This is the sixth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend. There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

Step 5 reads, “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

In recovery, we say that we’re as sick as our secrets. Each of us has things in our past that we believed that we could never tell another person. They are almost always related to shame.

Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Guilt is the knowledge that I have done a bad thing. Shame is the belief that I am a bad person. See the difference? “It was bad,” versus “I am bad.” That’s a huge difference! We can put guilt behind us with relative ease by making up for our actions in some way, but shame becomes a part of us.

If we’re cleaning the kitchen, we can take the garbage out to the dumpster or we can dump it in the closet. If we do that, eventually it will start to seep out under the door, and it will become impossible to enter the kitchen, let alone the closet. To get our kitchen in order, we must first clean out that closet — a job no one wants, but one that is essential. Recovery — the rest of our lives — is like that kitchen, and Step 5 is the primary tool for cleaning all that garbage out of the closet. It is probably safe to say that complete recovery is impossible unless we free ourselves of that burden, and the only way is to tell another person about it.

The power of confession has been known for many centuries. For a couple of millennia it was one of the mainstays of Christianity, and it still is in some parts of the church. Our modern version is therapy, and sometimes we do need to talk to professionals about these things, but it is amazing how much of the burden can be lifted by the simple act of telling our secrets.

By telling them to another addict, we can be sure that we’re not divulging anything that’s likely to be new to them, shock them, or make them think less of us. We all have those closets, and we all had to take out the trash. We all understand that we were good people who did bad things, not the other way around. When we share with others, we rob the secrets of their power over us.

Obviously, in order to do this we need someone we can trust. Some use a sponsor. Some use a person in the fellowship with whom they feel especially comfortable, but have no close ties. Some do use clergy. As far as the “admitted to God” part goes, that’s a matter of personal belief. If we are religious, we might want to offer up the experience to our higher power as a kind of prayer for forgiveness. If our personal philosophy doesn’t run that way, the process will still work.

The principle behind Step 5 is Integrity: honesty with ourselves, with others, and willingness to practice it even when we’d rather not — doing the next right thing, regardless of our fears. It’s scary. Along with Step 4, the Step 5 was a hard mountain to climb for all of us. But once over it — as every recovering person will tell you — the rest of the road is pretty much downhill.

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