The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Nine
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
There is a lot of debate among members of the 12-step fellowship about which step is the hardest to complete. If I was the deciding vote, it would be step nine. Full disclosure: I am not even halfway through this step yet, I am procrastinating for all sorts of reasons. Here is what I can tell you about this step: it does give a real sense of freedom. For me, when I have completely and thoroughly made amends to someone, I felt like I could, once and for all, stop hanging my head in shame regarding my addiction.
So, let’s break it down: what does it mean to make direct amends? Here is how I was taught to complete a step 9 amends: first and foremost, it should be a face-to-face encounter (the “direct” part). Next, it is very important to explain what you are doing to the person with whom you are making amends. After explaining the process, you should dive right in, and list out the harms you have caused, being as direct as possible. It is critical when doing this process to focus only on the harms you have done… this process is about cleaning up your side of the street, not pointing out the failings of others. After you have listed out the things for which you wish to make amends, tell them the regret you feel, and ask what you can do to make things right. At this point the dialogue can vary, depending upon the response you receive. Finally, ask if there is anything you left out that is still hurting the person, something you may have forgotten, or not realized you have done.
The difference between step nine and an apology is the part about making things right. As alcoholics/addicts, we have all apologized too many times to count. An apology is regret for a past action; an amends is a commitment to rectify the past action to the best of your ability, as well as an honest effort not to repeat the mistake.
So why, if it’s so liberating, have I not completed it yet? Because, and here’s the bottom line: it’s damn hard! It’s hard to sit down and write out for each individual everything you need to make amends, it’s hard to muster up the courage to approach the person, it’s hard to explain to someone not in recovery why you must dredge up the past, and it is really, really hard to look someone in the eye and admit your past mistakes.
Another stumbling block for me personally is the second half of step nine: except when to do so would injure them or others. This portion has stopped me in my tracks with many of my amends. Dredging up the past in order to “clean up my side of the street” sometimes feels as though I am doing it at the expense of causing those closest to me pain, which seems contradictory to the process. How I have handled this conflict so far is: when it doubt, hold off on the process. I believe when the time is right, I will know it.
Everyday life can prove equally as challenging in the application of this step, but the payoff is just as rewarding. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have life-long resentments, hurt and anger you hold on to way longer than is necessary, and ultimately hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Making amends, doing what you can to right your wrongs, has a way of releasing that negative energy from your life. Step 9 is not something that you can just pluck out of order, do and expect instant results… you need to do the prior steps in order to have the right perspective to make a proper amends. But if there is something in your life… a relationship, a past incident, anything, that just keeps resurfacing, then in all likelihood it is something you need to examine, and find your responsibility in it. If you can do that, and clear up your part in it, then you are the best possible position to let that pain go, and what better payoff is that?
I can tell you this, even with the limited number of amends I have completed… when I finished each one, I felt freedom unlike anything I have felt before.
In honor of my friend Christy, today’s miracle is five badass days in a row of exercise!!!
Posted on June 7, 2013, in Twelve Steps in Everyday Living and tagged Addiction, Alcoholic Anonymous, Amends, God, Higher Power, Recovery, Self-Help, Sobriety, Step 9, Substance Abuse, Support group, Twelve Step, Twelve-Step Program. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.