The work we have been doing since starting Step 4 has all been focused on ourselves. Now as we start the Eighth Step we are going to start looking at our relationships with other people. I know that when I came into recovery there were definitely some people I would rather not run into. There were folks I didn’t want to run into because I was embarrassed by the way I had acted the last time I interacted with them. There were folks I was scared to run into for fear of how they would act towards me due to conflict in our past. Going out and making amends to others has been the best way I have found to get rid of this fear of other people. This lesson will focus on the first part of this, making a thorough list of people we have harmed.
Our acrostic for this lesson is AMENDS:
A – Admit the Hurt and the Harm
M – Make a List
E – Encourage One Another
N – Not for Them
D – Do it at the Right Time
S – Start Living the Promises of Recovery
Let’s look at each one in more detail:
Admit the Hurt and the Harm
I know for me being able to admit that I have hurt someone and that I need to make amends to them is very difficult. My pride always wants to get in the way and tell me that I don’t really owe anyone an amends. My pride will tell me if I did something to hurt you, then you probably deserved it. You started the conflict, or you did something just as bad or worse to me. But this is just my pride trying to justify my own bad behavior. I have to remind myself that this isn’t about who started it or who hurt the other person more, this is only about whether I hurt somebody and whether I can admit it.
Then of course there are those I may have hurt unintentionally. Sometimes we may inadvertently hurt another person without ever trying to or even thinking about it. I know for me my pride wants to tell me I don’t owe them an amends either. After all my pride says, if I hurt you but was not trying to then the real problem here is that you need to toughen up some and not get hurt so easily. I have had to learn that amends must be made to those I never intended to hurt. It doesn’t matter what my intentions were, only if I hurt another person. This piece of the amends process is foundational, all the work we do in Steps 8 and 9 hinges on our ability to admit we have hurt other people.
One distinction CR makes is for those who have suffered through abuse. For people who have been through this, Step 8 has been rewritten:
Make a list of all persons who have harmed us and became willing to seek God’s help in forgiving our perpetrators, as well as forgiving ourselves. Realize we have also harmed others and became willing to make amends to them.
Make a List
The next thing to do after admitting we have hurt others is to make a list of those we have harmed. I have to remind myself not to start thinking too far ahead during this process. I don’t need to worry about how I will make the amends. If you have harmed somebody that is now deceased or has moved away, don’t worry about how you will make amends to them, just put them on the list. Also, I can’t let fear of what may happen when I make the amends keep me from adding a person’s name to the list. The goal is to be as thorough as possible, when we get to Step 9 we can worry about how we will actually make our amends and how to deal with our fears.
Encourage One Another
Making amends can be a very scary prospect. I know for me I was absolutely terrified of Steps 8 and 9 when I got into recovery. Use your small group, accountability group, and sponsor to help you. There will be some legitimate questions over whether you owe amends to people, whether making those amends may harm somebody, or how to make the amends. Utilize those resources to help you in answering your questions. If you are coming up on these steps for the first time, share your concerns or fears with the group. For those that have already been through these steps share your experiences. This can help allay the fears of others.
Not For Them
Making amends is all about cleaning up our side of the street, but for me it is easy to start to lose focus on this purpose. It is very easy for me to focus on what may happen during the amends process. Will the other person get angry at me, will there be conflict? I can’t control what the other person will do, but I do know that fear over what may happen will detract from my willingness to go through with making the amends. I have to remember that this is about me and my willingness to do the right thing, not about how the other person will react.
Perhaps even more dangerous in the amends process is expecting the wrong kind of outcome. It is easy for me to expect that the other person will forgive me or to expect that they will agree to resetting our relationship after I make my amends. It’s very easy to walk into the amends process believing that people should forgive us or should want a relationship with us again, but this is not what making amends is about. The benefit of making amends is freedom from the fear, embarrassment and shame that we have because of our past interactions with others. We should not tie any other expectations to the outcome of our amends. Unmet expectations can many times lead to resentments, and the last thing we want is to have a resentment against somebody we just made amends to.
Do it at the Right Time
I sometimes run across people who have been sober for two or three weeks who announce they are now ready to start making amends. I always caution those people to slow down, the steps are numbered and intended to be worked in order. I cannot think of a scenario to delay someone from beginning the steps, but I do believe it is possible to start making amends too early. I think it is important to have the support of a sponsor and the strong spiritual base the previous steps will build for us before we start to make amends. In addition, there could be other situations as well where perhaps the wounds are too fresh. If this is the case we may want to let emotions cool down before reopening a wound by making amends. The counsel of a sponsor is vital in determining this.
Perhaps even more common though is waiting too long to make amends. I have heard many people speak up in recovery meetings and admit that years have gone by and they still have not finished their amends. It can be very easy to procrastinate when it comes to making amends. The fact is that if you are waiting for the mood to strike you before making your amends, the mood is probably never going to strike you. It is better if you just bite the bullet and decide to knock them out quickly. Challenge yourself to set a date when your amends will be complete and involve your sponsor and accountability group to hold you to it.
Start Living the Promises of Recovery
When it comes to amends I don’t believe that any of the work we do is easy. Confronting ourselves and getting past our pride and admitting we have hurt others is not easy. Confronting others and admitting our wrongs and asking for forgiveness is not easy. It is the promises of recovery that makes all of this worthwhile though. Here are the 9th Step Promises from 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.
Alcoholics Anonymous, pg 83 & 84
First of all, I want to point out that this is referred to as the 9th Step Promises, not “things some people have gotten but experiences may vary”. How often have people been willing to promise such amazing things? Removal of regret about the past, comprehending serenity, feelings of useless or feelings of self-pity going away? Fear of people going away, fear of economic insecurity going away? Where else are you going to find a list of promises like this? This is why we push through the fear of making amends – because we are promised that sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly these things will happen for us if we work for them.