For many of us, the Fifth Step is the most terrifying of all twelve steps. This is the time we confess and admit our shortcomings. The 5th step says:
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
If any of the twelve steps needs prayer, it’s this step and there is a prayer to help us with the process. It reads like this:
Fifth Step Prayer
My inventory has shown me who I am,
Yet I ask for Your help
In admitting my wrongs to another person & to You.
Assure me, & be with me, in this Step,
For without this Step I cannot progress in my recovery.
With Your help, I can do this.
I want to spend some time unpacking this prayer line by line to see what it is about and what it tells us.
We open by acknowledging the source of our sobriety. Using this term brings us back to steps 2 and 3.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first line of the prayer brings us back to the God of our understanding. God is the source of our sobriety, and this prayer is also an acknowledgment that we have handed our lives over to God with the faith and expectation that we will be looked after.
Our Higher Power, at all times, should be our first thought. Whatever we perceive God to be, there is no doubt that the God of our understanding is an almighty God.
My inventory has shown me who I am
This is the Fourth Step and when I did this, I did not like looking at myself so intensely. Putting myself under a microscope was very unpleasant. In fact, I hated it and my sponsor carefully had to explain the purpose more than once. Wasn’t it enough to know I had messed up? No, it wasn’t.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
As for drinking alcoholics, we were in the bondage of self. We needed to examine every twist of character. Remember this is not a litany of things you did wrong, as much as it is an examination of attitudes and character. The 4th step is an examination of conscience.
Yet I ask for Your help
Despite what you feel, you need to summon up the humility to be able to ask for God’s help.
The book Twelve and Twelve says, “So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this that many A.A.’s at first try to bypass Step Five. We search for an easier way – which usually consists of the general and fairly painless admission that when drinking we were sometimes bad actors.” (pg. 55)
It goes on to say, “But of the things which really bother and burn us, we say nothing. Certain distressing or humiliating memories, we tell ourselves, ought not to be shared with anyone.” (pgs. 55-56)
Many feel that in this step, more than any other, we need to feel our Higher Power is present. That power is present because we are children of God.
In admitting my wrongs to another person & to You
This is the task of this step. Step Five:
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This is the start of facing personal consequences. As part of the thoughts behind this prayer is the belief that God will place the right person in your path. This person needs to rely on intuitive thought and the way of patience to let you escape nothing while being filled with understanding as we unburden ourselves of our past and start the path to redeeming ourselves in our own eyes.
It is terrifying and the next line deals with providing a solution to this fear. We haven’t been strong on honesty before and the idea of honesty is still scary to the new alcoholic in recovery.
Assure me, & be with me, in this Step
After asking our higher power for help, we now ask for assurance and reach out to the God of our understanding to be with us while we seek the courage to admit to each specific matter and each questionable situation that we uncovered in the fourth step.
This is where we need God’s hand and assurance that all will be okay and that we can have the strength to go through this step. Remember in Step Three we, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” Here we get to trust that God will respond and give us the strength which I, for one, lacked for so many years.
That I think is the beauty of Step Five. Where in step three we handed our lives over to God, in this step for the first time some of us really feel the effects of that and experience grace.
For without this Step I cannot progress in my recovery
The necessity for this before the next step is obvious. That doesn’t need to be said. The 6th reads
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
This line of the prayer reinforces that the fifth step is necessary for the recovery process. All these character defects need to be dealt with and corrective measures need to be taken. Without admitting our defects, we cannot ask God to remove them.
At this point, it is a good thing to whisper the serenity prayer. We need the serenity to know we cannot change the past, the strength in step 9 to make amends, and the wisdom to know when making amends will hurt those we are making amends to or others. Remember the 12 steps of AA are one program all linked together and that each step builds on the previous steps.
It is critical to realize that Step Five is the turning point where we crossover from our old ways into sanity. Even more, than admitting to God and another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs, we are admitting them to ourselves.
With Your help, I can do this
The final line returns to God as the source of our strength and acknowledges that with God’s help we can admit to God and another person the exact nature of our wrongs. This may be the first time you are doing this, having withheld something before either deliberately or by accident. Approach it without fear.
Anonymity is at the heart of the twelve traditions. Whoever you admit your failings to if they are part of the fellowship will respect your privacy and not tell anyone what you revealed. This is a huge and very understandable concern. We know that God won’t spill all those terrible revelations; humans we are not so sure about. This line is a plea for trust in the Higher Power and a plea that our Higher Power will put the right person in our path as we complete this step. Accept this and you will approach the step with an open mind.
I love the structure of this prayer. The 5th Step prayer is a mere seven lines, and every other line references the power greater than ourselves. The other lines refer, in order, to the fourth step, fifth step, and sixth step respectively. God, fourth step, God, fifth step, God, sixth step, God.
We have taken the moral inventory, we are going to admit it, and then ask our Higher Power to remove every single defect of character. This is all about creating the possibility of repairing personal relationships.
The spiritual experience is at the heart of this prayer and this step.
From the bottom of my heart and experience of almost 22 years in the fellowship, do the right thing and admit everything. Enter it with a spirit of forgiveness towards yourself as you would for a sick friend. And if like many of us you can’t admit everything the first time around and try to save face, then come back to this step and this prayer and admit to the things you missed.
I had to.
Note: Except where specified all quotes are from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book.