This post continues our 12 step guide series. In this article, we’ll provide information and advice to help complete step 9 of AA: “Made amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Step 9 in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous is often one of the most satisfying when completed. But that doesn’t make it any easier to complete. After all, you are being prompted to address the very people who you hurt the most to ask for forgiveness. In many cases, humbling yourself can be hard, and you may believe that forgiveness might not be possible. But to successfully complete this step of your recovery, it is necessary. With a little courage, judgement, a sense of the correct timing, and some prudence, you might just be surprised at how it all comes together.
The Moment of Truth
In step 8 of AA, we made a list of all the people we’ve harmed with our drinking and using behavior. We worked the previous steps in order to prepare ourselves to move forward. Every single step that came before was necessary to bring us to this moment, and this, in a sense, is the moment of truth. Step 9 of AA now asks us to take our list and act on it, making amends or restitution to every single person who we’ve harmed. Even though the instructions are fairly straight-forward, the final condition of the step suggests otherwise: “… except when to do so would injure them…” This statement is very significant, as we shall see when we begin mapping out what we need to do.
Divide Your List into Four Parts
Armed with the list you made in step 8, go through every single name and decide:
- Those who need amends to be made right away. These could be people in your immediate family, co-workers, or those who have been most consistently affected by your behavior—essentially, those closest to you.
- Those who you will only partially be able to make amends to, for the moment. These may include people who you owe money or something else tangible. For instance, you may not be able to get your job back, but you can at least make an effort to let those involved know that you are taking steps toward recovery.
- Those who you cannot approach at the moment but will need to in the future. These individuals or organizations may not see initial efforts as ‘enough’ to undo the wrongs done. You can revisit these when you have some months or years in the program under your belt. Just don’t forget them.
- Those who you cannot directly approach. In this case, you might decide to write a letter detailing your regrets, even knowing that it may never reach the intended person. You could make a donation in their name to a charity or do something nice for someone in their family.
Do No Harm
The two guiding principles in step 9 are to not be careless or injurious to others and to not procrastinate. You need to fulfill this aspect of your recovery before you can safely move on to the next step in the program.
In some situations, it is possible that by admitting your wrongs and owning up to your part in the damage that has been caused may land you (or others) in deeper trouble. This might be the case if the actions were illegal or otherwise injurious. You wouldn’t want to reveal an adulterous affair to your best friend, for instance, if the result might be that the marriage would be ruined. You may also be in a position of owing money that was misappropriated during your drinking and using, and to admit as much might cost you your job. Eventually, you should repay this, but you need to weigh the consequences of doing so and be willing to accept the results, whatever they might be. There is no blanket answer to help you through this particular dilemma, but your AA sponsor, your higher power, and ultimately, your own sense of readiness will be your guide.
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