STEP NINE, PART 1
My name is Shlomo and I am a food addict and compulsive overeater.
It is time to heal our relations with the world around us, which means
setting things right with my fellow human beings and getting rid of my fear, guilt, remorse and shame in the process.
So let us have a look at step 9:
"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when
to do so would injure them or others."
First some definitions:
Direct -- face to face
Make amends -- repair the damage done in the past
Wherever -- in whichever situation or place.
Them or others -- NOT me.
So step nine is about meeting people face to face in order to repair the
damage I caused by my harmful actions. It is important to emphasize
that making the amends face to face is our first priority, since unless
we meet with someone face to face, we will never be quite sure that
we have done our outmost to make amends to that person. Meeting that person
frees us of the fear of confronting him, which may remain if the amends
are made by phone or by a letter. Using a phone or a letter should be
considered only if making amends face to face is impossible, as when he
lives thousands of miles away, or the only way to reach him is through a
post office box, or he just plain refuses to meet with us.
Now let us turn to the Big Book, which gives quite explicit
instructions on carrying out step 9.
"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." page 76.
So in step nine we are told to meet the people we have hurt face to face,
and repair the damage done in the past. This is not just about saying
we are sorry, though this can be part of it. We have to repair the
damage to the best of our ability. The damage was caused by living a life directed by our self-will run riot.
The Big Book also tells us what is the main purpose of our amends.
"At the moment we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." page 77.
Putting our life in order is important, but in order to recover we have
to carry out our step 3 decision to turn to God in all things, and
let Him direct us. Being of service to God and people takes me out of
my self-centeredness, which is the root of my illness.
The Big Book tells us that nice words are not enough. When making
amends, we have to have a sincere desire to repair the damage we have
done and act to repair it. Action speaks louder than words.
"... our man is sure to be impressed with a sincere desire to set
right the wrong. He is going to be more interested in
a demonstration of good will than in our talk of spiritual
discoveries." page 77.
Next the Big Book gives us very clear cut directions on how to make
amends in different cases. What to say, what not to say, and how to
The first case that is discussed are people we hate. Those are usually
people who have hurt us too, and sometimes even more than we have hurt them.
"The question of how to approach the man we hated will arise.
It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and,
though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are
still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless,
with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth.
It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find
it much more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful
and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and
expressing our regret.
"Under no condition do we criticize
such a person or argue... We are there to sweep off our side
of the street, realizing that nothing worthwhile can be
accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what
he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own."
In this example we deal with the emotional harm we caused.
We meet the person face to face and express our sincere regret.
There is a difference between expressing regret and asking for
forgiveness. By asking for forgiveness we demand something from
the other person that he may not want to give. We have no right to put the other person under any obligation to us,
since we are dealing only with repairing the damage that WE have
done. We are here to sweep off only our side of the street.
Therefore even if that person harmed us, we talk only of what we did.
We don't argue with him, we don't criticize him, we don't tell him what
to do, and we don't discuss his defects and the harm he did to us.
The person we make amends to may react favorably which is very nice.
But he may also react unfavorably which is his prerogative, since he
is under no obligation to us. The Big book puts it this way.
" It should not matter, however, if someone does throw us out of his office.
We have made our demonstration, done our part. It's water over the dam."
If that person does not accept our amends it is his business , not ours.
We have tried our best to set things straight. We did our part, we don't
have to do it again or ask him to accept our amends, since we are not trying
to tell him what to do. We can consider our amends to this person to be
done and finished.
The next example that the Big Book deals with, is being in debt.
"We do not dodge our creditors... Arranging the best deal we can
we let these people know we are sorry. We must lose our fear of
creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable
to eat compulsively if we are afraid to face them." page 78.
We have to go through our fear and make some arrangement that we can live
with. We pay each week or month on account till we finish our debt.
As soon as we make arrangements and start repaying people, our fears
associated with our debts and those people will usually disappear.
We don't have to worry about coming into contact with those people
anymore because we have already talked with them and worked things out.
Next we come to examples of criminal offences like stealing, or not
paying alimony, which may sometimes land us in jail or cause us to
lose our job.
"Perhaps we have committed a criminal offense which might land us in
jail if it were known to the authorities. We may be short in our
accounts and unable to make good. We have already admitted this
in confidence to another person [in step 5], but we are sure we
would be imprisoned or lose our job if it were known.
Maybe it's only a petty offense such as padding the expense account...
Maybe we are divorced, and have remarried but haven't kept up
the alimony to number one. She is indignant about it, and has
a warrant out for our arrest.
"Although these reparations take
innumerable forms, there are some general principles which
we find guiding. Reminding ourselves that we have decided
to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we
be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter
what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or
reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be.
We must not shrink at anything." pages 78-79.
Sometimes people mistakenly think that if by making amends they may
cause harm to themselves, than they don't have to make amends since step
nine says "except when to do so would injure them or others," and they try
to put themselves into the others category. The Big Book emphasizes very clearly that this is not a valid excuse to avoid making amends. We have to make the amends and take
our medicine no matter what will happen to us.
Are there any extenuating circumstances you may ask? Yes there are!
If by making amends we go to jail or loose our job, and thus cause
harm to people who are dependent on us like our family for example, than we
cannot make the amends until we get their permission.
"Usually, however, other people are involved. Therefore, we are not to
be the hasty and foolish martyr who would needlessly sacrifice others to
save himself from the alcoholic [compulsive eating] pit...
"Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people, we secure
their consent. If we have obtained permission, have consulted with
others, asked God to help and the drastic step is indicated we must
not shrink." page 79-80.
The next example has to do with sexual conduct.
A husband having an affair with another woman, or a wife having an
affair with another man.
"The chances are that we have domestic troubles. Perhaps we are mixed
up with women in a fashion we wouldn't care to have advertised.
We doubt if, in this respect, alcoholics [compulsive eaters] are
fundamentally much worse that other people. But drinking [compulsive eating]
does complicate sex relations in the home... Perhaps he is having
a secret and exciting affair with 'the girl who understands.'
In fairness we must say that she may understand, but what are we
going to do about a thing like that? A man so involved often feels
very remorseful at times, especially if he is married to a loyal and
courageous girl who has literally gone through hell for him.
"Whatever the situation, we usually have to do something about it.
If we are sure our wife does not know, should we tell her?
Not always, we think. If she knows in a general way that we
have been wild, should we tell her in detail? Undoubtedly we
should admit our fault. She may insist on knowing all the particulars.
She will want to know who the woman is and where she is. We feel we
ought to say to her that we have no right to involve another person.
We are sorry for what we have done and, God willing, it shall not be
repeated. More than that we cannot do; we have no right to go further.
Though there may be justifiable exceptions, and though we wish to lay
down no rule of any sort, we have often found this the best course to take.
"Our design for living is not a one-way street. It is as good for the
wife as for the husband. If we can forget, so can she. It is better,
however, that one does not needlessly name a person upon whom she
can vent jealousy.
"Perhaps there are some cases where the utmost
frankness is demanded. No outsider can appraise such an intimate situation.
It may be that both will decide that the way of good sense and loving kindness is to let by-gones be by-gones. Each might pray about it,
having the other one's happiness uppermost in mind. Keep it always
in sight that we are dealing with that most terrible human emotion,
jealousy. Good generalship may decide that the problem be attacked
on the flank rather than risk a face-to-face combat." pages 80-82.
The Big Book is very careful about sexual conduct and does not give
definite instructions, since such situations may be very complicated,
and only the persons involved with the help of H.P., may resolve the
problem one way or another. What is most important is not to cause
harm to others by making the amends.
It is clear that if the marriage should be given a chance to continue
than the affair must stop.
But can we tell the spouse about our affair?
If she does not know about it we may hurt her very much by telling,
and hurt other family members too. So in such cases we cannot tell
her about it. If she knows about our affair in general, we probably should tell her,
but not involve the other man/woman in order not to hurt them.
We may discuss things with our sponsor or another suitable person, but
the final decision on how to make the amends in a way that does not
harm others rests with us and H.P.
Now we come to an example of making amends to family members that
live with us. Here making face to face amends is not enough.
We have to make what is known as living amends.
"... there is plenty we should do at home. Sometimes we hear an
alcoholic [compulsive eater] say that the only thing he needs to do
is to keep sober [abstinent]. Certainly he must keep sober [abstinent]...
But he is yet a long way from making good to the wife or parents [or
"We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety [abstinence] is
enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home
ruined. To his wife, he remarked, 'Don't see anything the matter here, Ma.
Ain't it grand the wind stopped blowin'?'
"Yes, there is a long period of
reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling
that we are sorry won't fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down
with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it,
being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring,
but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible.
So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation
that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and
"The spiritual life is not a theory. WE HAVE TO LIVE IT. Unless one's
family expresses a desire to live upon spiritual principles we think we
ought not to urge them. We should not talk incessantly to them about
spiritual matters. They will change in time. Our behavior will convince them
more than our words. We must remember that ten or twenty years of
drunkenness [compulsive eating] would make a skeptic out of anyone." pages 82-83.
Making living amends to our family means that we have to live our
life in a way that does not hurt them again. We have to exercise
patience, tolerance, kindness and love and ask God to help us do it.
This period of reconstruction (living amends) will last a long time.
Probably as long as we live together.
An important point to notice is not to try to make our family live
according to our newly found spiritual principles. The best way to
convince others is to be an example of living according to
those principles and let others decide what suits them. The Big Book also gives us a living amends prayer to be practiced each morning.
"God, please show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love."
Next the Big Book tells us that we cannot always complete all our amends.
"There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don't worry
about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right
them if we could. Some people cannot be seen - we send them an honest
letter. And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases.
But we don't delay if it can be avoided. We should be sensible,
tactful, considerate and humble without being servile or scraping.
As God's people we stand on our feet; we don't crawl before anyone." page 83.
So some amends may be genuinely postponed or avoided. But what's important
is that we are sincerely WILLING to make those amends right now, even though actually doing so might not be possible. If I can say to myself that I'd set things straight if I could, and really mean it, then I have done my part and I don't have to worry about the situation.
The Big Book emphasizes that when making amends we should be
tactful, considerate, and humble but we should not be servile or
scraping or beg for forgiveness. As God's children we don't crawl
before anyone. If someone does not accept my amends
I can say to myself that I have done my best, and now I can move on.
His not accepting the amends is his problem not mine.
The question sometimes arises: "What about amends to myself?" The best thing I can do to make amends to myself is to relieve myself of the fear, guilt,
remorse and shame associated with my past. I do this by working all the
steps to the best of my ability.
Let me now give some examples that came up during my taking
step nine and while sponsoring others, and which are not discussed in
the Big Book. So you can consider what follows as suggestions based on ESH.
Amends to dead people:
If we owe them money we could, maybe, return it to their heirs,
and if not, we could donate it to charity in their name. If we hurt them emotionally we can just tell God about it and ask God's forgiveness, or we can write a letter in which we write all that we would have said if we could meet them face to face.
We may then read that letter to God and ask God's forgiveness, or we may
visit their grave and there ask God's forgiveness, or read our
letter there and then and ask God's forgiveness. Those are some of the choices that people make in order to feel that they have made this amend.
Amends to people we don't know:
We may sometimes harm people without knowing who they are, as in the
example I gave in my previous post about driving my car into puddles
on the road in order to spray dirty water on people on the sidewalk,
and getting a strange twisted satisfaction out of it. In such cases we cannot make direct amends but we can stop acting in a way that causes harm to others, and we can make living amends. Here we make living amends by asking God to help us be
patient, tolerant, kind, and loving to others, and practice those
assets with strangers too.
Amends to people when we don't know where they are:
We make real efforts to find them. They remain on our list till we
find them. If our efforts are sincere, and if we are determined
to make the amends when we find them, we can continue with our step work.
Amends to institutions:
Usually this concerns stealing, or not paying, or not returning
something we borrowed. Examples: not returning library books, eating food in the supermarket without paying, taking writing materials from our work for our
personal use, cheating on our income tax, etc. If by making amends we may go to jail or lose our job, we have to consider other people who are dependent on us. If it will harm them we have to get their consent before making amends, and if we don't
get it we don't make the amends.
This does not mean that we may continue stealing. It means that the stealing should stop. It is even suggested that we donate the stolen money (or money equivalent) to a suitable charity.
Sometimes even if making amends would not harm others, there is no one
to make amends to personally. For example: in the past I ate all kinds of sweets in supermarket chains without paying. I didn't harm the manager there personally, and I cannot usually return the sweets or their value in money, since they cannot take money
without giving a receipt, and they cannot give me a receipt for something
taken years ago. So what I suggest doing in this case is first to stop eating in
supermarkets without paying, and next to donate an equivalent sum of money
to some suitable charity.
Cases where it is suggested to begin with living amends and then
make face to face amends:
This usually depends on the kind of person I am. If I am in the habit
of apologizing and saying I am sorry all the time, and continue
with my harming conduct, then especially with family members, it is best
not to make direct amends first, since it will seem we are repeating our old
sorry routine again. In such cases I think it best to make living amends for
a period of time of about a month or two, and then make direct amends after
I have proven by my conduct that this time I mean business.
LAST IMPORTANT SUGGESTION:
This is one step where it is very important to discuss each amend
with my sponsor before making the amend. It can save me and others a lot of trouble, since sometimes we cause harm to others without thinking, by doing the amend in the way we intend to do it. This additional harm may sometimes be even bigger than the
first one. Sometimes we think we have to make amends when we don't have to do anything. And sometimes we try justifying not making amends when we should make
amends. So discussing things with my sponsor or another suitable
person is very important in order to get a clear picture of what I
have to do, and avoid making mistakes which will impede my progress
on the recovery road.
INTO ACTION AND SHARING SUGGESTIONS:
1. In step 8 we divided our amend list into four lists:
NOW, LATER, MAYBE, NEVER.
Take the NOW list and add two columns to it.
The harm I caused (very short, in bullet sentences). You can copy it
from your step 4 tables.
How and when I plan to make the amends, and what am I planning to say
Then discuss all this with your sponsor.
After discussing the amends with your sponsor, make the amends.
Remember to continue the daily work of praying for willingness
and praying for removal of fear and resentments, as discussed in our
step 8 post.
2. As we start doing the amends we progress in our recovery and
spiritual growth, and find it easier to deal with our LATER list.
Follow the above suggestions (the suggestions for the NOW list) for
the LATER list and make the amends.
3. Making the amends for the LATER list enhances our spiritual
growth further, and makes us ready for the MAYBE list.
Follow the same procedure with the MAYBE list.
4. Making amends to the people on the MAYBE list usually makes us ready to
deal at least with part of the NEVER list and make amends.
We have to understand that some of the amends may take time to
complete (like returning a large sum of money in monthly
payments), and that's fine. Usually the difficult cases in our NEVER
list become a MAYBE list at this stage. Making the amends thus far and
continuing with our prayers for willingness, and the prayers for the
removal of fear and resentments makes it possible for us to complete
making amends to all the people and institutions on our lists in the
foreseeable future, except for the cases where amends are not possible.
5. Continue with your living amends on a daily basis and say the living
amends prayer each morning.
"God, please show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love."
6. Share with us the amends for each list (if possible).
What amends are still left?
What are the difficulties that prevent you form making some
of the amends?
Are there amends that you are still not willing to make?
What are the actions you take in such cases?
How do you feel after making the amends or some of the amends?
Have a nice day.