Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
My first Step 8 was a drag. As in, I dragged it on and on and on. My sponsor had also just moved, so I needed to find a new sponsor; that didn’t help. I think it took me about 8 months to go through that step. That’s probably another reason why I’m so interested in making the steps easy to go through. I absolutely did not enjoy being stuck in that step, especially because 99.99% of those 8 months were spent worrying and whining. That’s sooo not what program is about!
Why was it so difficult? Only a few years later I realized. It was because I had rewritten the step in my head. A bit like this: “Made a list of each and every person to whose discomfort I ever contributed, immediately became eager to make it all better for every single one of them, immediately came up with a perfect plan for doing so, and then dedicated my whole life to carrying out these plans – immediately, of course.”
Once again I wanted to be perfect. That’s another form of self-centeredness, by the way. But really –why the heck do I have to be so special as to be perfect?
Let’s take this one thing at a time, then.
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed.” Ok, we all know how to make a list. Yes – it’s just a list! You can put whoever you like on it, even if you’re fuzzy on what “harm” means. It’s just a list! Why don’t you do that right now. There are probably already some people on your step 4 list anyway. Give yourself 5 minutes, you’ll probably come up with a few names. Go!
Bravo! You have a list!
Btw, do you have yourself on the list? If you feel you have harmed yourself, it would make sense, wouldn’t it? I have definitely harmed myself with diets, undereating, overeating, eating the wrong things. (I remember when I had gallstones, I KNEW the terrible pain that cheese could give me. But once in a while I still “had” to eat cheese – with predictable results.)
Now let’s take the next step. What is meant by harm? Some things are pretty obvious. For example, I had borrowed money and never paid it back. I had been unfeeling towards my daughter after she had an accident. I had scratched a car and driven away without taking responsibility. I had played around with the hearts of some of my boyfriends. And then of course there’s all the food that I ate when I had not been invited to do so. These are all pretty cut-and-dry.
Then it gets a little into the gray area. For example, a while ago, a friend sent me an email with a long list of things that I had done wrong. One of them was that he always felt that I felt superior to him. That took some sorting out. First of all, how he feels about me is none of my business. However, there is some truth to this superiority thing. So my job is to figure out what this “some truth” is. For that part, I am responsible. But only that part.
Then there are/were things that took me a long time to wrestle with. An example: When I finally let myself realize how abusive my ex husband had been towards the kids, I threw him out of the house from one day to the next. He was suicidal after that for a few months. Harm had come to him through me. Did I have to make amends for that? Now that I have 22 years’ distance, I can shake my head and ask, why did I even think I had to make amends for that? The reason why I was so consumed with this question for such a long time was that I felt guilty. Well, guess what. Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you have to make amends. It could just mean that you have to work on your guilt – that’s a step 4-7 task.
We OAers often have very strong tendencies towards codependence – taking on other people’s stuff. Steps 8 and 9 can pull us into codependence. Let’s be watchful that this doesn’t happen too much.
As you can see, we have started talked about what the harm was. If you can bring yourself to do it, note down beside each person’s name what the harm was.
Now let’s move on to the willingness. Willingness to make amends even though you often don’t know how, when, and don’t know where to take the courage – that requires trust. That’s why it’s so good that we learned about willingness in step 6.
A lot of 12-steppers find it useful to turn the first list into three columns now. The first column is: “Willing to make amends now.” Second: “Willing to become willing to make amends”; Third: “When hell freezes over.” The strange thing is, just being willing to write some names into the third column is already – willingness. At least you’ve acknowledged that maybe, one day, in the far future, when all the stars are aligned just right, you might make an amend.
So what’s an amend? I encourage you to spend a bit of time figuring out what that means to YOU. Of course there are all sorts of dictionary definitions. The Big Book does not define “amends” as far as I can tell. There is a passage where it says, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” That gives a bit of direction as to the goal of the amends. (And remember, “being of service” is NOT the same as being codependent or a doormat! To me “being of service” means more being useful, or contributing to another’s well-being, even if it is only in a small way.) Let’s look at the book:
“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. We subjected ourselves to a drastic self-appraisal. 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. “
So these are good questions – am I willing to repair, am I willing to be of service, am I willing to sweep away the debris? Here’s an example from my latest Step 8 list: I have to confess that while I love the fact that I’m a grandmother, and love my grandchildren, I’m not very good with some little-kid things. I feel totally out of place on a playground, and my patience for lying on the floor playing with Thomas trains doesn’t reach farther than about 15 minutes. I’m unhappy about that, both for my grandchildren and myself. I’ve taken my older grandson out for dinner and a movie since then; a brave attempt, but it wasn’t exactly wonderful. So I need to keep working on that. We’ll have him for two nights next weekend and you are my witnesses that I will do my best to inject some real fun for him into his stay!
Questions for today:
Do you have your list of people you have harmed? Seeing that this is the quick-and-easy step study, I’d suggest you will probably see at least 5 names on that list. If you have that, that’s a good start. You can stumble on to Step 9 with that list. Often, stumbling is all we can do in recovery!
You probably already have quite a bit of experience with apologizing, and making good something that you had messed up. Can you give an example of that, and how it improved your life and/or that of someone else?
If you have noted the type of harm you have done, do you see any patterns?
Are you willing to repair the damage made in the past? Why? If no, why not?
Are you willing to be of service? Realistically speaking, how do you see yourself being of service?
What is it going to feel like once you’ve “swept away” a lot of the debris of your past?
Any program related passage that speaks to you in connection with Step 8?
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Today, in place of my own reflections, I want to share with you from one of the lesser-known AA books. I recently moved to an area of town that is in walking distance from our local AA book store. You can imagine that I went as soon as I could and spent a goodly amount of time there! (Btw, I highly recommend to read as much program literature as possible – it gives such valuable insights!). One of the books I bought is “Step By Step – Real AAs, Real Recovery”. Here is something one person writes about Step 8 – what do you think?
In mental preparation of my eight step list, I discovered that some names came to mind naturally. In most instances, we want to change for the better where our children and family are concerned.
However I found there were other people I did not want to make amends to, people I had some resentment toward – so I impulsively concluded they didn’t deserve any amends. I have to keep in mind that had I behaved in a more reasonable manner, they might not have responded as they did. If the circumstances had been reversed, I might have taken the same action they chose. I have to allow others to make mistakes and be human. Harbouring resentments because of something others did is, in effect, imposing my values upon them. By imposing my standards upon them, I am trying to assume God’s role. I must realize that I am not responsible for the actions of others, whether I approve of them or not. If I take on that task, I am passing judgment on them for reacting in a way that was unacceptable to me. I am taking their inventory.
In this Step, it states that we “became willing to make amends.” This implies that there is going to be some conscious effort on my part to make all the needed amends. Those that come easy, to my old way of reasoning, would be an excellent stopping point. Yet the Step says we became willing to make amends to all those we had harmed. In going to these other people, I don’t need to crawl or go on and on about how sorry I am, because this would make me appear worthless. I don’t believe I need to apologize for being human; rather, I simply need to acknowledge that I was at fault and humbly ask them to pardon me. I do not need to make amends on my hands and knees; I need to walk tall, without false pride. When I go in humility and sincerely ask people to forgive me, this will remove the burden from my shoulders. They, too, may have been at fault, but I am neither their God nor their conscience. I am responsible only for myself.
For me, this Step offers two features: I am being responsible, by owning up to my wrongs and making amends for them; at the same time, I accept others as they are, regardless of what they did, or of what they may do when I go to them to make amends.
It’s a Step with a double feature. When doing it, we make a double play. After finishing it, we receive double indemnity. Our reward is two for the price of one.
The Twelve Steps