This week we move on to Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. In one sense, this step is really easy: you have your list of those you've harmed from Step Four. All you do is write it all down in one place and pray for willingness to make your amends. That's it. We seem to get into trouble when we get ahead of ourselves, imagining ourselves making those amends, which scares us so much that we stop making the list. But if we remember that in this step we are only making a list, it becomes easier, in my experience. One step at a time.
Why do we need to take this step? When we were practicing our disease, into the food, we ran from every unpleasantness; numbed ourselves with food; and avoided the uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Now that we are working to stay abstinent, we have to own up to our mistakes and ask for forgiveness - without getting back into the food! Why?!?!? The OA 12n12 says, "Clearly, if we were to remain abstinent and find serenity, we had to learn better ways of dealing with other people." (p. 67) This suggests that, in recovery, I am going to do what I never did when I was eating: be around other people. I don't know how to do that very skillfully. Another way to think about Step Eight is that - as the AA 12n12 says - it provides us with an opportunity to learn about ourselves: how we interact with others, patterns, and our "fundamental difficulties" (p. 80). The AABB says, "Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." (p. 77). From these three sources, then, I take the idea that the purpose of Step Eight is to stay abstinent and live serenely; learn about the patterns of my interpersonal relations and where they go awry; and find a way to give service in my world.
This idea of identifying patterns resonates with me. For instance, I know that one of my patterns is to refuse to admit it when other people don't "get" me. I keep trying, and when I get a little glimmer of understanding from them I say to myself, "See? Wow, they really understand me! That feels so good!" So I share even more of myself (because I need very little encouragement to do so; I'm pretty hungry for connection with others). There are people in my life who are just never going to get me, no matter how hard I try or for how many years. So when they behave in exactly the ways I could have predicted they would behave, I get hurt, and that leads me to feel angry. So I blow up. I yell and cry and accuse them of doing me wrong. But they were just doing exactly what I know they do - every time. I am the one at fault, then, for expecting them to behave in ways they are not capable of behaving. Where Step Four helped me identify my defects of character, Step Eight helps me to see how they get applied to interpersonal interactions. Another pattern is that I like to be right, and I tend to correct people when they are wrong. This damages relationships. Step Four gave me the words to articulate this as a defect of character; Step Eight helps me see how it harmed others (and who they were). And once I got abstinent, as the OA 12n12 says, "When we did stop eating compulsively, however, we usually found that our defective ways of dealing with others were a source of pain for us." (p. 67).
As I often say, let's go slow. Let's start with this list I'm supposed to make of all the people I've harmed. Here is where I have found it really useful to push aside all thoughts of actually making the amends. I just want to make a list - and I am very good at list-making. I make grocery lists, to-do lists, lists of songs to sing with my musical group. Before I got into recovery I used to make lists of lists I needed to make, but I am grateful to say I don't do that anymore. The point is that I'm adept at lists. So I can do this.
Who goes on the list? All the people I've harmed. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of having a sponsor by your side at this point in your step work. When I made my first Step Eight list, it was a list of every person I'd ever come in contact with in my life. Since I had come to understand through program that resentments were a form of harm to others, I wrote down everyone I resented - and believe me, that was a lot of people! My sponsors have always been very helpful to me by listening to me explain why I thought I owed an amend, and confirming or denying. I will add that there is one amend a sponsor told me I did not need to make and it continued to niggle at me - so back it went on my list. But I really listened to her suggestion and sat with the name for several months before deciding she was wrong in this case.
Lots of us put our own name on the list, and if you think about "harm" purely in physical terms, this makes sense. There I was in yoga class this morning, doing Downward Dog, and seeing the stretch marks on the undersides of my arms - yuck! That's a harm I did myself by carrying 100 more pounds than my frame was built for.
Next, let's look at this word, "harm." As the OA 12n12 points out, we usually have no trouble defining it when it comes to the harm other people did to us! Hence, I can't lie to myself or dither and procrastinate by claiming that I don't really know what is meant by "harm" anyway. The AA12n12 catches some of us, who "clung to the claim that when [eating] we never hurt anybody but ourselves." (p. 79). Really? You never got irritable, or isolated, or ran short of cash, because you had been eating? or because you wanted to eat and couldn't? It's not just about the harm we did as the result of our eating, either. We are talking in this step about self-destructive thinking, eating, and living habits (OA 12n12, p. 69) that hurt other people. The AA 12n12 gives another definition of harm: "instincts in collision" (p. 80); that is, when my instincts (which ran amok) collided with yours (which may or may not have been held in check).
"Willingness" is a word that, by now, you are very familiar with. It took a world of willingness just to get to your first meeting, whether online, by telephone, or face-to-face. It took willingness to put down the food. Willingness is the essence of Step Three. So becoming willing in Step Eight to make amends in Step Nine follows the same route: I move from a severe case of the I-don't-wannas to grudging willingness to do it just once. As the AABB says, "If we haven't the will to do this, we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over [food]." (p. 76). But of course the reason we must remind ourselves that we said we would go to any lengths is that we get defensive when we start to list people's names on this list. We start to think about what they did to us that made them jolly well deserve whatever we did to them! Both the OA and AA 12n12s address this by noting that we may have to forgive others before we can become willing. Speaking only for myself, I'm not sure I agree with this. I believe that people have to earn our forgiveness and that part of the path to earning it is asking for it. It has been my experience that when I focus on forgiving people the wrongs they did me, I can get myself all worked up and resentful: I go in the opposite direction from where I want to go. The longer I keep working, even when I can let go of the resentment, the more I still find myself stuck. "Well, I can't make that amend," I tell myself, "because I can't forgive yet." The AABB has an answer for me here: on page 67 it says,"Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes...Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely." Disregard: if I can't forgive you, I can disregard you. Or perhaps compassion is what is needed here. Maybe what I really want in order to become willing is a softer attitude toward others. It might help to remind yourself that these people's defects were aggravated by yours. That is, they were jerks, and they were wrong, but maybe they were trying hard not to be jerks until you came along and ruined their day. Now, I don't know this for a fact, and so getting to the place where I am willing to make an amend for my part involves keeping an open mind; it means being open to the possibility that there is more than one interpretation of the prompting event (their jerkiness).
Here is an appropriate place to talk about those of us who are survivors of any kind of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal. Step Eight is exactly the step where lots of women, particularly, depart from the 12-step programs. "Forgive the abuser? I don't think so!" And with good reason. Something I think the AABB gets wrong is on page 62, where it says, "Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt." If you were abused you made no decision that put you in a position to be hurt. By no means are you required to forgive the abuser (even if asked to by him or her). You might choose to do so; you might get to a place where you say, "He/she was doing the best he/she could;" you might develop compassion for the abuser; you might even have been asked for forgiveness by the perpetrator. But although "resentment is the number one offender" (and so you will want to work on your resentment to be able to let it go), forgiveness is not a requirement. All that Step Eight wants of you is to ask if you ever harmed the abuser, to put him/her on your amends list if you did, and to become willing to clean up your side of the street by taking responsibility for the harm you did. Here is where the distinction between Step Eight and Step Nine is vitally important. You are not going to go to this person this week and make amends. All you're doing this week is making a list and becoming willing to make amends. So if you did, in fact, do harm to the abuser (pour sugar in his gas tank? Hit her? Steal money from him? Lie about her to get out of the house?) then what youíre working on this week is putting his/her name on your list and developing willingness to make amends in some form. (Itís important that I add, here, that I am not saying that by having done any of those things that you deserved what you got. Iím not saying that at all). Again, the importance of running the list by your sponsor cannot be underscored heavily enough. Please don't let terminal uniqueness cut you off from a more objective perspective from another person who cares about you.
Just as with Step Six, don't wait to move along to Step Nine until you are willing to make amends to ALL the people on your Step Eight list. You might only become willing to make amends to 50% this week. That's an excellent start!
Finally, what do we mean when we talk about these "amends" we're becoming willing to make? The OA 12n12 points out that amends are changes. Amends might take the form of saying, "I'm sorry" - although I must admit that I did that at least eleventy thousand and ten times, then went right on doing the objectionable behavior. As an OA friends says, "Sorry doesn't set the table." Therefore, I have to think, as I practice Step Eight, that there will be many kinds of amends. Direct amends might be (in Step Nine) to repay money I owe, give back what I took, smile at someone I loathe, give a compliment to someone of whom I'm envious. Then there will be the indirect kinds of amends. So, again, please keep an open mind as you work to become willing: you may not in fact be standing in front of the person you harmed and saying, "Please forgive me."
The AA 12n12 insists that with respect to Step Eight, "It is the beginning of the end of isolation from our fellows and from God." (p. 82). Now, this makes me cranky, I must confess. First of all, I thought that's what they told me about Step Five? And second of all, it has never been my experience with Step Eight. What has been my experience is that with my Eighth Step completed I feel cleaner, lighter, more human, more comfortable in my own skin, and my food is even cleaner and clearer. I like myself better and have more self-respect. I can finally see that I am changing for the better and that there is a chance I will be the person I always wanted to be.
QUESTIONS FOR STEP EIGHT:
1. What do you think the purpose of Step Eight is: what is the real issue here?
2. Are you a list-maker? How do you use these lists - what do you do with them? Do they sit in the bottom of your purse, forgotten? Or do you go along and cross off items as you accomplish them?
3. How do you define "harm"?
4. How will you find the willingness to make amends?
5. How will you know you have willingness to make amends to everyone on your list?
6. Do you have willingness to make amends to "them all" - or are there some that will have to wait for the willingness to come?
7. How do you define "amends"? Not in specific (e.g., "repaying money I stole") but in general - what is "an amend"?
8. Will you be putting your own name on your Step Eight amends list?
9. How many people are on your Step Eight list, in total?
10. Will you be sharing your Step Eight list with your sponsor?
The Twelve Steps