Step Nine

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
except when to do so would injure them or others.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

9—Step 9—Out on the Town

Welcome to Week 9 of the Working the Steps study for the first quarter of 2015. I am Cindy M., a compulsive overeater in recovery, thankful to share with you in this study. All the lessons are available here:

As I said last week, Steps 8 and 9 go together, and this week we’ll look at some principles of actually making the amends.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
Except when to do so would injure them or others.

One of the first principles is that WE don’t get to decide on our own what amends to make and how. Instead, we humble ourselves and submit to the guidance of our sponsors as we decide what to do and how. One of my own temptations is to just brutally confront someone whose inventory I’ve taken (recovery-speak for when we psychoanalyze someone else and judge that he or she needs a 12-step program) with an idea of SHOWING what it looks like when people make amends, and boy, that person really has some amends to make!

No, that won’t do at all. We are to bring to the other person only our own part of the amends, sincerely apologizing for what we’ve done against that person and offering to make up for it when that is appropriate.

Getting Started

The good news is that, as it says on the first page (83) of “Step Nine” in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12-and-12), “The moment we tell our families that we are really going to try the program, the process has begun.” As we’ve taken Steps 1 – 8 our lives have already begun changing and we’ve been making living amends, and even some verbal and active amends may have already come into play. So we’ve got practice already! I made amends to my husband a decade ago in my first abortive attempt at recovery, and when he saw me “living it out” again this time in 2013, all it took for him to “get it” was my mention of “OA.” He knows what a struggle my malady is, and he’s grateful and glad to see me finding healing. He sees me making short-term amends on a nearly-daily basis, and that’s all we need between ourselves.

Pages 76 – 84 in “Into Action” in the Big Book give us some great common sense about making amends, the first pages about doing amends in business circles, in particular, where relationships are formal and without much context of personal relationships and religious faith. We must keep in mind as we approach these people (those we owe money to, for example) that we’re not there to deliver a quick 12-step overview to them but simply to “put our lives in order.” One respondent to Step 8 in this study mentioned having taken about $50 in petty cash from a nonprofit over a period of time working there, and was working out how to make final amends for that. I noted that she mentioned having been a member of the organization every year, at a high donation amount, as a way of trying to make up for it. I suspect that going through the formality of Step 9 with the guidance of her sponsor will give her the freedom to continue donating to the charity in the future, but in freedom. She can actually give from a grateful heart instead of feeling, year upon year, that she’s just making a dent in the debt she owes. We all want that kind of freedom, not to have our past misdeeds hanging over us!

And Step 9 gives us that chance. For me, the day I told one of my children about my OA journey and apologized to her for the ways my malady had harmed her over time, she was, as expected, very generous and loving. And that “interview” has set the tone for our relationship in the eighteen months since—she knows my eating is different from the family’s and that it’s “not just another diet” but something more important than that. She sees me living out my conviction about what ails me and “taking the medicine” necessary, which includes my work online, my devotions, my way of relating to people and keeping short accounts, and so on. She sees me living a different life.

Holding Back

We may need to cut short our amends if the other person seems desirous of picking a fight, or if we find ourselves wanting to! “Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” (Big Book, p. 77). Of course most of the world is much more familiar with alcoholism than with compulsive overeating. Perhaps it is enough to mention we are in a 12-step program and leave it at that, depending on the context.

Realize that some of your amends can happen right away and some may take months or even years (mine have!). You don’t have to halt your progress through the steps while you wait for these to happen. No, you clear out what you can, then wait in readiness for the right time for the others, time HP will make clear as you progress in recovery in the future. For new amends needs that come up in the future, we will have the wonderful tools of the next steps, to keep daily, short accounts, and that’s a great feeling!

  • Please share a particular amends—what you needed to do, how your sponsor guided you in it, how it went to complete it, what happened as a result.

Enjoying the Promises Fulfilled

Beginning on p. 83 we have this almost miraculous passage about what recovery can do to us as we complete our amends. Bask in it with me for a few moments:

    If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. (Big Book, “Into Action,” pp. 83-84)

Using key words from this passage, please reflect on any of these promises you have felt coming true for yourself as you have come to this step:

  • Painstaking in taking steps
  • Amazed before halfway through
  • Know new freedom and new happiness
  • Have no regret for the past nor wish to shut the door on it
  • Comprehend “serenity” and know peace
  • See how our experience can benefit others
  • Have feelings of uselessness and self-pity disappear
  • Lose interest in selfish things, gain interest in fellows
  • See self-seeking slip away
  • Watch whole attitude and outlook on life change
  • Have fear of people and economic insecurity leave
  • Intuitively know how to handle formerly-baffling situations
  • Suddenly realize God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves

Congratulations! You’ve completed Step 9! Next week we begin Step 10—Maintenance.

Please write me privately at if I can answer any questions for you as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!

For Those Who Have Time: Reading and Further Thoughts

We’re spending a long time in this one chapter of the Big Book, “Into Action,” aren’t we? For this week you can read straight through to p. 84, which includes the beautiful passage quoted above. Also, read “Step Nine” in the 12-and-12.

The book outlines some scenarios including criminal theft and its consequences (incarceration, loss of a job) and marital infidelity (loss of a spouse and family) and gives guidance for how to deal with those. Your mileage may vary from the Mad Men fast-living flavor I detect there, and that’s another reason to rely on your sponsor as you take this step.

Some amends are tough, though, are they? I have two sons and two daughters ages 16 to 26, and I’ve “talked OA” and made formal amends with one of each so far, though I’ve made preliminary communications with my second daughter. I pray for and look for an opportunity to really make my amends with her, but it hasn’t come yet. However, in the meantime, I am living amends to her, and it’s making a difference in our relationship. Actually, it’s paving the way for my being able to make my formal amends later, on the basis of a better relationship. Sometimes we cannot complete our amends. My own mother, just days before she died suddenly early in my recovery, though she was in fragile health at the time and knew it, asked my forgiveness for her harms against me (as a result of her addictions), and I granted it. I had actually forgiven her in reality years before and our continuing relationship bore witness to that, as she noted. But this formal interaction was a great blessing to her, I know, and it gave me a better feeling about her passing, for her sake. I had intended to have a conversation with her about my own 12-step journey and confront her about something we needed cleared up between us, but she died before I had that chance. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. I don’t have a lingering grief that I hadn’t been able to complete things. It was much more important for her to know my forgiveness before she died, and I’m thankful I could give that.

And sometimes we must just leave the amends alone, dealing with them privately, perhaps through writing a letter that will never be delivered.

Sometimes we need to hold back because our amends would be too disturbing to the other person, too hurtful. Just showing kindness to that elderly, mentally-infirm relative in the nursing home is enough, making that connection that needs no explanations—trusting HP for the circumstances and meaning of it all.

Read the writings of others in recovery, listen to podcasts, interact on study loops at TRG, and see what you can learn from recovery veterans about the many beautiful ways to make amends and to live in the freedom of recovery.

Blessings in Recovery,

Cindy M.

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