Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
Just like Step 4, this is a step where some of us want to run and hide under a big rock. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Step 9 is about apologizing and attempting repair. When you step on someone’s foot, you say sorry, and when you lose a button on your favourite shirt, you don’t throw the shirt away; you sew the button back on. Why don’t we start out looking at it like that?
And then we can go deeper. An apology is, in my opinion, an expression to someone that we recognize that our actions or inactions have harmed them, that we connect with their pain, and that we wish we wouldn’t have done it. An apology therefore implies a desire to do otherwise in the future.
For example, I currently work in an environment that in the past, before I joined, experienced some harshness in the way people interacted with each other. We ended up having a whole workshop about it, which, as you can imagine, was quite emotional for some people. The next day early in the morning I had a meeting with some of them. There were a lot of things to be done, and I can be a bit of a taskmaster, so I immediately jumped into discussing all our plans and tasks. It was only late in the afternoon that I realized (= the recognition) that that had been quite unfeeling; I should have at least invited a short debrief of the workshop (= I wish I wouldn’t have done it). So I sent off an email with an apology (= expressing it to the other person), saying that I imagined that I might have come across as unfeeling (= connecting with their pain.)
Only now, three weeks later, do I realize that I didn’t say anything about how I hope I would act differently in the future – it would have been good if I had done that. But at least I didn’t do something that I am still often tempted to do (especially if I still feel resentment towards the person or the situation), which is to go on at length to explain why I did such-and-such. The apology is about the OTHER person, not about me. It’s possible that a short explanation might make things easier for them but often the explanation turns into nothing but an excuse or rationalization for the harmful thing I did.
Now let’s talk about repairing the damage. I had one amends that took me forever to make. Back in the 80s, I borrowed $200 from a pastor at a church that was anything but rich, when I still lived in South America. I promised to pay it back “soon.” For years – decades! – I walked around thinking that I don’t have enough money, or when I did that I should repay it “soon” (!!) , that it would be awkward to do it now because “soon” was 15 years ago, how difficult it would be to find that pastor, how weird it would be should I ever meet that person again, that it probably didn’t matter anymore – etc., etc., etc. Those were friggin heavy 200 bucks! If it wouldn’t have mattered anymore, I wouldn’t have thought about it all the time! And then one day it came around to my Step 9 again, and there he was again, Pastor Armin, with his 200 bucks. So I read that darn Step 9 in the OA 12x12 again, yadda yadda. And suddenly – you people who have been around program for a while will recognize this – those pesky program people snuck something new into the book! It said something about repairing relationships! (Of course they hadn’t snuck anything new into the book, it had just taken years for me to understand what they were talking about) I remembered something I had heard a program person say: “You need to make amends to all those people who, should you suddenly see them coming down the sidewalk, would want you to immediately cross the street because you’re too embarrassed/mortified/ashamed to talk to them.” Suddenly I imagined Pastor Armin coming down the street and me hiding behind the next bush. What a terrible waste! He was such a great guy – your textbook crazy brandy-drinking, cigar-smoking, political-activist Latin American church man – and I would avoid them because of 200 dollars?! How insane is that? Of COURSE I wanted to repair my relationship with him. So I finally did. It only took me 26 years.
These two examples illustrate a tiny sliver, I hope, of the wide range of amends we can be faced with – from a quick apology a day later to an involved interaction after a quarter of a century. Here’s a rule of thumb: Any amends that you feel not 100% ok about – discuss it with your sponsor, and maybe also some other OA people. You really do want to make sure that you don’t harm the other person with your amends, and that you don’t harm your loved ones or yourself. The latter can get a bit tricky – I can’t just say that I won’t do an amends because it’s hurt.
We do often have to take risks with making amends. When I worked at a posh downtown legal office 25 years ago, I had the unfortunate habit of taking quite a healthy amount of office supplies home (that’s called “stealing,” Isabella!) I felt terribly embarrassed for admitting that, particularly because, as circumstances had it, the lawyer in question now had a business relationship with my husband. Not only that – my concern that it would cool the by-then distant but still friendly relationship with that lawyer was well-founded. Do I think I should not have made that amend? Absolutely not. It’s a wonderful feeling to have the weight of that misdeed gone, and that lawyer has all the right to feel uncomfortable around me now. Btw, the way I dealt with this is by a) telling him what happened; b) apologizing and c) donating money to his favourite charity. It’s similar to how I dealt with the car that I scratched – I anonymously donated some money to a charity that taught delinquent teens how to became car mechanics.
Another thing to keep in mind is that amends are not the primary way of dealing with our guilt, and are definitely not a way to rid ourselves of other uncomfortable feelings simply by verbally unburdening ourselves on the person we have harmed, and then framing that as an apology. “I’m sorry I slept with your husband”, or “I want to apologize for calling you a #*%$)@ all last year behind your back” – rarely the right thing to say.
Which brings us to living amends – maybe the most important part. Living amends are behaviours that are the opposite, or more positive versions, of the behaviours that have hurt other people. I now repay money that I owe. I do not steal office supplies anymore. I do not let the suspicion that I might have hurt someone’s feelings linger anymore. I battle my tendency towards arrogance and judgmentalism on a daily basis. Aaaah, that sounds wonderful; pure as driven snow. But of course there are things that I do, make amends for and then I do again. Being late, sometimes super late, with paying bills is one of them. And guess what, it weighs heavily on me. I just have to pray that one day I will smarten up, listen to my Higher Power and stop that behaviour. In the meantime, at least now I try my best to be really nice to the people whose bills I pay late.
Forgiveness could be seen as part of living amends. But it occurs to me that my writing is pretty long already – so why don’t we do the following. Why don’t you write a bit about forgiveness in your life, and I’ll say a bit more about it in my reflections?
Having said all of this, though, let’s turn back to our goal of making this easy. There may be all kinds of complicated situations regarding your amends. But let’s not let this stop us! There are probably also some amends that are easy to make. Why not start with them? For example, yesterday, someone who I really like was part of our crew to help my older daughter move. When we left, I was really tired, and forgot to say good-bye to her. I felt bad about it, so before I went to bed, I sent her a little message. Easy.
In the meantime, let’s return to the promises, which are found right after Step 9 in the Big Book
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.
1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
3. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
4. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
5. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
6. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
7. Self-seeking will slip away.
8. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
9. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
10. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
11. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
12. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” (pages 83-84)
Questions for today:
Actually, this is a task: Write down amends you can easily make. Three, if you can. Immediately make a plan to carry them out and if you can, do at least one right away. It may just be a phone call or an email. Go!
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Forgiveness is a topic that I am definitely still learning about.
I already talked about making apologies – asking for forgiveness. The other side of the coin is extending forgiveness, to others and myself.
The easy part is when someone did something that didn’t even bother me. The next easy thing is when someone did something that annoyed me a bit. It’s also easy for me to say, “Well, that didn’t go so well but whatever, let’s just move on.”
One of the most amazing things that ever happened to me was when I was about 10. My father had just slapped me for the first time. We avoided each other for about a day. Then one moment, when we sort of met in the hallway, he extended his hand to me and said, “I’m sorry I slapped you. I shouldn’t have done it. I only did it because I was frustrated and because I’m bigger than you, and I’m ashamed.”
I have told this story many times. Every single time I do, tears come to my eyes.
(He never slapped me again.)
The most difficult situations for me are situations that have never been resolved, and where the other person has not apologized to me for one reason or another. In some situations, they don’t even owe me an apology! An example of the latter is a family situation where there is a fight/feud going on that concerns me only marginally. I have been resentful, sad, and angry at that situation for years now and have a terribly hard time forgiving a family member for not dealing with their situation in a reasonable and peaceful manner. I’m going to have to start including that person in my daily step 10 work because I need to do what I can to resolve the matter for myself. Not for them. For myself.
Then there is my mother. When I was little, there were a number of things that she did not protect me from. One was her rage. Another thing was something that someone else did to me. Regarding the latter, she even told me about 20 years ago that that was just the way things were, and there was nothing she could have done about that. To this day I am appalled at that. And to this day, I feel ambivalent towards my mother. I truly love her as a – how should I say, let’s say a female relative. When I visit her in Europe now that she is very old and physically and mentally frail, I feel nothing but a great desire for her to be comfortable and happy. I feel tender and loving towards that person. I don’t know if I will ever be able to go beyond that, to love her the way I hear other people talk about their love for their mother, to love her the way I used to when I was small. I don’t even know whether, in this regard, I could or should forgive her or myself. Her for doing what she did, and myself for not being able to love her the way I think I would like to love her. What I do know, though, is that I always want to look and see how much love I DO have towards that person, and express it as best as I can.
I heard somewhere that when they talk in the bible about loving your enemy, historically, what was meant was not the warm and fuzzy stuff we think about when we hear the word “love.” Instead, it was a very simple and straightforward covenant to not harm that person and to look out for their wellbeing whenever that was necessary.
Maybe that’s all we can do in some situations. Maybe, at least, that’s a start.
And maybe that’s how we can start looking at forgiveness when it comes to self forgiveness. Resenting ourselves for things we have done in the past (it’s called guilt) is only useful in one way. It can point us to where we need to change our behaviour in the future. Once we’ve made a plan about that and a commitment to implement the plan, we need to let go.
So, Isabella – swallow your own medicine! In regard to my mother, what do I need to change for the future? What can I change? I’m already treating her as well as I can manage. I will keep working on that, and feel confident that I can do that. Can I make myself love her the way I “should”? Of course not! So what I need to work on is letting go of that “should.” That actually sounds like going back to Steps 6 and 7. That’s what I’ll do.
Thanks for letting me share.
The Twelve Steps