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“The readiness to take the full consequences of our past acts, and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same time, is the very spirit of Step Nine.”
– Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 83
At this point in our step work we may be trudging the road to happy destiny, but we’ve reached the point where we must repair what we left behind us on a path of shattered relationships. As active addicts and alcoholics, we likely lied, cheated, or stole in order to get, use (and hide using) our drug of choice… because addiction creates absolute moral wreckage.
Step Nine of AA Alcoholics Anonymous is the perfect time to let go of the horrible way we feel about our past and to radically repair relationships. In my experience, walking around with the weight of amends that need to be taken care of really sucks. More importantly, living with the left over guilt and shame from past wrongdoings prevents us from moving forward and puts us at risk for using again!
You’ve probably already discovered that by staying clean and sober and by working the Twelve Steps of AA that things are getting better. That’s because we are getting better. Becoming a ”better person” means that we are less willing to engage in destructive behaviors, mostly because we are aware of how much they cost us in human misery. That self-centeredness is replaced by an awareness of other people, and instead of being indifferent, we begin to care. Where we were selfish, we begin to be selfless. Where we were angry, we begin to be forgiving.
So what is Step Nine of AA Alcoholics Anonymous? Step Nine is that biggie step, the one we likely have created some anxiety over because it involves making amends.
It is suggested that we make direct amends to people whenever possible. What does that mean? There are three kinds of amends:
Direct Amends – taking personal responsibility for your actions and confronting the person who you would like to reconcile with.
Indirect Amends – finding ways torepair damage that cannot be reversed or undone by doing things like volunteering and helping others.
Living Amends – when you show others as well as yourself that you have made a genuine lifestyle change and are making a commitment to yourself and those that you have hurt that you will & have discarded your previous destructive behaviors.
We have already begun making amends to ourselves by changing some of our behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. The part of the amends process whereby we change ourselves has an effect on everyone around us and goes on long after we’ve spoken directly to someone we have harmed.
When it comes to making amends to others, there are usually a lot of fears and expectations involved. We may be afraid about making financial amends, or afraid of rejection, retaliation and a host of other doubtful outcomes. However, making amends doesn’t always have to be a nerve-racking, dreadful or joyless experience. In fact, maybe you’ll find that you feel excited about the possibility of healing a relationship or happily anticipating the relief you will feel after having made a particularly scary amends or even paying off a debt. There is freedom that is gained by cleaning up the past, a freedom to live peacefully in the present.
To keep things as simple as possible, you can get your head in the game by focusing on the purpose of the Ninth Step. Keep in mind the three concepts or “The Three R’s” of the Ninth Step that are associated with making amends:
Restoration, Resolution and Restitution.
Restoration means bringing something back to its former state, usually things that have been damaged. This can mean restoring our reputations, and even restoring trust in a relationship.
Resolution as recovering addicts, means we likely have past experiences that plague us or disturb us in some way. Finding a resolution to these problems means coming up with answers and solutions and laying them to rest.
Restitution as it relates to the Ninth Step is the act of returning something material (or abstract) to its rightful owner.
Our sponsors can help us explore each of these concepts so that we gain perspective on the nature of our specific amends and stay focused on what we’re supposed to be doing. The key is that we keep the focus on ourselves and our “side of the street,” so to speak.
Even though we may be eager to rip the Band-Aid off and get an amend over and done with, it’s important that we are not impulsive or careless as we attempt to make amends! Some thought and planning needs to go into it for the best possible outcome. On the flipside of the same AA coin, it is equally important that you don’t procrastinate making amends. Why? Because, based on experience, many recovering individuals have relapsed when they allowed their fears to keep them from doing Step Nine. Dr. Bob, one of our original founders could not stay sober until he went around town and made amends to all those he had hurt.
As with all of our previous step work, it’s important to be realistic: Completing your Ninth Step cannot be neatly contained within a particular time frame. We don’t finish our Eighth Step list and then immediately start crossing off “completed” amends like we would for items on a shopping list. In fact, some of our amends may never be done and our efforts may continue throughout our recovery. The truth is, that every day that we make an effort to refrain from hurting our families, friends, co-workers and even strangers- and try to practice loving behavior with them, is a day when we’ve continued our amends. Even such seemingly concrete amends as paying a past-due debt aren’t necessarily done once and for all when the debt is paid off. Continuing to pay off debts, refraining from lying, stealing or cheating will be an ongoing Ninth Step practice in our lives.
Life is complicated and not always straightforward or black and white. Therefore some Step Nine amends may take a little creativity and patience. Working this stepshould never lead to the further harm of others.
There may be times when approaching another person directly or seeking to provide restitution could be painful or harmful for that person. For example, there may be a situation where the person (or people) we’ve harmed are not aware of what we did, and learning about it might possibly harm them even more. Or there could be situations that were complicated by other addicts, or accusations of stealing more than just money. There are so many kinds of situations and they all need to be taken into consideration on an individual basis.
Again, our sponsor can help us decide how best to handle each one. They can help us check our motives for wanting to tell people about our addiction or for apologizing. You may want to ask yourself if that person really needs to know? And if so, what good purpose would be served by sharing such information?
When discussing our amends list with our sponsors, if we are open-minded, we can start to think about these kinds of situations in ways we haven’t thought about them before. In fact we usually discover that what we first thought was the obvious method of making amends, might not be right after all.
Step Nine Spiritual Principles: Always A Good Day For Humble Pie
“Humility leads to strength and not to weakness. It is the highest form of self-respect to admit mistakes and make amends for them.”
– John. J. McCloy
Humility is the freedom from pride or arrogance and having the quality or state of being humble. In the Ninth Step, we will focus on the spiritual principles of humility, forgiveness and love.
We gain humility as a result of taking a good look at the damage we did to others (and ourselves) and accepting responsibility for it. After acknowledging to ourselves what we’ve done, we take responsibility for making it right. There is nothing quite like experiencing increased humility while making amends in your Ninth Step and recognizing the self-empowerment and self-love that comes with it.
While doing our amends and experiencing being forgiven, we begin to see the value in extending it to others. It feels good to practice forgiveness and just let go of resentment! Positive reinforcement is a great motivator to practice the spiritual principle of forgiveness as much as possible. By forgiving others we start to recognize our own humanness, and it gives us the capacity to be less judgmental than we were in the past. We become aware that since we usually mean well, we can extend that belief to others. It’s interesting to note, that when someone does actually harm us, we’ve learned that holding resentments only serves to rob us of our own peace and serenity, so we tend to forgive them sooner rather than later. It’s good stuff.
Practicing the spiritual principle of love is something we’ve been doing throughout our recovery just by staying clean and sober. By Step Nine, we’ve eliminated many of the destructive attitudes, perspectives and feelings we used to have, which makes room for love in our lives. As we become filled with love, we find the need to share it in the form of nurturing our relationships, building new ones and by selflessly sharing our recovery, our time and our resources with others in need.
Guilt and shame are the unnecessary chains that bind us to our past. By practicing these spiritual principles we can break those chains and achieve the freedom from our addiction that we have yearned for.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the steps are written in a specific order for a reason. That reason is that each step provides the spiritual preparation we’ll need for the following steps. This is so blatantly apparent in the Ninth Step. Never in a million years would we ever have imagined during our using days that we would one day be able to sit down with the people we’ve harmed and make direct amends! This would not be possible without the spiritual preparation we received from the previous steps.
If we had not done the work in the first eight steps, we wouldn’t now have a foundation on which to stand while we make our amends. If we had not developed a relationship with a Higher Power, we wouldn’t now have the faith and trust that we definitely need to work Step Nine! If we had not done our Fourth and Fifth Steps, we would probably still be so confused about our own personal responsibility, we wouldn’t know specifically what we’re making amends for. If we hadn’t developed humility in the Sixth and Seventh Steps we’d likely approach our amends with self-righteousness, blame or anger. Our Eighth Step list was our practical preparation for working Step Nine. As we go into this step we must remember to stay connected to a higher power and have faith that the previous eight steps have prepared us to work the Ninth Step.
Step Nine Questions And Guidelines
There are a lot of fearful feelings before, during and after making amends in the ninth step. While working step nine it’s really important to understand that the way things feel is not necessarily the way things are. Because we are feeling afraid we assume that this means we truly have something to fear. But this is not fact. To prepare for this step it’s a good idea to let go of all our expectations about how our amends will or should turn out.
Here are some questions to help guide you through working Step Nine:
Do you want to be free? Well, there are no half measures, and it ain’t easy… if it were easy, everyone would be doing it! It takes strength and courage to own up to our mistakes, and when necessary, make restitutions. It is another rewarding part of our recovery journey and brings us closer to the gift of freedom.
Many of us find it helpful to reflect on our amends after making each one. Some of us do this by writing about how it felt to make the amends and what we learned from the experience.
Living our Ninth Step requires that we try not to incur new debts, new wrongdoings or misdeeds. Avoiding such future liabilities is just as much a part of our amends process as making regular payments on past-due debts. This actually means we’re ready for the Tenth Step!
“Freedom” seems to be the word that most clearly describes the essence of Step Nine. It seems to sum up the relief from guilt and shame, the lessening of our obsession with “self”, and the increased ability to appreciate what’s really going on all around us. We may even start to think of our past as a gold mine of experiences to share with other people we’re trying to help in recovery, instead of as a period of darkness that we regret. We stop thinking about our lives in terms of what we don’t have and begin to appreciate the gifts that we receive every single day. And finally, we are very aware that in order to keep this feeling of freedom, we’ll need to keep on applying what we’ve learned while working the steps. One day at a time. When we do this this we gain a new perspective and the promises of the Ninth Step come true in our lives. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
The Ninth Step Promises
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.
– Big Book pages 83 & 84
Guilt for our wrongs can be one of the most deceptive recovery demons to bear because it damages us from the inside, where it happily hides. Get rid of that guilt; apologize, make your amends and let go of them.