Step Nine in Alcoholics Anonymous is powerful and offers the chance for great healing and increases our chances of achieving long-term sobriety.
In Step Eight, we make a list of all the people we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.
The list of people we owe amends to in Step Eight comes directly from our Fourth and Fifth steps, where we have listed our wrongdoings. There are times that we may need to add a name or two if we have forgotten a wrongdoing in our Fourth and Fifth Steps.
In Step Eight, the willingness to make amends to the people on our list is crucial. Sometimes we owe amends to people who have also caused us harm. The willingness to make amends to those who have hurt us can take time, but once that willingness comes, the freedom that comes with Step Nine is available to us all.
I don’t want to downplay the willingness to make amends to people who also may owe us amends we may never get.
I struggled with making amends to someone who caused me harm. But, it helps to remember that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is for our spiritual recovery and healing. It is designed to show us how to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
Once I realized that the one difficult amends I had to make was intended to improve my character, the willingness to do so became easier. We are meant to keep our side of the street (the messes we made) clean. The actions of the people on the other side of the street are not our business.
Ultimately, AA is about personal recovery. To avail ourselves of all of it, we must let go of resentments towards others so that we can reap the rewards that come with a new sense of self-esteem.
Step Nine – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
Once we have our list from Step Eight, we need to learn how to make proper amends – and there is an art to it. Proper amends should not be a phone call that says, “I’m sorry I hurt you.” We should not say I’m sorry because an amends is not an apology. It is a promise to change our behavior. Changing our behavior strengthens our character. It is as much a promise to ourselves as it is to those we make amends to.
When I did Step Nine, my sponsor had my write amends letters to the people I had harmed. When I made the actual amends, I read the letters I had written to people rather than just sitting with them and chatting. By reading the letter, I was able to prevent myself from falling back into the old behavior of offering hollow apologies. And, I didn’t accidentally blame someone else’s behavior for my own.
She gave me a simple format to follow for writing an amends letter. In each letter, I acknowledge the harm I caused, identify the character defect I acted on, and describe how I will amend my future behavior.
As you know, I am on a twelve-step program of recovery from addiction (or alcoholism). As part of that program, I am committed to making amends to those I have harmed.
I have harmed you in the following ways:
When I was using, I caused you sleepless nights and endless worry. I showed up at family functions under the influence and embarrassed you. My actions were disrespectful and selfish.
In the future, I will amend this behavior by remaining clean and sober. I will no longer act in ways that will cause you anxiety, worry, or embarrassment.
Note: This is a simple example. If we have stolen, our amends should include paying the person back. Also, this is how my sponsor taught me to make amends. If your sponsor has a different format, follow their instructions.
We must not make an amends to someone if it causes them ANY harm. This is why it is so important that we don’t make amends before we work steps one though eight first and without a sponsor. It’s also why we don’t make amends after our first meeting. Amends are not meant to assuage our selfish guilt.
Understanding when and how to make amends is of utmost importance. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains this concept best, so read it. For example, if we cheated on our spouse or partner, telling them that the truth will cause unnecessary harm. In that instance, we simply amend the behavior by never repeating it.
A proper Step Nine must be worked in conjunction with our sponsors. We must follow the rules laid out for us and prevent causing even more harm.
In my amends, everyone responded to me by accepting them. That said, one person did say things about my behavior that were very hard to hear.
My sponsor had prepared me for that eventuality. I knew not to argue, not to blame the person, not to shout, and not to undo the work I had put into my letter. I sat quietly and let the person express their feelings of anger and disappointment. It wasn’t easy, but it helped me tremendously to remember that an amends is the first step towards rebuilding a relationship that I had destroyed. More work was required, and the person was willing to give me the chance to make that effort.
In some cases, we may make amends to someone who doesn’t want to have a relationship with us anymore. That can be painful but should never stop us from making an amends and allowing ourselves the chance to start with a clean slate.
Most of us carry a tremendous amount of guilt and shame when we enter recovery. Taking responsibility for what we have done and righting our wrongs empowers us to feel renewed and relieved. Feeling like better people makes it easier to stop cycles of bad behavior and self-destruction. It is INCREDIBLY powerful work.
Best of all, the promises to amend our behavior can lay the groundwork for a lifelong commitment to sobriety. This proves true for me all the time. Whenever I have thoughts of using, I remember that if I relapse, I break the promises I made to my family. I remember the look in my father’s eyes and my brother’s eyes when I made amends to them. I clearly see how I would lose their trust in an instant and how much I would hate myself for causing them more pain. My amends to them stops me from relapse every single time.
When we make amends, we make a promise to change our behavior. Once our amends are made, we need only commit to them and never break those promises.
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