Step 9 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous reads as follows:
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
While working through the twelve steps, you must actively repair strained and broken relationships at this point in the recovery process. Unfortunately, alcoholics are not known for their honesty or their special consideration for people, especially loved ones, around them. Instead, alcohol addicts can be very deceptive and often exhibit scant concern for others as they engage in destructive behavior patterns. They continue to behave in this way because addiction, in part, sometimes causes people to fail morally.
Step 9 AA is the perfect time to let go of our past mistakes and actively repair troubled relationships. However, living with the weight of the need to make amends is not fun and holds us back. More importantly, living with the guilt and shame we have accumulated from past wrongdoings hinders us from moving forward and places us at risk for relapse.
If we are to improve ourselves as people, we need to avoid destructive behaviors actively. We do this not just for ourselves but also because we are now aware of how our actions have affected others. An awareness of others replaces our selfishness and self-centeredness. What’s more, instead of being apathetic, we start to really care about them and want to make amends.
A Closer Look at Step 9 AA and Making Amends
Step 9 may be the most daunting for many people and can result in a great deal of anxiety and fear. As a result, many addicts dread facing other people and avoid dealing with their emotions.
There are three forms of amends:
Direct amends involves taking personal responsibility for one’s actions and directly confronting the person with whom one wishes to reconcile. AA recommends that we make direct amends to persons we have hurt whenever possible. This type of amends usually involves apologies and ensuring that the other individual understands that their loved one is firmly committed to recovery. It also requires open communication and motivation on the part of the alcoholic to understand the other individual’s feelings and opinions fully.
Indirect amends are conscious acts of helping others when one cannot reverse the damage they have caused. This type of amends has a giving-back-to-the-community feel, in which the individual in recovery seeks to make up for wrongs by offering themselves up for the benefit of others. Activities can include volunteer work, becoming an AA sponsor, or donating money to a good cause.
Living amends is different from making amends. Instead, it means being committed to a completely new, alcohol-free lifestyle, both for oneself and those that one’s past behavior has harmed. It means initiating positive change through healthy and honest behavior and actions in addition to remaining abstinent. Finally, it also means amending how life has been lived and positively and productively engaging with loved ones and the rest of the external world.
Instead of apologizing then repeating unhealthy behavior, it is much better to be dedicated to living a healthy and sober life. To do so, commitment to avoid returning to former harmful habits that have hurt those in one’s life is necessary. Living amends means continuing to cultivate old and new relationships with a concentrated effort.
By now, individuals who have reached this step have begun making amends to themselves by altering destructive behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. This act can be difficult and frightening in and of itself. However, when encountered with the responsibility of confronting others, an individual working this step may experience an enormous level of anxiety and expectation. In addition, there is often the fear of rejection or retaliation, or, as noted, having to cope with the emotional effects of making direct amends.
You must realize that making amends doesn’t always have to be a stressful experience. It’s possible to be hopeful about healing a relationship and finding respite from the emotional damage it has caused. Freedom can be achieved by surrendering the past and moving into a more peaceful existence in the present.
It is not rare for persons working on this step to be eager to get this process completed. Still, it’s essential to avoid being impulsive or reckless when attempting to make things right. Instead, considerable thought and planning are needed to work toward the best possible outcome.
It is also just as essential to avoid putting off making amends. Many individuals in recovery have relapsed after they allowed their fears to keep them from completing step 9. And it’s also vital to be realistic—there is no set timeline for completing this step. In fact, most likely, some amends will remain ongoing for a considerable time, possibly never truly being completed.
What’s more, every time we enact efforts to refrain from hurting those we care for, we have been making amends. These efforts might consist of much more than just being abstinent. Alcoholics tend to experience financial, legal, and emotional issues that have to be dealt with. And unfortunately, the time it can take to address all these problems may be extended and unknown.
When Making Amends Causes Harm
Making amends can require us to step back and take a close look at how our revelations could negatively affect others. Making amends should never result in further harm being inflicted upon others. However, there may be circumstances in which contacting another person directly could be hurtful or cause harm to that individual in some way.
For example, there may be a situation where the person we’ve harmed is unaware of it, and learning about it could hurt them even more. Or there could be circumstances that involve other people or addicts who enabled the alcoholic, and, in coming clean, these persons could get into trouble. Many types of conditions may need special consideration.
An AA sponsor can help others determine the best way to handle various scenarios and people when undergoing the process of making amends. They can help us analyze our motives for confronting them with our addiction, apologies, or wrongdoings. You have to ask yourself: Does that person really need to know? What purpose is served by divulging this information?
The Essence of Step 9 AA
Giving and accepting love needs to be a priority throughout recovery, in addition to remaining abstinent. At this point, we should have eliminated a substantial amount of the destructive behaviors, feelings, and attitudes from which we used to suffer. However, in doing so, we are paving the way to allow love, respect, and honesty to come back into our lives.
Guilt and shame are feelings that hold us in the past if we don’t deal with and manage our issues and right the wrongs we have done to others. Through love and spirituality, we can liberate ourselves from the emotional anchor that weighs us down and start to enjoy the freedom from addiction we have desired for so long.
Getting Help for Addiction
By becoming a fellow of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, millions of people yearly promote sustainable sobriety by leaning on peers to encourage accountability. However, it is crucial to note that 12-step programs are most effective in early recovery when used as part of a broader, more comprehensive addiction treatment program.
Such programs, like Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery, include evidence-based services proven essential for the recovery process. These include but are not limited to behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.