Step 9 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous reads as follows:
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
At this point in the recovery process, people who are working through the twelve steps must begin to repair strained and broken relationships actively. Alcoholics are not known for their honesty or their outstanding consideration for the people around them. Instead, alcoholics can be very deceptive, and often exhibit little concern for others as they engage in destructive patterns of behavior. They continue to act in this way because addiction, in part, leads people to fail morally at times.
Step 9 AA is the ideal time to let go of our past mistakes and to actively repair troubled relationships. Living with the weight of the need to make amends is not fun and holds us back. More importantly, living with the guilt and shame we have accumulated from past wrongdoings hinders us from moving forward and places us at risk for relapse.
If we are to improve ourselves as people, we need to avoid destructive behaviors actively. We do this not just for ourselves, but also because we are now aware of how our actions have affected others. An awareness of others replaces our selfishness and self-centeredness. What’s more, instead of being apathetic, we start to really care about them and want to make amends.
A Closer Look at Step 9 AA and Making Amends
Step 9 may be the most daunting for many people and can result in a great deal of anxiety and fear. Many addicts dread facing other people and avoid dealing with their emotions.
There are three forms of amends:
Direct amends, which involve taking personal responsibility for one’s actions and directly confronting the person with whom one wishes to reconcile. Alcoholics Anonymous recommends that we make direct amends to those we have hurt whenever possible.
This type of amends likely involves apologies and ensuring that the other person understands that their loved one is deeply committed to recovery. It also requires open communication and a desire on the part of the alcoholic to understand the other person’s feelings on the matter fully.
Indirect amends are a conscious act of helping others when one cannot reverse the damage he or she has caused. This type of amends has a sort of giving-back-to-the-community feel, in which the person in recovery seeks to make up for wrongs by offering his or herself up for the benefit of others. Activities may include volunteer work, becoming an AA sponsor, or donating money to important causes.
Living amends is a bit different than making amends, per se. It means being committed to a completely new, sober lifestyle, both for oneself and for those that have been harmed by one’s past behavior. It means inciting positive change through healthy and honest behavior and actions in addition to remaining sober. It more or less means amending how life is lived and positively and productively engaging with the rest of the world.
Instead of apologizing then repeating destructive behavior, it is far better to commit to living a sober and healthy life. To do so, commitment to never returning to former habits that have hurt those in one’s life is required. Living amends means continuing to improve relationships with a focused effort.
By now, people who have reached this step have begun making amends to themselves by altering unhealthy behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. This act in and of itself can be challenging and scary. However, when faced with the responsibility of confronting others, a person working this step may experience an enormous level of fear and expectation. There is often the fear of rejection or retaliation, or, as noted, having to deal with the emotional impact of making direct amends.
You must realize, however, that making amends doesn’t always have to be a nerve-racking, stressful experience. It’s possible to be excited and hopeful about healing a relationship and finding relief from the emotional damage it has caused. Freedom can be achieved by letting go of the past and moving into a more peaceful existence in the present.
It’s not uncommon for people working this step to be eager to get this process over with. However, it’s crucial to avoid being impulsive or careless when attempting to make things right. Considerable thought and planning are needed to work toward the best possible outcome.
It is also just as important to avoid putting off making amends. Many people in recovery have relapsed after they allowed their fears to keep them from completing step 9. And it’s also important to be realistic—there is no set timeline for completing this step. In fact, some amends will remain ongoing for some time, requiring long-term effort or never truly being completed.
What’s more, every time we make efforts to refrain from hurting those close to us, we have continued to make amends. These efforts might entail much more than just being sober. Alcoholics tend to incur financial, legal, and emotional consequences that have to be dealt with. And unfortunately, the time it may take to address all these problems is indefinite.
When Making Amends Could Cause Harm
Making amends can sometimes require us to step back an examine how our revelations could adversely affect others. Making amends should never lead to further harm being inflicted upon others. There may be situations in which contacting another person directly could be painful or cause harm to that person in some way.
For instance, there may be a situation in which the person or persons we’ve harmed are not aware of it, and learning about it could harm them even more. Or there could be situations that involve other addicts or people who enabled the alcoholic, and, in coming clean, these people could get into trouble. Many types of situations may need careful consideration.
An AA sponsor can help others identify the best way to handle various scenarios and individuals when going through the process of making amends. They can help us examine our motives for confronting them with our addiction, wrongdoings, and apologizing. Does that person really need to know? What purpose is served by sharing this information?
The Essence of Step 9 AA
Giving and accepting love is something that needs to be done throughout recovery in addition to remaining sober. At this point, we should have eliminated many of the destructive behavior, attitudes, and feelings from which we used to suffer. In doing so, we are paving the way to let love, respect, and honesty back into our lives.
Guilt and shame are emotions that hold us in the past if we don’t deal with our issues and right the wrongs we have done to others. Through love and spirituality, we can free ourselves from the emotional anchor that weighs us down and begin to enjoy the freedom from addiction that we have sought for so long.
Getting Help for Addiction
By becoming a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship, millions of people yearly are promoting sustainable sobriety by using the support of peers and accountability. However, it is vital to note that 12-step programs and other support groups are most effective in early recovery when used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
Such programs, such as those offered by Recovery By The Sea, include evidence-based services proven to be essential for the process of recovery. These services include, but are not limited to, psychotherapy, counseling, and aftercare planning.
We urge those who are suffering from alcoholism or addiction to seek help as soon as possible. Contact us today to discuss treatment options and discover how we help people reclaim their lives back from addiction once and for all!