Contributor: W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
“God fully forgives us, but the “karma” of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds that have been broken.”
— Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater; Spirituality and the Twelve Steps,
Making amends and “repairing the bonds that have been broken,” is no small task. In fact, an entire step of the 12 steps is dedicated to simply preparing to make amends. You are not encouraged to rush into this, but to think deeply, prepare thoroughly and become willing. This is not to be rushed through, glossed over, or minimized.
Outside of admitting to another person the exact nature of your wrongs to another human being as directed in Step 5, this is the first step that overtly involves other people. While it would be wrong to assume that the other steps can be done in isolation, they don’t directly mention the involvement of other people, not to mention people you have harmed. This making of “direct amends” as outlined in Step 9 is a steep slope to climb. You better be wearing your climbing boots.
Expect to make amends and expect nothing from others in return
Anna David, in her insightful article posted on thefix.com, writes how her expectations of what would happen during the amends processed were turned upside-down. In Making Amends Was Everything I Least Expected, she states,
I called Lauren first (this was in the days before Caller ID or the demise of landlines):
“Lauren? Hey, it’s Anna.”
“So listen. I’m calling because—“
“Oh, God, don’t tell me this is one of those ‘amends’ type of calls. I just—”
“Please let me—”
“Look, I heard you’re sober and that’s great. But this just isn’t something I’m up for.”
I sat there listening to the dial tone. In all the amends scenarios I’d mentally concocted, having someone—let alone the first person I reached out to—not be willing to hear what I had to say had never occurred to me… My sponsor told me to move on, so I did.
To Peter. Who, well, never called me back. I didn’t realize he wasn’t ever planning to call me back until a week or so after I’d left a voicemail, when our mutual friend told me. “He doesn’t like to revisit the past,” the friend explained. “He said you don’t need to apologize for anything.”
While making amends is about other people and learning to hear how you have harmed them and what they need, it’s also not about other people. Your quest is to make amends. It’s up to them as to whether or not they cooperate.
Making Amends is Not the Same as Reconciliation
There may be some relationships in your life that you hope to restore. These include people your addiction has harmed and \ who chose to step away from you in order to set healthy boundaries in their own lives. These are people you like and respect and hope become involved in your life again.
And they might not.
You may go to someone and make amends. The conversation may go well. They might feel heard and offer you forgiveness.
And they may choose to stay out of your life.
This will be disappointing and painful but, you can’t demand reconciliation. That is an entirely different journey.
Forgiveness is Not the Same as Intimacy
Similarly, experiencing forgiveness does not guarantee intimacy in the relationship. Intimacy takes time. It is built on trust. In one way or another that trust was bruised, bent or shattered through your addiction. It will take time to heal. It may never heal. Seek to give forgiveness to others, seek forgiveness from others. Intimacy can’t happen without it. Neither does it promise its return.
Prepare and Remember
We will explore further in Step Nine the how of making amends. For now you need to prepare to listen well. Some people will need to talk. They will be thankful for the opportunity. They will need you to listen and seek to understand.
Others may avoid you like they did with Anna, and still others may take the opportunity to lay into you, rejoicing in your humbling and finally feeling that they are in a position of power of you.
For you to make it through Step 9, you need to remember two things; you are not a victim and you are not defined by your addiction.
- You are not a victim and you don’t need to endure verbal abuse. You do need initiate making amends. You do need to listen carefully when others tell you how you have hurt them. You do need to avoid being defensive or quarreling with their perspective. And if it become verbally or physically abusive you need to remove yourself from the situation, talk with a counselor or sponsor and then move forward.
- You are not defined by your addiction. You will likely feel overwhelmed by hearing how you have harmed others. There will be an opening for that old voice of self-hatred and shame to creep back in. That same voice that led you to your addiction in the first place. Don’t believe it. You are not defined by your addiction. You are not even defined by how you have hurt others. You are a complex individual, made of strengths and weaknesses, shaped by a multitude of forces and are a vessel of both brokenness and dignity. Hold that in balance.
And hold on tightly.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
How have your efforts to make amends affected you? Were your attempts always well received? If not, how did you work through this time in your recovery?
About the author:
Travis Stewart earned a Master of Arts in Counseling (2001) and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2003), both from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Travis is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri and a writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals. We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 9, 2015, 2015. Published on AddictionHope.com