Tools for Living

Integrity and the 5th Step

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

Many newcomers to the Steps feel dismayed when they first see this Step. It’s bad enough, they think, that the 4th Step requires them to beat themselves up for all the bad things they’ve done . . . but now the 5th Step says they must shame themselves before someone else so he can beat them up, too! How can I do that? they ask. What purpose could such torture possibly serve?

Such doubt and dismay are understandable, even reasonable, given such mistaken ideas about the nature of the Steps. It’s important to understand that the 5th Step is not about wallowing in guilt and shame over our past behavior. Instead, it is a practical and effective means of reconciling ourselves with the past and finally putting guilt and shame behind us where it belongs. It’s also a critical step toward restoring our battered sense of honor and self-respect.

It helps to remember that in taking Step 5 we are discussing the actions of a person who no longer exists. We are talking about the man or woman we once were, someone who did the best they could under the circumstances, given what they believed at the time, and who did not know how distorted their thinking had become under the influence of a powerful addiction. That person in the past is not the same person ready to take a 5th Step today, and not the same person he’ll become through the continuing process of recovery.

But until we fully acknowledge that person from the past, and take responsibility for his actions, we cannot really shed that old skin and enter the freedom of our new lives. The road to that freedom lies through full disclosure. And only through full disclosure can we begin to heal our wounded spirits and develop the personal integrity that real peace of mind depends on.

We will never really be at peace with ourselves until we are completely, whole-heartedly okay with who we are-and that includes being okay with who we were and what we have done in the past. Sharing our deepest secrets with a trusted soul who understands and won’t judge us is a necessary step to freeing ourselves from their power to damage our sense of self-worth. As the saying has it, we’re only as sick as our secrets. If we would recover and get well, then we must give the secrets up-but not indiscriminately. Our 5th Step should only be shared with someone we can trust to be non-judgmental and discreet..

Only by revealing who we really are can we become the same person on the outside as we are on the inside. The 5th Step is the first of many we must take to become fully authentic human beings and to know what it means to be comfortable in our own skins. Theoretically it might be possible to achieve this by becoming completely honest with ourselves-“admitting to ourselves,” as the Step says, and to no one else. But practical experience has shown time and again that none of us can achieve the necessary level of honesty and integrity if we are not willing to come clean with someone else.

As for God, the third party to our “confession”-if God knows everything, then He already knows more about us than we know ourselves, including everything we’ve ever done. If so, then why, we might ask, must we admit our mistakes to Him?

The purpose of the Steps is to lead us to a spiritual awakening. The path to that awakening requires us to get right with ourselves, with other people, and with God. What matters is not whether God knows of our failings, but whether we can completely offer ourselves to Him, exactly as we are, with no false pride, no dissembling, and no BS. Only by surrendering ourselves wholly to Him can we dismantle the barriers of guilt, shame, and fear that we have erected between our flawed selves and His forgiving love.

*   *   *   *   *


Have you completed a searching and fearless 4th Step inventory?

Are you ready to share this inventory with another human being?

If you have completed your 4th Step but hesitate to proceed, what’s holding you back?

If fear and shame are holding you back, wouldn’t you like to be free of them rather than controlled by them?

What are the benefits you can expect after the 5th Step? And what are the consequences of not doing it?

What are the qualities you seek in the person who will hear your 5th Step?

How will you know if this person is the right one?

If you have not already selected someone, such as your sponsor, have you considered taking your 5th Step with a professional counselor or clergyman?

Are you ready to trust God and step out in faith by sharing your 5th Step with Him?



Links to more information about Integrity and the 5th Step: on the Fifth Step.

“Taking Step Five” from the Big Book Bunch.

Mike L. writing about

The Benestrophe website on taking the 5th Step.

NA Way of Life writes about the 5th Step.

And NA Online Recovery also offers helpful advice on the 5th Step.



Recommended Books:

Edward C. Sellner, Step 5: Telling My Story, fron Hazelden’s series of Classic Step Pamphlets
A clear and simple explanation of the purpose and benefits of the 5th Step and suggestions on how to take it. Available direct from Hazelden and from Amazon for Kindle readers (and from Amazon resellers in paperback) here.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions       The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book” explaining each of the Steps—and the Traditions—in greater detail.

Hubal and Hubal, Living with Yourself: A Workbook for Steps 4-7       The second of Hubal & Hubal’s study guides to the Steps, this volume takes readers from the 4th Step through the 7th.

The Twelve Steps, A Spiritual Journey: A Working Guide for Healing Damaged Emotions       A guide and workbook to all 12 Steps, based on Biblical teachings and written especially for Christians seeking to understand the principles of the Steps in relation to their religious beliefs and practices.

Edward C. Sellner, Step 5: Telling my Story, fron Hazelden’s series of Classic Step Pamphlets—A clear and simple explanation of the purpose and benefits of the 5th Step and suggestions on how to take it.  Available direct from Hazelden and from Amazon for Kindle readers (and from Amazon resellers in paperback) here:

Patrick Carnes, A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps       A specialist in the treatment of sexual addiction, Carnes’s book is both a guide and a workbook to help anyone suffering from any form of addiction to understand and begin to apply the 12 Step program of recovery.