Step 5 and The Effects of Carrying the Load Alone

Contributor: Sarah Dodson, Marketing Director at the River Source

Helping hands, care for the elderly conceptTwelve-Step programs provide a compilation of tools for getting and staying sober. It starts with admitting that a problem exists and ends with helping others in their personal journeys. Though the 12 Steps aren’t a requirement for getting sober, trying to recover from addiction without this guidance is extremely difficult.

Everyone, regardless of their background, education level, socioeconomic status or religious affiliation, has something to learn from the 12 Steps. The best way to master them is by attending meetings, reading recovery literature and working through each Step with a sponsor.

What is Step 5?

Step 5 is considered one of the most difficult Steps. While it takes extreme humility, fearlessness and integrity to move through this Step, it provides significant growth in the end. Step 5 is as follows:

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

What exactly does this mean, and how can you work through this Step completely so that you don’t carry any burdens with you?

Unleashing the Load

person-96215_640Step 5 is about admitting to God, to yourself and to another person all of your personal shortcomings and wrongdoings. In other words, it’s an informal confession.

The wording of the Step is certainly not by chance. In order to work through this Step, you must first start by releasing your shortcomings to God. You may be thinking, “But God is already aware of what I have done.” That He is. But until it comes from your lips, this admittance has no power. By openly admitting your faults and wrongdoings, you are practicing humility. Through prayer, you can be given direction as to how to change.

The second part of this process is being honest with yourself. Some of your shortcomings will be quite painful to look back on, but do not let this stand in your way. If you don’t work through them today, they will haunt you for the rest of your recovery and possibly even your life. Face your secrets and rest assured that you will find peace in being open and honest.

Admitting Your Faults Out Loud

The hardest part is admitting your faults out loud to another person. Reaching this level of honesty with another human being becomes easier after some practice, but don’t expect this to be simple.

Even those without a history of addiction would find it very hard to unleash all of their faults on someone else, and you probably have some real perils that you carry with you. As humans, it’s natural to want to control what others think of us.

The worst you can do is hold back. No matter how shameful your confession may sound, you cannot fully work through this Step unless you unload your burdens. It is then that you can achieve freedom from the demons of addiction.

The Risk in Holding Back

Happy woman talking and laughing with a friend at homeIt’s possible to move through Step 5 without really accomplishing what you need to. You may assume that you have admitted enough to yourself and to another. There may be some details that you have chosen to leave out because they are too painful.

Yet even if you succeed at all of the other steps, it’s possible that you may relapse at the end and wonder why. For some, a return to drinking or drug use can stem back to this Step.

When you leave some of the load to carry, you’re hurting your recovery. You haven’t been able to open up and be completely honest with another human being, and this pattern is likely to continue in other relationships. You may find yourself lying or avoiding certain areas in your life so that you don’t have to face a dark past. This stress and lack of freedom will inevitably take its toll.

Don’t Get Caught Up in Past Struggles

Past struggles that haven’t been admitted end up living deep inside you, poisoning your relationships, your moods and your will to stay sober. If you continue living in the past and returning to these dark points, you can’t live in the present. Living in the present is where you should be. It’s where your loved ones need you to be. It’s where drugs and alcohol don’t have a place.

To be truly effective in Step 5, you must follow each phase correctly. It doesn’t matter that God already knows what you’ve done. Admitting it from your lips is what makes it effective, real. As you practice humility and confess to another human being everything from your past, you’re setting your spirit free.

Young man reading small BibleTrue freedom is what grants you growth and the opportunity to ask God to remove your character defects (Step 6). It also sets the stage for honesty and humility in future relationships, including the most important relationship: the one with yourself.


The 12 Steps are a blueprint for living a sober, satisfying and meaningful life. Not only are they designed to help people work through a drug or alcohol addiction, but also they set the foundation for leading a life of honesty, integrity and humility.

When you’re able to reach this point in your recovery, you can expect to feel humbled and at peace. The dark shadows of your past are finally lifted, and you can be the person you’ve always believed you can be.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with Step 5? What impact has Step 5 had on your recovery? What advice do you have to share?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 25th, 2015
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.