Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
ACTION: Listing & Becoming Willing
~ Finish the earlier reading if you haven't as yet
~ Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) - Chapter 6 "Into Action," one paragraph only - page 76, third paragraph beginning with "Now we need more action:..." to the end of the paragraph.
~ The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous - Step Eight
~ Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Alcoholics Anonymous) - Step Eight
Let it out.
Connect with Higher Power.
Thank you for hanging in with us on this study. I read your shares, and appreciate them so much. They come into me and circulate through my thoughts and actions as I go through my day, and are helping to change me.
I remember I was OK with Step Four, leery about Step Five but willing because I trusted my confidant/sponsor, and I was fine with Steps Six and Seven, but I was REALLY ANXIOUS about Steps Eight and Nine. AARRGGHH! This was NOT COMFORTABLE for me. I had spent a lifetime pushing my memories of my harm to others to the back of my mind's closet, throwing them in the dark basement and pulling a rug over the trap door. I had thrown them down a deep well. But the book says this accumulated stuff did not disintegrate or go away just because I stopped looking at it - it was getting moldy and poisoning me, poisoning my body, mind, emotions and spirit. But it's uncomfortable, IT IS PAINFUL to look at all this stuff and then have to talk about it with someone I hurt! "This reopening of emotional wounds, some old, some perhaps forgotten, and some still painfully festering, will at first look like a purposeless and pointless piece of surgery, but if a willing start is made, then the great advantages of doing this will so quickly reveal themselves that the pain will be lessened as one obstacle after another melts away." AA 12 & 12. These piles of debris from my past actions were keeping me trapped in repetitive behaviors that weren't working for me, that were harming me and others. I was promised relief if I did these steps. So I moved forward with Steps Eight and Nine, and I am continuing to do so as more things are revealed to me.
As with the previous steps, a little willingness goes a long way. Even a smidgeon of willingness, along with action, brings a good result, insight, relief, and it creates more willingness. The Big Book 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 alcohol." We made a commitment in exchange for a promise that we would be relieved from our compulsive eating. Now is when we do some uncomfortable things because we agreed we would see this through, because we wanted that relief. And we find we are unloading baggage of guilt and shame that has weighed us down and kept us turning to food for relief.
Steps Eight and Nine focus on my relationships with others.
Step One focused on my relationship with myself.
Steps Two, Three, Six and Seven focused on my relationship with God/Higher Power.
Steps Four and Five began to consider the problems in my relationships with others.
Now, having straightened out my relationship with God, I can begin to work on my relationships with other human beings.
WHY DO THIS?
SWEEP AWAY DEBRIS In Step One and Step Four we saw how out of kilter our way of living was. But before we can change, we have to clean up our messes. We have identified the problems, the twisted ways we have acted. We now need to clean up the dump site before we can build a new life on that ground. "We attempt to sweep away the debris which as accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves." AA Big Book.
RELIEF FROM GUILT "Here we meet guilt head-on and get rid of it." OA 12 & 12. Many of us are carrying around guilt and shame, and we escape into food to avoid these uncomfortable feelings. But now we have a way to face it and see that it is not so overwhelming, that we had a part in this, a wrong action, it was human, it is understandable, it is forgivable, and there's an action we can take to fix it.
PAIN RELIEF THE HEALTHY WAY "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. In many cases the pain was so great we were tempted to eat again rather than face it. 'What's the use of abstaining if I'm just going to hurt?' we asked. 'If this is recovery, I don't want it!'" OA 12 & 12. We ate because we were trying to avoid pain. So now we aren't eating and we have pain. EEEK! What am I supposed to do? I had a foolproof, go-to way to avoid pain - I ate and numbed it out. Actually it may have started with avoiding pain, but it grew like a cancer into a way to avoid all discomfort. The steps give me new and MUCH BETTER ways to deal with pain and discomfort than compulsive eating.
I BECOME WILLING TO CHANGE HOW I AM WITH OTHERS "...we begin here to become willing to make amends - that is, to make changes - in the way we deal with the people who share our lives." Because I am seeing more and more clearly how defective my ways of dealing with others have been, how they are not working, how they grew out of my hurts, resentments, and fears, how they are causing harm to me and others, I am becoming willing to change.
LEARN & PRACTICE NEW HEALTHY WAYS OF DEALING WITH OTHERS "Clearly, if we were going to remain abstinent and find serenity we had to learn better ways of dealing with other people, ways that would bring us joy instead of pain." OA 12 & 12. So because my messed up ways of dealing with others is the main source of provocation which then kicks my emotional immune system into overreaction, misdirected action, harm to myself, harm to others, I need to learn and practice new ways of dealing with others. That's a BIG order. I've spent a lifetime accumulating routine reactions to others and situations - how am I to change these? It seems overwhelming. Yet the steps help me receive and follow guidance from my Higher Power. I work with a sponsor and my fellows. I listen and read and try to do things differently. I find it works, and I start accumulating new ways of reacting, ways that actually help me and others, instead of causing harm.
LEARN THE VALUE OF FORGIVENESS "Here we learn about the healing power of forgiveness as we discover how to forgive ourselves and others." OA 12 & 12 At first it seems like forgiveness doesn't fit here. But as we begin to work with this step we see that much of the harm we did to ourselves and others was a misguided reaction to hurt we had experienced, and we proceeded to twist our lives, our bodies and our relationships into knots trying to escape the hurt and bad feelings. My Higher Power accepts and forgives me, and I start to "get it." It feels cleansing. It feels good. I begin to forgive myself for my mistakes and that feels good. I stop hoarding my mistakes. I try forgiving others, seeing they are like me in many ways. I stop amassing grievances and resentments, anger, fear. That feels really good. Forgiveness starts a very different approach to healing my hurts.
BIG PAYOFF! Who doesn't love an investment bargain - a reasonable expense for a much greater return. Yes I do need to expend time and energy on this step. Yes I do need to face people and past hurts and harms that I'd rather leave buried. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But the toxic waste dump of my past just isn't disappearing, it's making me sick, and these steps promise that if I follow through I'll get better. "Since defective relationships with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one. We can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see the flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay - and pay handsomely." AA 12 & 12. It makes sense. Harm done to us, harm we have done, the wounds, anger, guilt and shame, and our twisted misdirected attempts to escape it, are the cloud enveloping our lives and keeping us from living effectively. Whatever discomfort we have to go through to get this cloud to evaporate are small compared with the enormous benefit of ridding ourselves of this "fog of war" between us and others.
A MOVING AND FASCINATING ADVENTURE "Learning how to live in the greatest peace, partnership and brotherhood with all men and women, of whatever description, is a moving and fascinating adventure." AA 12 & 12, What an extraordinary and inspiring thing to say! I love that this gives me a vision of a bright, exciting future, an adventure, not only a promise that I will crawl out of my hole :-) I won't merely stop eating compulsively and let go of my hurts, fears, defects so I'm not so miserable - there's MUCH MORE! I will live better, I will live large, the way we humans are capable of living with each other, unhampered by old defective ways that made me hide in the small miserly little world I hunkered down in.
IF WE DON'T DO IT, WE WILL EAT AGAIN "The experience of OAs who have worked the steps before us shows that recovery depends on completing steps eight and nine." OA 12 & 12. Always we return to the bottom line. We came here because we can't stop eating compulsively. The steps and the experience of others says we need to do this if we want to stop, if we want to live in peace with food and eating. So I will forgive, I will amend, I will make peace with others over past wrongs so I can stop compulsive eating. "We're not doing step eight to make other people feel better or like us better, we're doing it for ourselves, so that we can recover from compulsive eating." OA 12 & 12.
FORGIVENESS The biggest obstacle to willingness to make amends is forgiveness. We cling to our hurt, our anger, our resentment, our fear. Most of us have been hurt by others. Some of us have been hurt severely. A sponsor will point out where we need to work on forgiving people who have harmed us, so that we can sincerely make amends for whatever our part was in the conflict. In some cases, "our part" may be that we held onto the hurt and made ourselves sick with it. We need to forgive, or our still smoldering ashes of anger, resentment, fear, our still wounded pride, self-esteem, security, ambitions, will interfere with our amends. If we don't amend for our part, we won't be free of our bondage to these old hurts we have suffered, and the shame and guilt for damage we have done to ourselves and others.
But how to forgive?
- WRITE The OA 12 & 12 says to write down why we are angry with this person. Writing it down, we see the whole of it - and we see that it is not infinite. "Our grievances are only so big and no bigger. The hurt had a beginning, and it can have an end as well."
- GIVE IT AWAY Then we can "give away" what we've written. We can read it to a sponsor or other person not involved in the hurtful situation.
- SET IT ASIDE FOR A WHILE If we then set the writing aside, and come back to re-read it after a week or so, we may find that our pain has diminished.
- RELEASE IT Then "...we may want to symbolically release the hurt, perhaps by burning the writing or tearing it up and throwing away the pieces."
- PRAY If we are still holding onto bad feelings toward the person, we can pray for the people who have harmed us. "If we will pray for the people who have wronged us, pray for them daily, asking God to bless them with all the good things we want for ourselves, we can be freed of our resentments and unforgiveness. The action of praying for those we resent will work even if we don't mean a word of what we're saying. If we keep praying for them faithfully, sooner or later our feelings will change."
FEAR, PAIN, EMBARASSMENT "We know we have done wrong and we are sorry for it, but to actually confess our deeds to the very people we've wronged seems impossible. After years of running from any kind of unpleasantness and hiding ourselves in food so we wouldn't have to feel embarrassment or pain, we're now asked to admit our failures and face all their consequences. And we're asked to do so while being abstinent, without eating compulsively to numb our feelings. How can we possibly become willing?" OA 12 & 12.
DEFENSIVENESS When I think about someone I have harmed, it feels like an accusation, and I immediately want to defend myself. "It's not my fault!" "He/She did X!" "It's not as bad as what HE did!" I do NOT like being told I have done wrong. My defensiveness jumps to the conclusion that I'm being accused of BEING wrong. That raises all my survival and self-esteem issues about being "not good enough," not "right." After all, if you're "wrong," you're "not right." Yet, after I calm down from my tizzy of defensiveness and try to look at the situation more objectively, I can see that I have a part in this. My actions, especially when I was eating compulsively, were selfish and dishonest. My defective ways of living and dealing with others multiplied and compounded. I was self absorbed. I was unavailable to others. I defended my "rights" and my fortress of "self" with a vengeance. I overreacted to criticism and perceived slights. I brought out the worst in others; "...our behavior while drinking has aggravated the defects of others." AA 12 & 12.
EMBARRASSMENT "Why, we cried, shouldn't bygones be bygones? Why do we have to think of these people at all? These were some of the ways that fear conspired with pride to hinder our making a list of all the people we had harmed." AA 12 & 12. Well, because the bygones aren't really gone. They are piled up in the attic of our life, weighing us down, or filling our basement, filling the baggage we are carrying around day after day, mildewing and spreading their spores through our lives. Yes, it may be uncomfortable and embarrassing to tell the person we harmed what we did and/or try to make amends for our harm. But we are assured that if we do this correctly, we will feel better, we will be better off than we are now.
DENIAL The AA 12 and 12 calls this "purposeful forgetting." I love the DENIAL acronym: "Don't Even Notice I Am Lying." I have revised the story of my relationships with others so that the heroine of the tale is of course heroic and not at fault in any significant way. I have narrated my life so that my wrongful actions are absent or recharacterized as fair and reasonable, self defense, constructive.
HOW DO I DO THIS STEP? There are two parts to this step:
1. MAKE A LIST The Big Book says we have already made the list in Step Four, but the AA 12 & 12 and OA 12 and 12 suggest we look back at our Step Four list and use that to make our list of people we have harmed. There were many traits or defects we identified in Step Four. Now we scour our memories and write down the names of people we harmed when we acted out those defects, traits, and behaviors over the years. Another suggestion: the OA 12 & 12 suggests we think of the ways we've been hurt, and ask ourselves "Have I ever dealt with another person in a similar way?"
2. BECOME WILLING TO MAKE AMENDS Work with a sponsor. A sponsor can "help us by making sure we really do owe amends in each case," and can make suggestions about "how to go about making amends." As we work with a sponsor the previously overwhelming project begins to take shape and seem more do-able, less threatening. We can discuss what actions to take, what words to use. A sponsor can help us with forgiveness and other obstacles. "Having forgiven wrongs done to us, we find the greatest obstacle to our willingness to make amends has been removed. This does not mean we will suddenly want to go through with this ego-puncturing process. In few cases will we be eager to face the people we've harmed and frankly discuss our mistakes with them. We need to remember, however, that we can be willing to do something we don't want to do...The experience of OAs who have worked the steps before us shows that recovery depends on completing steps eight and nine. With this in mind, we turn once more to God, asking for the willingness to do the things we fear, to make the amends we owe. Having said this prayer sincerely, we are now willing, and we move quickly ahead to step nine."
FOR YOUR REFLECTION AND COMMENT:
1. What concerns, difficulties or obstacles do you have as you work step eight?
2. What concerns, difficulties or obstacles do you have as you work step eight?
3. How have you experienced forgiving yourself?
4. How have you experienced forgiving someone else?
5. How are you coming to "willingness" to make a particular amend?
6. Any other thoughts or reactions to the reading or step seven?
The Twelve Steps