Steps 8 and 9: Making Amends
Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
AA firmly adheres to the maxim, “Faith without works is dead.” It isn’t enough to take the moral inventory of Step 4, one must also make amends to those wronged — to repair the damage done to others — in order to “clean up our side of the street” and be relieved of the guilt and shame that can lead to picking up the first drink or drug.
Step 8 is about becoming willing to do so. AA recognizes that we may not be willing to make amends to some people at first. In such circumstances, AA urges that we pray for the willingness to make amends at some point. It reminds us that we have previously committed to going to “any lengths” for a daily reprieve from our addictions. Eventually, 12-Step programs trust that we will become willing to make things right.
Step 9 involves all manner of amends. Many addicts (if not most) have stolen. Some stole money, lied on expense reports, borrowed but never paid back. AA says all those debts must be admitted and paid off, over time if necessary. Talk is cheap. An apology is necessary but not sufficient. It’s action that counts, including taking responsibility for making those we’ve taken financial advantage of whole.
Every addict who isn’t a complete hermit has damaged relationships with family and friends, lied and manipulated them to get what they want. Again, an apology is necessary but not enough. Trust can only be rebuilt through positive action demonstrating to others true remorse by righting wrongs and demonstrating that the old way we lived our lives is not how we live them now or intend to live them in the future.
There is one caveat: do no harm. If, for example, a husband has cheated on his wife, though it’s necessary to admit that infidelity it is not advisable, AA counsels, to name names or go into unnecessary detail as that could harm third parties.
What if someone refuses to accept an apology? No matter, says AA, it’s not the outcome that’s important, it’s the attempt. Nearly every sober addict I’ve known has been reluctant to make some amends and fearful of doing so. AA counsels to get over it. Do it despite misgivings. Amends, if offered with sincerity, often goes better than one fears. And for those times it goes worse, it’s important to remember that the purpose isn’t to get people to like or love you, it’s to enable yourself to live a guilt-free life.
Amends are a process that usually takes time. Some can be done sooner, some later. And, since we’re only human, we continue to need to do them in sobriety as we err, are dishonest and hurt others.
Most addicts I’ve known say they’ve gotten relief from their negative voices by making amends no matter how hard they were or what others’ reaction has been. As The Big Book predicts, they say they’ve gained “a new freedom and a new happiness,” and that their “outlook on life” changes for the positive.