It’s finally here. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Not really. You’ve actually probably been dreading it. But you know it’s going to be good for you to get it over with. You’ve heard lots of stories. You don’t know what to expect. You’re nervous. You’re excited for how you’re going to feel afterwards. You wonder if it’s going to hurt you or the other person. It’s time for Step Nine. Let’s jump in.
So you made your list and you've become willing. Now you actually have to do something about it. That means going out and talking to the people that you have wronged. That means acknowledging the behavior that was harmful, asking if there’s any way you can make it right, and doing your best to not repeat that behavior in the future.
The word amend means to change. So this step is not about going around to people and saying we’re sorry only to continue our harmful behaviors. It is more hopefully a turning point after which we are attempting to not engage in these behaviors anymore. Hopefully, at this point we have begun to have the personality change that comes with a spiritual experience.
So what’s the process for making the amends? Well, as always, follow the guidance of your sponsor. But here are some guidelines that you can follow.
An important part of this step to consider before reaching out to anyone is the part where it says “except when to do so would injure them or others.” There are many cases where additional contact with someone could cause harm to them. For instance, if we had an affair with someone at the office, it would be detrimental to them and their relationships to try and make an amends to them or their significant other. In these cases, we can engage in what is called a “living amends.” That basically means, don’t do that anymore and try to be better in those types of situations. There are also cases in which facing the music could possibly jeopardize our livelihood. If we are single, this is one thing. However, if you have children or others who depend on us we could be harming them with this process. That being said, we shouldn’t use our families as an excuse for avoiding facing our bad behavior. So in these cases we recommend evaluating each possible amend on a case by case basis with our sponsors, asking our Higher Power for guidance, and trusting that the right decision will come.
So you’re ready to make an actual amends, what is the process? Make an appointment with the person who you’re going to make amends with. This places importance on the event. If you just mix it into another social interaction or just drop it on them at some random time it can detract for the experience for you and for them.
If it’s appropriate you can speak about your recovery work. But do not make this the main attraction. This process is not about giving them a reason to congratulate all of the good work you are doing. It is about acknowledging your wrongs.
Acknowledge the harms. Speak specifically to the actions and behaviors you believe were harmful to that person. Many members of the fellowship will encourage you to use words like “I was wrong” rather than “I’m sorry”.
Ask them if they feel like you left anything out. We often have a very clear picture of what we think we did that was upsetting or harmful to the people in our lives. However, self-awareness is not often a long suit of many active alcoholics. When we ask the person to whom we are making amends if we left anything out, we open the door for them to express any negative feelings that they have had that we didn’t know about. Leaving this part out can often lead to us feeling like we cleaned up our side of the street while the other person still harbors a quiet resentment.
Ask them if there is any way that they can make it up to you. If you stole money, obviously you will repay it. But in cases of wrongs associated with behavior sometimes it’s difficult to assess what would make the other person feel whole again. In many cases, the person will say don’t worry about it or we’re just glad that you’re healthy and making better choices. In other cases, they might have concrete ideas for things that you can do that will make them feel more secure in the relationship. This is often the case with close friends and family members with whom you have an ongoing relationship that needs to be built on trust. Have an open mind. And listen to their suggestions. They’re giving you a roadmap to having a better relationship with them. If their requests seem reasonable, do your best to follow them as part of your amends.
Ultimately, Step Nine can be one of the most profound and healing experiences in working a twelve step program. If you’ve ever heard “The Promises” read at a meeting, these are the ninth step promises. So take action, trust God, do the work, and we assure you that many if not all of those promises will also come true for you.