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 Nine reads:
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
A Giant Step
I decided to get sober in early May 2016. Within 4 months, I was starting to make amends as part of Step Nine. It is now one year later, and I’m technically still waiting to make a few amends (whenever it becomes possible).
This single step has been a journey for me. Last Fall, I was anxious to “knock it out” – to get all of my amends done and start living my life. I consulted my sponsor quite a bit because I had never done anything like this. He helped me decide who to approach first, in which order and what exactly to do.
I have come to the conclusion that recovery is not a race. It’s more like a marathon, but there really is no finish line. I was treating this step like a race. This is how I treat tasks that make me uncomfortable – get them done quickly, get through the suffering and move past it. I’m okay with the fact that some people are able to get this done quickly and not me. It’s also not a competition. This is a personal journey. What works for me is important.
Who, What, Where, When, Why and How
Who do we make amends to?
Easy. If you’ve done the 8th Step, you have a list already. There is a nuance to this. In my experience, doing all of my amends has taken a long time. It’s very likely that you’ll think of someone to add to your list after you’ve already “finished” your 8th Step. Of course, it’s okay to just add these people to your list.
Remember that we don’t want to make amends to people if it’s only going to make things worse, or hurt someone further. This is a decision that should be discussed with a sponsor. “It will make things worse” shouldn’t be used as an excuse, or to avoid making an amends, but this is important. If bringing up something to someone will cause them distress and agony, then it’s probably best not to bring it up.
Making amends is about reconciliation and taking responsibility for your actions. It’s not exactly the same thing as an apology. A direct amends is not as simple as apologizing. Making direct amends with someone will likely go above and beyond a simple apology. It may involve accounting for your wrongdoing, how it may have affected the other person, suggesting steps towards reconciliation and offering the other person a chance to speak.
Where do we make amends?
Many of the people we have harmed are out of reach. If somebody lives 1000 miles from you, my suggestion would be to put it on hold, for the time being. Once you have made all of the personal, direct amends that you can, then consider making phone calls. If you think that you will eventually see someone in person, maybe a combination of a phone call and a personal amends would be best.
If a person is deceased, writing a letter to this person is a good option. You could technically write the letter, read it aloud and do whatever you want with the actual letter. This may help you even though this person is no longer with us.
As for meeting someone in person, I think privacy is best. Being discrete may make the other person more comfortable. However, I’ve met people for lunch at a public place and have spoke freely.
Personally, I would never use social media or email to make an amends.
I was advised to hold off on making amends to the people I’m closest to, at least until I’ve done several “lighter” amends first. In fact, one of the reasons it has taken me so long is because I was dragging my feet making amends to my significant other. I felt so ashamed of the years I spent as an active alcoholic. I was fearful and I don’t think either one of us really wanted to have that conversation. It was wonderful to finally get that done, but the reality is that I will be making amends like this for the rest of my life.
My suggestion is to first make some amends that don’t make you afraid. This will help you get a feel for how to make an amends. Then, move on to bigger fish and give it a try. In my case, I made amends to a few friends and co-workers, then I approached members of my family. After I managed to do all of these, I felt I was ready to take care of the big ones.
At some point, you will know that you are ready to move on from Step Nine. You will eventually make amends whenever possible, but continue on with the Steps. That said, Steps will likely become part of your daily life, so doing a “Step Nine” on someone may become a regular occurrence.
Why do we do make amends?
My 2 cents: We cannot move forward without taking inventory of our life and addressing those things that are holding us back.
In the Fourth Step, we take a look at our life, our history and our character flaws. It is a process of discovery about our self and our weaknesses. We share these with another person, and hopefully thereby are able to get some things “off our chest”. Hopefully, at this point, we are able to share our deepest secrets, and open up completely. Then we attempt to live our lives free of these character defects, with the help of a higher power, to the best of our ability. We are not saints, as we say.
In the Eighth and Ninth steps, we are similarly taking inventory. This time, it’s about who we’ve impacted in our addiction. It’s more of an outward experience and another action step. The whole point is to try to make peace with those people we have harmed, but it’s perhaps the most selfish step of the 12 Steps. We are putting our sobriety and recovery at the top of our priority list. In order to move forward, we need to experience as much freedom from our past as we can. We hope to try to rectify as many personal situations as we can. To me, it’s like cleaning up shop or doing some spring cleaning.
How do we make an amends?
Most times, in my experience, it’s all about explaining that your mode of operation was based on fear and self-seeking.
Some guidelines shared with me:
- This is not an apology. You’ve done that enough and for too long. You have said you are “sorry” enough.
- Instead, this is an explanation of the things that you have done to harm people – line by line. “Here are the ways in which I feel that I have harmed you.”
- Explain what part you played in all of it, and only the part you played in all of it. This is where you mention your character defects that led to harm. This is not an opportunity to remind people of their weaknesses. Focus only on what you did wrong, not the other person.
- Don’t make excuses for your behavior. Own (the hell out of) it.
- Tell them that you are making changes in your life, and that you are trying to work on the specific character defects. Let them know that you plan to be cognizant of these weaknesses moving forward.
- Give them an opportunity to add anything they want to the conversation, and ask them if you have left anything out.
- Talk about hope for the future. Alcohol does not control you anymore. Instead you are trying to be a better person.
Happy hunting! 🙂