I confess that I feel alarmed by the steep drop-off in responses to Step Eight. As of Sunday afternoon I only had six! It made me think of the meeting I was in Thursday night – my home group – where the topic was willpower. As it says in the AA 12n12, applying your willpower to the working of the 12 steps is the proper use of the will. It may take all you’ve got – but it’s worth it! Freedom from the obsession with food; freedom from shame, guilt and remorse; feeling confident, competent, and capable… these are among the results thousands of COEs have gotten by working all of the steps. The promises begin to come true after Step Nine. Please don’t give up and miss out on the miracle of recovery!
This week we are studying Step Nine, which says that we Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. There are a couple of dangers in this step. One is the danger of tackling it too fast, right at the beginning of our affiliation with OA. The other is the danger of not doing it at all.
The first amend I made was to one of my grandfathers; it was very soon after I came into program, and I certainly hadn’t worked Step Eight, but he was dying and I knew it was unlikely I’d see him again after that visit. I didn’t want to carry my awareness of the need to apologize to him after he was dead, so I sat down with him and did the best I could with the recovery I had. The danger of making amends at the beginning of our OA recovery, though, is that we haven’t worked Steps One through Eight. Hence, it is unlikely that we are “on the beam” (AA 12n12, p. 84) of the program. We may make a vague apology rather than a true amend. We may get dragged into a rehashing of the wrong the other guy did to us, which promptly lands us right back into resentment and reignites the disease. The careful preparation of Step Eight is intended to help us prepare for Step Nine.
There are three things worth examining in more detail with respect to Step Nine. One is when we do it; another is the kind of amends we make; and a third is the attitude to take when working Step Nine. We’ll take these one at a time.
The OA 12n12 notes that “we need to act quickly” after we’ve completed Step Eight (p. 75). Amends seem to fall into four categories: soonest, partial, deferred, and never. The amends we make soonest are most likely to be to our family members, and here is where it is important to go slowly. As the AABB says (p. 83), “a remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all.” But it’s also important that “we avoid excuses, dramatizations, or detailed rehashing of events surrounding our actions.” (OA 12n12, p. 77). Writing out a script ahead of time and practicing with your sponsor can both be helpful in preparing to talk to your family and closest amends recipients.
Working with a sponsor is just as essential for Step Nine as it was for Steps Five and Eight, because this person can hold you accountable and help you figure out how to make these amends. It’s true that there are some amends that it is best not to make, but as the AA 12n12 says, “Let’s not talk prudence while practicing evasion.” (p. 85). Social networks are making it ever-easier to find people we thought long-lost. I have had the experience of suddenly meeting up with someone on my Eighth Step list that I was certain I would never see again. For instance, the name of one of my high school boyfriends suddenly appeared in the byline of an article I saw in a magazine. I wasn’t sure it was him, but I wrote the email address given in the magazine and made my amends (by the way, I had the right guy but he said he had no recollection of what I was talking about. Then again, he’s made no effort to stay in touch).
There are three types of amends: direct, indirect, and living. We are asked to be “forthright and generous” (AA 12n12, p. 86) in our direct approach to others. The AABB says that first I must tell the other person that I will never get over [compulsive overeating] until I have done all that I can to straighten out the past (p. 77). The OA 12n12 says, “We need to acknowledge the specific harm we’ve done, apologize, make appropriate restitution, and change our behavior toward them in the future.” (p. 76). That book also says that we just clear off our side of the street, ignoring whatever is on the other person’s side. I think it is really useful to remember to KISS (Keep it Simple, Sweetie) here. I’m going to make an appointment to talk to someone, walk up to him or her, tell that person what I did wrong, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and tell him/her what kind of change or restitution I intend to make. Boom. Done. That’s it. Phew!
So that’s how we make direct amends. What about indirect and living amends, and why would we want to do those? I use indirect amends and living amends in those cases where either I cannot find the person, the person has died, or when to make a direct amend would injure the other person or someone else (not me). The AA 12n12 says, we “cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others.” (p. 84). I have given money to charity, given service to an organization or person that symbolizes the person I harmed, and I’ve written the script that I would use if I could, read it aloud, and burned it.
The purpose of making amends is to fix what was broken. Direct amends are important but are not a replacement for changing my daily behavior. That’s called living amends. Living amends apply to everybody. Then there are some situations where that is not enough, where just changing without giving the other person enough respect to meet one-on-one isn’t enough. Living amends are also what I use toward people that I really dislike but have to keep dealing with. The OA 12n12 reminds me that I make amends for actions, not feelings. I am not obliged to tell someone, “You know, I really don’t like you and I’ve been telling my husband and friends that for years. I’m really sorry, and I won’t do it anymore.” Instead, to work Step Nine, I am only obliged to quit complaining about the person to other people. So what I did in one such case was that I volunteered to work with the guy on a brief project, tried to get to know him better, and practiced compassion toward him. It helped for a little while (he’s still a jerk). More recently, I made a living amend by giving a compliment, in public, to someone who was driving me batshit crazy. I didn’t like her behavior any better when it was over, but I was proud of my own behavior in her presence!
When I have the “right attitude” (AA 12n12, p. 83), Step Nine is easier. That doesn’t mean it is ever easy. Even if the amends-making goes well – and I have had more experiences of this than not – it’s important that I remember that the other person doesn’t owe me forgiveness and I don’t need it in order to recover from compulsive overeating (OA 12n12, p. 77). Again, KISS helps me here: get in, say my piece, get out. Since an expectation is a premeditated resentment, if I expect to be received with strong assurances that all is forgiven, I risk feeling resentful if that doesn’t actually happen.
Lots of us owe money. If you’re like me, you were a thief. I “borrowed” clothing without asking (taking something without asking is theft) and some of those clothes never made it back to their owners. I “borrowed” money without asking, to buy food – again, taking something without permission is stealing. The AABB reminds us that, “We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to [eat] if we are afraid to face them.” (p. 78). Hmmm… pick up the food and binge or pull up my big-girl panties and make my amends? Yikes. Suddenly the food may look really attractive! But it will only work for a short while, and then I’ll be back in the morass of shame, guilt, and fear all over again – several pounds heavier. Ugh. No thanks.
What is the “right attitude” that is referred to when approaching Step Nine? The AA 12n12 describes the spirit of Step Nine on page 87: “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”. According to the OA 12n12 the purpose of this step is to clear away guilt (ours) and ill-will (theirs, maybe ours too) so we can establish better relationships.
It is after Step Nine that the AABB promises read in so many face-to-face OA meetings begin to come true. Now that we have cleared away the wreckage of the past, there is room for serenity and peace. From here on out, it’s all about maintaining our new way of life in Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve.
QUESTIONS FOR STEP NINE:
1. What is the ”right attitude” you are working for in order to take Step Nine? How will you know you have it?
2. If you are on your Step Eight list, how will you make amends to yourself?
3. Can you give one example each of a direct, indirect, and living amend that you will make? (you don’t need to share details: “our stories disclose in a general way…”).
4. How will you use your sponsor to work this step?
5. Are there any amends for which you need help figuring out appropriate restitution?
6. Are there any amends you are fearful of making? Why? What can you do about this fear?
The Twelve Steps