Oh boy, this will, of necessity, be short and sweet. Time (and fundraising snafus) have gotten away from me today, and a track meet is an hour from now!
Today we read Step 8 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Step 8, for those unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery, reads:
Made a list of all the people we harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step eight can be challenging to discuss in and of itself; it is tempting to mention it as a passing reference to a more substantial discussion of the meatier step 9 (the actual making of amends).
For my part, I shared how creating my eighth step list was much easier than I anticipated, because much of the work had been done in my fourth step moral inventory. I also shared that considering the harms I had done to others gave me a deeper gratitude for the relationships I held dear. In that deeper gratitude came an easier time accepting the character defects in others, since I could so clearly see how they had been accepting of mine.
We had an interesting mix of people in today’s meeting. The first group that shared had a significant chunk of sober time. The kind of time that can be measured in decades, as a matter of fact! From that group I heard a lot of wisdom that I honestly cannot hear enough:
- Step 8 has 2 distinct parts to it: the first is making the list, the second is finding the willingness
- Step 8 is truly a lifelong process, and there is no need to add stress by imposing deadlines
- It takes time to discover that for which you need to make amends
- The heart and soul of step 8 is forgiveness: forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and God willing, others’ forgiveness of you
- The longer one stays sober, the more clarity one gains in the amends process
- If the amends process is overwhelming, start simply, and stop doing that for which you need to make amends. If you’re sober, chances are you’ve already made a step in the amends process with many people in your life
The next group to share was the group with a relatively small amount of sober time (2 months, 3 months, 10 months). Their take on step 8 was just as fascinating, because they’re reading it and wondering at how such a thing works:
- Do you list someone if you can’t get in touch with them?
- What do you do if you made amends for something but you were not in recovery… do you do it over again?
- How can you even think about these kinds of things when your brain still feels likes it not clear?
Of course, the great thing about having a meeting with a mix of people is to share wisdom, and the long-timers were able to give out advice that they had been given in earlier days.
One really interesting and new bit I was able to take away came from a question from a newcomer: what if you want to make amends to someone who has died? The standard advice I have heard in response to this question is to write the deceased a letter, visit the gravesite, or visit your place of worship.
But today the advice given was to find a living substitute. Let’s say, for example, that you were selfish with your time and thus missed out on the last years of your grandfather’s life because you were too busy drinking. Now you’re sober and you want to make amends to him, but he is not around. Find someone meaningful, either to you or someone who would have been meaningful to your grandfather, and give the gift of your time and attention to him or her.
I had never heard that particular piece of advice, but it struck me as a wonderful way to pay forward the blessings of sobriety.
As always, tons of good stuff. For all my fellow 12-step readers, please share any nuggets of step 8 wisdom in the comment section!
Having to wrap this up to watch my son run track is a miracle on every level… he is doing what he loves, and I get to witness it!
It is the third Monday of the month, and fall is just around the corner. Hard to believe we’re into the school year already! The third Monday is where we discuss the various steps in my 12-step program; since it is September, the ninth month, we discuss Step Nine:
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
This is, without a doubt, the Monday to which I look forward the least, as step 9 is the step to which I personally have the most conflict. I’m sure if I went back through the archives of this blog I would find multiple posts that discuss in detail my conflict in executing this step; I won’t bore the world again.
In fact, the only thing that may have changed between last year and this year is a general sense of patience with regard to this step. Sooner or later, this turmoil will resolve itself, and I will be ready to proceed. It’s happened with many other crossroads in my life, and I have absolute faith it will happen with this one.
So that’s my personal journey with step 9, and when the time comes for me to proceed, you better believe I will be writing about it!
Of course, wiser people than myself attend this meeting, and they had more profound things than I to share:
First, a regular attendee who just celebrated his 29th year of sobriety, spoke of his conflict regarding step 9. Due to the nature of his profession, he interacts with dozens of people daily, which would make an amends list an overwhelmingly lengthy one. His sponsor at the time tugged on his sleeve and said, “Why don’t you start the amends process simply, and stop the behavior that caused you the need to make an amends?” When we are all twisted up on the how’s and why’s of an amends, it is critical to remember this is the most important aspect.
The woman who last year told me to pray for the willingness was back, and her advice was as spot on as it always is. She referenced the chapter we read this morning where it talks about the importance of sound judgment, and good timing playing a role in the amends process. She said whenever fear is involved, both of those things fly out the window, which is why it is critical to enlist the support of a sponsor or a spiritual advisor when tackling this step. Rushing into an amends often does more harm than good, so planning and practicing with someone who knows your history will produce the best results.
A friend who is back to the meeting after many weeks absence said it took her years of sobriety before she was ready to attend to this step. Her best advice is to get right with yourself before you attempt to get right with anyone else.
Another gentleman said the roadblock he encountered in completing this step was the incredulity of the people to whom he was making amends. Turns out, most people in his life didn’t think he was that bad! He overcame this obstacle by reminding himself, and those to whom he was making amends, that doing so is important to his sobriety. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone else thinks you need to make amends; it only matters that you think so.
A woman who is not as far along as step 9 told a cautionary tale about rushing this step. She was speaking with a loved one, who was asking about a time in her active addiction. She decided she may as well just forge ahead and start the amends process with the full and unvarnished truth. This candor turned out to be a mistake, and she regretted being as forthcoming as she was. She failed to consider the second part of the step, and inadvertently “injured” her loved one. She learned the valuable lesson of running things by her sponsor rather than making an impulsive decision.
Another regular attendee spoke of harm he had caused in his college days. He said the house-mother of his fraternity stands out as someone to whom he wishes he could make amends. He guesses he is currently around the age she was at the time, and it causes him shame to think of how his drinking antics affected her. She is, sadly, deceased, but he had been advised to write a letter to the woman to tell her what he would say if he was able. Great advice for any of us who feel we owe an amends to people who have passed away.
I said to the group that this is the meeting I dread the most going in, but leave with the most going out!
Feeling decidedly under the weather today, so I suppose the miracle is composing this post and hitting publish!
And a beautiful Monday morning it is here on the Eastern side of the United States, hopefully it is equally beautiful where you sit and read right now. This morning’s meeting was a small-ish one, 11 people total, which is amazing, because I remember a time not too long ago when that number would have been a huge turnout!
Today’s meeting read and discussed Step 9 in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
For those not involved in a 12-step fellowship, the goal of step nine is to make right, as best as you can, the mistakes you made in active addiction. It’s about owning up, cleaning up, and moving on.
Like many aspects of the 12-step program, there is a wide and varied interpretation of exactly how one goes about “making direct amends,” who exactly are “such people,” when exactly is “whenever possible,” and, the big one, what constitutes an exception that “would injure them or others.” The answer to personal and specific step 9 issues is typically answered within the context of a sponsor/sponsee relationship.
Certainly, you do not have to be an alcoholic or an addict to be in need of making amends; as I have mentioned on too many occasions, the steps are simply a way to better oneself, doing any or all of them, regardless of your proclivity towards alcohol, is going to lead to self-improvement. In the case of step 9, it’s simple: you did wrong, so go ‘fess up, and make it right. No matter what the outcome, you will feel better for having cleared your conscience.
The biggest stumbling block I hear in meetings, and in fact heard about today, is this: Yes, I’ve done someone wrong, but that someone has done more wrong to me that I’ve ever done to him or her, so I refuse to make amends. The answer to this is simple, but not easy. It may or may not be true, the grievances you are tracking, but they are irrelevant to the spirit of Step 9. Making amends is about cleaning up your side of the street. It doesn’t matter what mistakes anyone else has made. Truthfully, the bottom line is it doesn’t really matter what response you receive. It simply matters that you are taking responsibility for your bad choices, and you are willing to make those mistakes as right as you can.
Another common misconception regarding step 9 is distinguishing between apologizing and making amends. As alcoholics/addicts, we have all said “I’m sorry” more times than we can count. Apologies are meaningless unless you can back them up with something. Step 9 is an honest attempt to do just that. We admit our past faults, and we offer to do what we can to make things right. Of course, making things right can go in a million directions depending upon the wrong that was committed, and as such deciding the when’s, why’s and how’s will depend upon individual circumstances.
Finally, the subject that typically comes up when talking about step 9: so do you have to sit down with every person you have ever known and make a formal amends with him or her? The answer to this, obviously, is no, but not so obvious is the selection of people to make the list, and just how specific you need to be when confessing. Again, individual circumstances will vary, and having a trusted confidant, or sponsor, will help you greatly in sorting out the list.
One nugget of wisdom I took with me today, and will greatly help me as I go forward with the amends process, came from a gentleman with 28 years of sobriety. He explained that making amends is the process of mending something. The minute you arrest the bad behavior, you have started the amends process. Quite simply, if you are stressing out about making amends, as I have numerous times throughout this process: stop the bad behavior. If you amends was lying to someone, stop lying. If it was stealing from someone… you get the picture. Not a perspective I have considered before, that the regular and honest attempt to incorporate the 12 steps into my daily life is a type of living amends to the people I love.
I would love to hear from any and all of my recovery-minded friends on what step 9 means to them!
Having the privilege of handing a 30-day coin to a newcomer to the Fellowship. It’s a great way to start the day, celebrating milestones in recovery!