A Twelve-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. I will share my experiences with each step as a resource for newcomers to the program. It is HIGHLY ADVISABLE that you work through the steps with a sponsor! Step Eight reads:
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
The List of All Persons We Had Harmed
Why do we want to make amends with people we have harmed? This is a huge topic, but simply put, we want to acknowledge people in our lives. It is a way to reconnect, heal wounds and possibly rectify a broken situation.
The idea here is to literally write down all persons you may have harmed while in active addiction.
When I did Step Four, I created an inventory of myself which consisted of several lists. One of these was a list of all persons that I have harmed. When it came to completing Step Eight, I had a ‘head start’. I made a brand new list, however, making sure to add everyone that I may have forgotten.
Personally, I did not include anyone that I may have harmed before I was using alcohol. There are many regrettable things I did as a child before I started abusing drugs and alcohol. I don’t think I was emotionally mature enough at that age to make great decisions. I considered these harms to be outside the scope of the Twelve Steps. I consider this to include harms that I may have done as an addict.
Emphasis on “All”
The first point I’d like to make about Step Eight is the keyword ‘all’. The first part of this step is to list ALL persons we had harmed. This is important. It’s not asking us to create a list of people to which we need to make amends. If this was the case, our list would likely not be complete. It’s asking us to make a complete list of everyone that we have harmed since we began using our addictive substance (x).
We often don’t want to make amends to certain individuals.
It is possible that we subconsciously, or deliberately exclude people from this list because we don’t want to talk to them about past harms. It is critical at this point to make a list of ALL people we have harmed, whether we will actually make amends or not.
The next part of the equation is about willingness.
… became willing to make amends to them all.
Willingness is a core value in the Twelve steps.
We are asked to be willing from the start:
- Accept that we (alone) are powerless over alcohol (and lots of other things)
- Believe there is a power greater than ourselves (that can restore us)
- Allow this Higher Power (HP) to help us
- Take an introspective look at our defects
- Share these defects with another human being (and our HP)
- Allow our HP to remove these defects
- Ask our HP to remove these defects
The idea of making amends is a tough proposition and it often requires humility and strength.
Humility and Strength
In order to become willing to make amends, I needed to set aside my ego and pride. In previous steps, I took a look at my defects of character and asked my HP to remove them. This is important in preparing to make amends and in daily life.
The biggest roadblock for me has been finding courage. Thinking about making amends to certain people scared me. Generally speaking, fear has been the single biggest issue in my recovery. In order to find courage, I simply ask for it. The Serenity Prayer is helpful when confronting fear.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
If you don’t believe in or use the word God, you likely have a different way of saying this. Perhaps you replace the word “God” with “HP”. Perhaps you mentally say G.O.D. (Group of Drunks). Regardless, actually saying the prayer can be helpful. It reminds me that I have the power to make changes that are good for me and those around me.
In so many cases, when I feel scared or worried, things do not turn out nearly as bad as I had imagined.
This knowledge gives me strength. The outcome is often not what I expected. In fact, I sometimes get a rush of good feelings and optimism when I go through with something I was afraid of.
Furthermore, the benefits of doing something courageous often outweigh those ominous feelings in the present moment. Those things that we don’t take care of contribute to stress and misery. If we check these things off of our “to-do” list, we may find freedom and happiness, as is promised in Twelve Step recovery.
It may be a good time to mention why we are making a list and becoming willing to make amends. I’d like to close out with the Ninth Step Promises, as written in the book Alcoholics Anonymous:
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.