs in California. Teensavers uses years of experience and comprehensive evidence-based treatment services to deliver a “total wellness” approach to recovery.

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