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

Hi, friends. My name is Penny K, and I am a compulsive eater and leader for this quarter’s WTS step study.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.

As we enter Step 9, let’s review where we’ve been. We began with an admission of powerlessness both over food and our own lives. We are now in touch with a power greater than ourselves who we believe can and will restore us to sanity and whom we’ve asked to remove our shortcomings, discovered as we engaged in a moral inventory. We have faced down many fears and demons thanks to the help of our sponsors and OA friends. We have begun to answer the question so many of us ask when we come to OA: how come I have to do all this inner soul work when all I want to do is lose weight, finally realizing that food is the symptom of a much larger spiritual disorder.

Now we come to Step 9, the time when we clean up the messes we have made.

As it says in the Big Book, “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.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1446-1447). Kindle Edition.

We take the list of people we have harmed, the one we made in Step 8, and we go to it. This is where a sponsor is essential. Not everyone on that list needs an amend, and our sponsors will guide us. For those we do need to make amends, our sponsors will guide us as to the best way to go about it.

But how come we have to make amends? Isn’t it enough that we just move forward? Won’t people hate us more if we bring up the past? Can’t we let bygones be bygones?

The Big Book has the answer, “The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1533-1537). Kindle Edition.

The bottom line is that long-term abstinence will elude me if I don’t clean up the messes I made. Honestly, I don’t understand how this all works; I just know that it does. And to be honest, most people are like us: they never forget a wrong done to them. Even if we think that they’ll never remember, and we’ll be stirring waters unnecessarily, the truth is that humans have long memories. And remember, we said that we would go to any lengths with an attitude of humility, right?

Step 9 suggests that we go to each person we have harmed and make amends for our harm. In Step 8 I talked about the nature of amends, that they require more than apologizing. I understand making amends as a three-part process: admitting to myself/my higher power/another person that I did something wrong, apologizing directly to the person I harmed, and amending my behavior in the future so I don’t do the same thing again. Sometimes the amend will involve restitution, either directly or to a charitable organization. Sometimes the amend will involve changing a behavior or an attitude, even when the person I harmed will never know about it.

Thanks to the work I did in Steps 4 and 5, I now understood that I had participated in each resentment relationship. It might have been an attitude or fear or something like that; the truth was that many of these resentments were caused or nurtured by something I brought to the table. In some cases I had been an innocent victim; and sometimes my part in the situation was that I was holding on to that resentment long past its expiration date because it made me feel powerful.

Thanks to Steps 6, 7, and 8, I now realized that dishonesty, fear, and self-centeredness had led me to inappropriate behaviors.

And now it was time to clean up the mess.

My sponsors helped me figure out exactly how to make each amend. They suggested that I write down each name, exactly what I had done, and what I was going to do to amend my behavior.

An example:
Who: Janet P.
What: Every time I babysat her child, I ate up all her food.
Amend: I will make a donation to a charity of her choice.

This is important: when I make an amend, I don’t talk about what the person did wrong to make me behave the way I did. There are always rationales, but they are irrelevant because these are MY mends, not the other person’s. It’s also critical that I not ask for forgiveness. I am cleaning up my side of the street and anyone else to whom I go forgives me is immaterial. I am doing what I have to do, and people I harmed have every right to remain angry with me.

The Big Book says this about why we make amends, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1452-1453). Kindle Edition.

In other words, I can’t be useful to anyone if I’m hanging on to the chaos I made when I was active in my eating. I will say, however, that I rarely talk about God to any of the people to whom I make amends. It feels awkward, and I find it isn’t necessary. While I need to keep the real purpose in mind, I hesitate to talk about it with others. That’s just my experience; others have their own experiences. My sponsors suggested that when I make each amend, I tell the person exactly why I was doing it, and that was that I am in a 12-step program and am cleaning up the messes I made in the past. That’s all that’s necessary.

So how to actually make the amend.

I went to some people directly by a phone call or an in-person meeting. Some people – this was 30 years ago, remember – could only be reached by mail (remember snail mail?), so I wrote a letter. An unsent letter was necessary for those people who had died or could not be found. Today I’ll either make a call, meet someone in person, or send an email if necessary. More important than anything else is my fervent prayer to my Higher Power that I not repeat the behavior with anyone else in the future.

To fully explain what the aftermath of making amends was like, I need to give you some examples.

My sponsor told me to start with the easiest amends to get my feet wet as it were. So I figured that the easiest one would be a letter written to a deceased relative whom I had treated badly when I was really young. I mean, she couldn’t scold or reject me from the grave, right? Yeah – not so much. It turns out that those are the most painful amends to make precisely because the relationship cannot be healed ever. It will forever be lost. Lesson learned.

One amend to a former teacher against whom I had held a grudge for decades was heartbreaking.

Now while some might not think that holding a grudge was grounds for an amend; in this case – as in one other – it was more a matter of actually changing my attitude in the future. I had been a miserable, arrogant student, and I had hated her because of the way she had treated me.

The heartbreak was that when I tracked her down (she was living on the other side of the country) and called her, I learned that she was dying from cancer. After I got through my rehearsed speech, she and I had a lovely conversation; she remembered me, and appeared grateful to have heard from me after so long. I got off the phone and sobbed because I had spent so many years hating her and watching my soul corrode from the hatred.

The amend? A few years later I met up with some old classmates, people who had equally despised this teacher, and discovered something miraculous. They still hated her with every ounce of their being. I did not. I had understood that while she had been a less-than-exemplary teacher; that I had brought something toxic to the table in our teacher-student relationship; and that now my soul was empty of the toxicity I had carried for decades. I wasn’t full of self-celebration for what I had done because I totally understood what my friends had experienced; but I was no longer reeking of hatred and resentment.

People respond to amends in many ways.

Remember that example of the person whose food I ate up when I babysat? She sure remembered me, even after 20 years, was not at all welcoming, and met my proposed amend (charitable donation) with a freezing chill. And that was fine. My objective was not to get forgiveness; it was to be free of the soul-crushing past.

There was a high school teacher to whom I sent a letter about my being a miserable student who behaved boorishly in his class. You see, he had replaced a beloved teacher who had thought the world of me and adored me; and I hated this newcomer who didn’t love me nearly enough as I thought I deserved. He responded to my letter by letting me know that he absolutely remembered me as an awful person who clearly hated him (oh, and he accepted my apology). I hadn’t needed him to respond; my soul had already been liberated.

Some amends are actually amusing.

When I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, I used to stop at a local grocery store and filch (aka steal) 5-cent pastries. Two decades later, I’m in OA, and I’m making amends, and the store and my misbehavior pop up on my amend list. So what to do?

Well, I went to the store and spoke to a kid at the cash register (the owner wasn’t there). He was nonplussed as he searched for the “Candid Camera” that he was sure was lurking in the background. Remember, this had been decades before, and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. He couldn’t take the money, which I had figured out would be about $15 at the time I was making restitution (it was probably $1 altogether at the time) because the cash register would be off kilter, and he knew he’d never be able to explain it to his boss. I noticed a box on the counter asking for donations to some charitable organization, told him I was putting the money in the box, and asked him to just tell his boss that some lady came in apologizing for her twenty-year-old misbehavior.

Every time I make an amend, my soul is liberated.

Questions for conversation:

  1. If you have done Step 9, can you tell us what it was like?
  2. If you haven’t, is there something that’s holding you back?
  3. Why is doing Step 9 important for your recovery?
  4. I’ve included the 9th Step Promises below. If you’ve done Step 9, how do you see the promises coming true for you?

Here is what the Big Book says about what happens after we finish Step 9. Known as the Step 9 Promises, they are a list of blessings I never knew I’d get when I crawled into OA.

“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. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us–sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (2014-01-05). Alcoholics Anonymous (Kindle Locations 1557-1558). Kindle Edition.

May we all be blessed with these promises.

Thank you for letting me do this service.

Penny K

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