Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 9

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By Scott Brassart

Last week, we discussed how to work step 8 of the 12 steps, along with the benefits of working that step. This week, our focus logically moves to step 9.

Step 9 reads as follows:

Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

After working step 8, you should have a list of people you have harmed and you should be willing to make amends to them all. If so, then you are ready to work step 9. Step 9 should not be undertaken without first consulting your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Period. No exceptions. Do not jump into step 9 without the assistance and supervision of a mentor who has already worked his or her own step 9.

In all likelihood, your advisor will ask you to share with him or her your step 8 in detail, asking you about your goals in making amends, how you plan to perform your amends, and when you plan to make them. This person, having already worked step 9, understands that timing and prudence are much more valuable to you at this point than sheer enthusiasm, and he or she can therefore guide you judiciously through the process.

It is important to understand that making direct amends is not always a good idea. That is why the second half of step 9 reads “except when to do so would injure them or others.” It may be that the harm you have done to someone is so severe that simply seeing you again would cause that person great consternation. In such cases, you should probably not attempt a direct amends. It may be that the person you have harmed is unaware of your behavior, and simply making them aware will cause them significant pain. Again, a direct amends may not be the best course of action. It is also possible that approaching someone and admitting your behavior could stir up the proverbial hornets’ nest, putting your job or freedom in jeopardy, which might in turn injure your loved ones—especially if you are your family’s primary breadwinner. In such cases, direct amends should only be undertaken after much careful consideration by you and your advisor, plus consultation with anyone else (especially family members) who might be affected. Sometimes an indirect amends, being aware of what you have done and working hard to live differently in the future, is the best that you can do.

Most of the time, however, a direct amends can and should be made. In such instances, your advisor can help to ensure that you are making the right amends for the harm done. Sometimes, just admitting your bad behavior and saying, “I’m sorry, and I’m working hard to behave differently in the future,” is sufficient. Other times, you may need to repay, or promise to repay, money that is owed—along with your apology and an assertion that you are changing your behavior. In all cases, an amends is more than just an apology; the most important part of any amends is the follow-up of not making the same mistake again.

Not surprisingly, step 9 is among the scariest steps in recovery. The prospect of approaching people you have wronged, admitting what you’ve done, apologizing and making restitution when appropriate, and then living differently in the future is, at best, daunting. However, making amends is rarely difficult. Nearly everyone is receptive to a genuinely sincere effort. Sometimes a person you’ve long held resentments against will use the opportunity to make their own amends to you. Usually, at worst, others will appreciate the effort you are making toward setting things right.

It is possible, however, that a person to whom you are making an amends will not be receptive. This occurs only rarely, but it does sometimes happen. The person may distrust your motives, the person may be so angry with you that he or she just can’t accept your apology and attempts at restitution, or the person may have an emotional or psychological issue that prevents him or her from behaving as most others do. This is that person’s prerogative, and it is not a reason for you to deviate from your course. You make your amends anyway. After all, this is your recovery, not theirs.

For many recovering addicts, step 9 is a key stride on the road to lasting recovery and a life changed for the better. In fact, this change for the better occurs so often that the book Alcoholics Anonymous lists what are commonly called “The Promises” at the conclusion of step 9. The Promises, as delineated by AA, read as follows:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway 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.

For many people, it is helpful and comforting to do a promises check-in after completing step 9. Nearly always, some or even all of the promises have come true, at least to a certain extent. Seeing this tangible proof that the 12 steps really do work is a great incentive for continued sobriety and step-work.

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In next week’s post to this site, we will continue our discussion of the 12 steps with an examination of step 10.