Dear Fellow Travelers,
Step Eight Essay
"Now we need more action, without which we find that 'Faith without works is dead.' Let's look at Steps Eight and Nine. We have a list of all persons we have harmed and to whom we are willing to make amends. We made it when we took inventory." (AA Big Book, page 76)
Before I begin this essay, I would like to address some issues of interpretation in regard to Step Eight. As in the fourth step, the Big Book and the OA 12 x 12 have vastly different approaches to this step. At the core of this difference is the very definition of "amends" itself. The AA Big Book uses the word in the more classic sense of "to correct" while the OA 12 x 12 holds to the definition "to change." An example that maybe best exemplifies this difference in these approaches would be in a matter of theft. If I stole money from my parents, the AA Big Book would suggest that I approach my parents, confess my wrongdoing, and work out a way to repay what I have stolen. The OA 12 x 12 would suggest that I simply apologize for my wrongdoing and then never do it again. This is what is commonly referred to as "living amends." Most people have found it most helpful that, whenever possible, actual restitution be made for past wrongs and that living amends be used whenever restitution is not possible.
The other primary difference in approach is in the concept of making amends to yourself. There is nothing in AA literature to suggest we should add ourselves to our list of amends, while OA literature thinks we should maybe put ourselves right up there at the top of the list. As in other apparent differences between the programs, I will leave it up to your own conscience and sensibilities and not advocate one over the other.
There are two purposes behind doing Step Eight. The first is the more obvious one - it prepares us to do Step Nine which will go far towards removing the guilt, shame, and resentments that continually lead us back to the food. The second is that it helps us discover the specific patterns of behavior that resulted from our character defects and which caused us to do harm to others. Having done Steps Six and Seven, we have made a lot of progress toward this understanding and Step Eight allows us to see how those patterns have a tendency to repeat themselves throughout our relationships.
Having done a moral inventory, we have the beginnings of our list of harms. We look under that column where we listed our own part we played in our resentments towards others. Taking out a separate piece of paper, we write each persons name down and we list all ways we have harmed that person, putting completely out of mind any justification for our actions or any harms they may have done us. We take each name on the list and let our minds go back and examine in detail our past behaviors, and we list any additional harms we may have done that didn't surface in the moral inventory. We often find that there are many more "subtle" harms we've done them, such as being sullen or rude, insulting, manipulative, etc. We apply these harms to each situation to see if they apply and if so, we add them to the list of the grosser or more obvious harms. We also look for ways we may have used irritability, self-pity, self-righteousness, or other indulgences to control others. If we find some, we add them to the list.
As important as what goes on our harms list, is what DOESN'T go on our harms list. This is an area where it is often quite beneficial to enlist the help of our sponsors. In doing Step Eight, we are only trying to compile a list of actual harms done others. We are not making amends for what "bothers" others. We aren't making amends for just being ourselves. For instance, I may have had a spouse who was bothered by my continued forgetfulness when it came to putting the cap back on the tube of toothpaste. And certainly, an apology wouldn't do any harm, but have I actually done her "harm" by this bad habit of mine? The only way I can consider this a harm is if I did it on purpose just to provoke her anger. If this was true, then I owe her an amends for my behavior.
We also don't owe amends for our "thoughts" about others. I've thought lots of bad things about lots of people, but I don't owe them an amends for these thoughts. In fact, making amends in this regard would do much more harm than good. Going up to someone and telling them that you apologize for thinking they were obnoxious and that they dressed funny is not quite in the spirit of intent behind these steps. : ) Again, if I allowed these thoughts to progress to an actual harm, such as in gossiping or adverse treatment, then an amends is owed.
Now, having completed our list of harms to others, comes what is for some the most difficult part of this step. We are now expected to become willing to make these amends. Many have found it helpful to take their list and break it down into three columns.
1. Those who we will have no problems making amends to.
2. Those who we will find it difficult to make amends to.
3. Those we intend on never making amends to.
The concept behind this approach is that by doing the amends in the first column, and then the second column, we will have achieved a higher willingness to begin approaching those in the third column. This has worked well for many people.
Our biggest blocks to making amends to those in the third column is usually resentments and an unwillingness to forgive them for their own actions. As talked about in the Big Book, resentment is the number one offender and is the one thing most likely to cause our return to compulsive overeating. Resentments can literally kill us and it is imperative that we find some way to get past them so that we can make amends and clean our own side of the street. But how can we find this willingness? How do you find willingness to forgive and make amends to a husband or parent that has abused you for so many years? How do you forgive those who have done you far more harm than you ever did them?
Page 552 in the Big Book gives a very specific answer to this question and in all my years in the program, I have yet to see it fail if done diligently.....
"If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T REALLY WANT IT FOR THEM, AND YOUR PRAYERS ARE ONLY WORDS AND YOU DON'T MEAN IT, GO AHEAD AND DO IT ANYWAY. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love." (AABB, page 552)
The capitalization is mine, but I felt that this idea was important enough that it was warranted. The way to willingness is through action, not through thought. This brings it to a point where, in the text, it talks about faith without works being dead. I don't discount the value of counseling and therapy to help heal the wounds behind these resentments, but the focus of such therapy is usually on self-value and personal worth and not on the action of forgiveness and making amends. The importance of having a concrete action we can take in bringing about a willingness to make amends, and that it isn't even important for us to actually mean it when we take this action, should not be minimized. It is a tool that has withstood many tests.
Are you now ready to make these amends on your list? Are there some that you find yourself unwilling to make? Are you now ready to begin the oft dreaded, but oh so satisfying ninth step, or do you have some work to do to bring about that necessary willingness?