“Step 5: Confession,” Addiction Recovery Program: A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing (2005), 29–34
“Step 5,” Addiction Recovery Program, 29–34
A common characteristic of many who have suffered from addiction is a sense of isolation. Even in a crowd or while engaged in activities where others might feel a sense of connectedness, we felt like we didn’t fit in. As we came to recovery meetings, we began to emerge from the emotional isolation in which addiction thrived. At first, many of us just sat and listened, but eventually we felt safe enough to speak and share. Still, we kept many things to ourselves—shameful things, embarrassing things, heartbreaking things, things that made us feel vulnerable.
We did honest and thorough inventories in step 4, but that was a private experience. We were still left alone with the shame of the past. Not until we took step 5 were we able to throw off the shackles of our isolating secrets and gain some perspective on ourselves and the past. Confession began a process of disclosure where we shared expressions of remorse with friends, family, and others. It was part of an ongoing effort to repair and reestablish broken relationships. Confession also involved seeking forgiveness from the Lord through prayer and through any necessary priesthood channels.
We found it best to take step 5 as soon as possible after completing step 4. Postponing it would have been like acknowledging an infected wound without cleansing it. Step 5 seemed overwhelming, but as we asked the Lord for help, He gave us courage and strength. After reviewing our inventories, we confessed to our bishops anything that was illegal or a sin or a misdeed that would have prevented us from having a temple recommend. This disclosure to proper priesthood authority was an essential part of recovery and healing.
We also selected another trusted person to whom we could disclose the exact nature of our wrongs. We tried to select someone who had gone through steps 4 and 5 and who was well-grounded in the gospel. We began the meeting with prayer to invite the Spirit, and then we read our inventories aloud. The individuals who listened to our inventories often helped us see lingering areas of self-deception. They helped us put our lives into perspective and avoid exaggerating or minimizing our accountability.
Writing our inventories was like recording hundreds of separate scenes from our lives. In step 5, we had a chance to see our lives unfold, scene after scene, in a flowing narrative. As we did, we began to recognize patterns of weaknesses that had influenced our choices. We started to understand our tendencies toward negative thoughts and emotions (self-will, fear, pride, self-pity, jealousy, self-righteousness, anger, resentment, unbridled passions and desires, and so on). These thoughts and emotions were truly the exact nature of our wrongs.
In completing step 5, we demonstrated before God, ourselves, and another witness our commitment to a new life based firmly on telling and living the truth. Although step 5 was one of the most difficult steps to take, we were encouraged by the counsel of President Spencer W. Kimball: “Repentance can never come until one has bared his soul and admitted his actions without excuses or rationalizations. … Those persons who choose to meet the issue and transform their lives may find repentance the harder road at first, but they will find it the infinitely more desirable path as they taste of its fruits” (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 4).
We have experienced what President Kimball taught. Once we honestly and thoroughly completed step 5, we were left with nothing to hide. We outwardly demonstrated our desire to “give away all [our] sins” (Alma 22:18) so that we could receive a greater knowledge of God’s love and the love and support of many good people who rallied around us.
The “duty of all persons [is] to confess all their sins to the Lord” (Bible Dictionary, “Confession,” 649). More serious transgressions must be confessed to proper priesthood leaders, usually the bishop: “While only the Lord can forgive sins, these priesthood leaders play a critical role in the process of repentance. They will keep your confession confidential and help you throughout the process of repentance. Be completely honest with them. If you partially confess, mentioning only lesser mistakes, you will not be able to resolve a more serious, undisclosed transgression. The sooner you begin this process, the sooner you will find the peace and joy that come with the miracle of forgiveness” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 134).
Use great care and wisdom when selecting someone other than a priesthood leader to whom to disclose your wrongs. Do not share such sensitive information with individuals you suspect might extend improper guidance, provide misinformation, or have difficulty maintaining confidences. Those with whom you share your inventory must be extremely trustworthy in both word and deed.
President Brigham Young cautioned members not to disclose sins unnecessarily: “When we ask the brethren, as we frequently do, to speak in sacrament meetings, we wish them, if they have injured their neighbors, to confess their wrongs; but do not tell about your nonsensical conduct that nobody knows of but yourselves. Tell to the public that which belongs to the public. If you have sinned against the people, confess to them. If you have sinned against a family or a neighborhood, go to them and confess. If you have sinned against your Ward, confess to your Ward. If you have sinned against one individual, take that person by yourselves and make your confession to him. And if you have sinned against your God, or against yourselves, confess to God, and keep the matter to yourselves, for I do not want to know anything about it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 158).
Occasionally you may observe individuals in recovery meetings or in other situations who seem to rehearse continually their sins and shortcomings or the sins others have committed against them. They are always confessing but never finding peace.
Do not confuse step 5 with an obsessive desire to dwell on negative things. The intent of step 5 is exactly the opposite. We take step 5 not to hold on to the things we confess but to begin to distinguish evil from good for ourselves and to choose good.
The following scriptures and statements from Church leaders may help you in taking step 5. Use them for meditation, study, and writing. Remember to be honest and specific in your writing.
“I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness” (D&C 64:7).
How does confessing your sins to God help you make positive changes in your life?
Most of us feel fear and an unwillingness to take step 5. How can confessing your sins to God give you courage and strength eventually to confess to another person?
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16).
You may fear that someone who really knew all your weaknesses and failings would reject you. But a priesthood leader or a trusted friend who understands the recovery process usually responds with understanding and compassion. How could such a response help you heal?
“Let not any man publish his own righteousness … ; sooner let him confess his sins, and then he will be forgiven, and he will bring forth more fruit” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:479).
One major obsession of those who struggle with addiction is a great desire to look good to others. How would this desire keep you from improving and bringing “forth more fruit” (or good works)?
How would your behavior change if you were only concerned about looking good to God?
“Whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also” (Mosiah 26:29).
When you confess your sins, you must be sincere. Consider how holding back part of your confession undermines the sincerity of your efforts. What part of your inventory, if any, are you tempted to hide?
What do you have to gain by continuing to hide this portion of your inventory? What do you have to lose?
“In this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults” (3 Nephi 1:25).
This verse is an example of people who did not procrastinate confessing their faults once they were brought to a knowledge of them. What are the benefits of doing step 5 as soon as possible after step 4?
What might be the detrimental effects of procrastinating step 5?
“I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good” (Alma 39:7).
Some people would claim that we dwell too much on negative things in life by taking steps 4 and 5 and that doing so can only add to our stress. In this verse, we are taught that facing shortcomings can do us good, not just “harrow up” (or distress) our souls. In what ways can steps 4 and 5 relieve you of stress and bring you more peace?
“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).
To forsake something means to abandon it or give it up completely. How do you demonstrate your desire to forsake your old ways by completing step 5?