Dear Fellow Travelers,
Step Nine Essay
"Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven't the will to do this, we ask until it comes." (AABB, page 76)
We have our list of all people we have harmed and have made progress towards developing a willingness to make amends to them. We may have divided our list into different categories, those we are willing to make right away, those we are hesitating about, and those we don't yet have a willingness to make. It is important, however, to not let those harms on that third list stand in the way of our making amends in the other two. Many of us have found that, as a result of having worked the previous steps, we may have already begun making our amends. As we grew spiritually and emotionally, making some of these amends had become almost instinctual.
Why is doing Step Nine important to our recovery? Certainly, a part of it is to set things right and to put our lives in order, to remove the shame, guilt, and excessive remorse that will eventually lead us back to the food. But ultimately, our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to our Higher Power and the people around us. Many people have put this step off and the consequences have been catastrophic. Many of the promises we discuss in this program of recovery are dependent on beginning this step.
This step is one of those where having frequent access to a sponsor is most desirable. Being human and also unable to be objective in these matters, it is helpful to have someone help you determine if making your amend will actually do harm to others. In the spirit of our new found recovery, we can be overzealous in the making of our amends and may quite inadvertently, do more harm than good. We have created enough wreckage in our lives already, we have no right to soothe our conscience at the expense of others.
One of the more common situations where this is most evident is in cases of extramarital affairs. If you have cheated on your spouse and your spouse is unaware of your indiscretion, should you confess to them? Maybe or maybe not, but you should first take into account whether your revelation will do more harm to your spouse than you have already done. If you can honestly say that such a confession will do real harm, then this is where "living amends" come into play. In circumstances such as these, a change in our behavior is the most appropriate amend. If your spouse already knows or suspects, then coming clean in this regard may be best. But again, we must be sure that our tale holds no potential to harm anyone, including that person you had the affair with. Telling your spouse who you had the relationship with, if she didn't already know for certain, puts this third person at risk of harm, and again, we have no right to do so, no matter how angry our spouse may become that we refuse to divulge this information.
There are other situations when the potential harms to others must be weighed. For instance, if our amends put us at risk of arrest or incarceration, we must look to see if others will be involved. If you had a partner involved and your confessing will put them at risk, we must first secure their consent before making the amends. Or, if we are the support for our family and our admission will remove this means of support, then we must gain their permission. We must not be confused though, and begin to consider our own selfish need to avoid harm to ourselves. The text is clear that we are not to avoid making these amends due to our own embarrassment or discomfort.
Also, we are not making amends for our feelings, but only for our actions. To go to someone we have disliked and telling them so is not an amends that needs to be made. If our feelings about this person have not resulted in any harm, then we do not make disparaging remarks under the guise of cleaning our own side of the street.
Remember that what we are doing is attempting to set things right. This point is often obscured by our own personal need to be or feel forgiven, but the making of amends has nothing to do with being forgiven. We will find, in many instances of making amends, that forgiveness is offered us and for these times, we can be so very grateful. But it is important that we not have this as our goal and that we not ask it of those we are making amends to. To say "I'm so sorry, will you ever forgive me?" is pure selfishness and is self-centered to the extreme, and must be avoided at all costs.
So, with the help of our sponsor, we examine each of the harms on our list and devise our plan for making an amends. If a straightforward apology is warranted, we go directly to that person and make it. We own up to our own wrongdoing and avoid using their own behavior to justify why we did it. We are never, under any circumstances, to blame our actions on them, even if the harms they have done us far outweigh the harms we have done them. If we owe them money or reparations in any form, we take care of it. If we owe them more than we cay pay now, we make arrangements with them to do so in the future. We tell them why we are doing this. We don't hide our condition from them although they probably already know since many of us carry out disease quite visibly. We don't stress the spiritual aspect of our program unless the person expresses a willingness to hear about it.
In some cases, seeing them face to face may cause them even more discomfort or distress, and when we encounter this, we devise alternate strategies. Sometimes a letter is more appropriate. This use of letter writing is also frequently employed in those cases where the person we owe amends to is no longer alive. Some of us have written these letters and read them aloud in a place where we are reminded of that person. A ceremonious destruction of the letter afterwards can often help bring about closure and a sense of relief. We may have done some harms in our past that are irreparable. If so, we do the best we can to make it right and take some comfort in knowing that we would make it right if we could. If nothing else, we remember the primary purpose of doing this step and look for ways of using our experiences in the matter to reach out and help others who may be struggling with the same or similar situations.
We continue making the amends on our list wherever possible. Some may take time, but we remain willing and when the opportunity presents itself, we act on it. For many of us, making amends is a lifelong process. If we run into unwillingness on our amends, we ask our HP for the willingness and we continue to ask for it until we find ourselves able to make the amends.
Here are the promises from the Big Book:
"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." (AABB, page 83-84)