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Step Nine: Making Amends in Recovery

In many 12-step recovery programs, making amends is an important part of the process. For example, Alcoholic Anonymous (AA)’s ninth step involves making amends to the individuals in your life who were affected by your addiction. The goal of the program is to improve yourself and make strides to be a better person for yourself and your loved ones alike while also remaining sober.

The beauty of this process for newcomers and those unsure of where to go next is that their recovery from alcoholism is outlined in twelve in-depth action steps. Many alcoholics are guided through the steps by a sponsor, but some individuals complete the steps on their own. AA’s step work has been adjusted for use in other addiction recovery programs, such as sex addiction or drug addiction. Overall, the step of making amends in AA encompasses the program’s mission to heal the emotional and spiritual aspects of alcoholism while also diminishing the physical and mental side effects of addiction. It is important to note that just because you have made amends does not mean that your relationships will be completely healed or return back to normal.

Preparing to Make Amends

The word “step” speaks for itself. The recovery process builds upon each step in your sober journey. Thus, it only makes sense that step nine is a response to step eight, which involves making a list of all the people that you have harmed and become willing to make amends to all of them. Step eight is preparation for the action of step nine, which involves putting your recovery into action.

Step nine in the Big Book states, “We [members of AA] made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” The first three steps must not be overlooked in order to achieve a successful ninth step. Likewise, the fourth and the fifth steps provide the groundwork for recovering alcoholics, allowing them to explore their own personal responsibility and truly understand what they are actually making amends for in the first place. On a similar note, the sixth and seventh steps give recovering alcoholics newfound humility in order to prevent blame, anger, or self-righteousness during their recovery. The eighth step then helps the individual prepare to accomplish step nine.

In sum, when recovering alcoholics reach step nine, they are completely connected to their Higher Power. The steps ensure that those in recovery feel supported, safe, and secure in making the next step to freedom from addiction.

Why Making Amends Can Be Difficult

Successfully approaching and accomplishing step nine requires the alcoholic in recovery to be willing to go to any lengths to make amends to those individuals whom they have harmed in the past. Apologizing is difficult for many people, and taking responsibility for your actions can be painful as it may remind you of the harm you have caused. However, this provides you with hope and inspiration to become and remain a better person in all future endeavors. The root of many fears and feelings boil down to guilt and shame. Guilt and shame anchor people to their past and trap them in old ways that prevent them from growing and moving on with their lives. By tackling step nine, recovering alcoholics can be freed from their past, including addiction.

More often than not, step nine will be painful, but also equally freeing. There is no denying that taking step nine takes tremendous courage. This is not just because you are acknowledging, addressing, and apologizing for your own faulty behavior, but because recovering alcoholics must be willing to take this step no matter how severe the personal consequences or internal pain that will arise.

Clearing your conscience of what you might have committed when in an active addiction helps immensely in your sober life. For instance, when in active addiction, alcoholics likely have lied, cheated, or stolen in order to get alcohol, drink alcohol, or hide their drinking. On page 83 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, taking the ninth step is about “the readiness to take the full consequences of our past acts, and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same time, is the very spirit of Step Nine.

The Role of a Sponsor

Having a sponsor helps with the ninth step, as sponsors work side-by-side with recovering alcoholics and help determine how to handle making amends. Many sponsors bring an awareness of why individuals are motivated to express amends and can question the beneficial purpose of sharing such information from the past. It is always necessary to be open-minded when working the steps because discussing your amends list with a sponsor can surface other avenues of the amends process that you may not have considered before. Perhaps, the amends that you wanted to make might not seem right after discussing with a sponsor.

The 12-step program instills honesty and integrity in members. If making amends requires the recovering alcoholic to report a past crime, they must be willing to go to jail to complete this step on their road to a complete and limitless recovery. From the steps leading up to nine, recovering alcoholics begin to develop tools to handle stressful situations without liquor and believe in a Higher Power greater than themselves. Believing in a Higher Power provides those in recovery with a spiritual aspect that gives them strength and guidance to do the right thing even when it is hard and unlike anything they have done in the past. This can be directly applied to step nine.

How to Make Amends

Step nine is organized in a specific manner. An alcoholic in recovery first creates the list of individuals they have harmed during step eight and then divides the list into four categories. The four categories determine the manner in which the recovering alcoholic will express their amends.

  • The first category includes all of the individuals to whom the recovering alcoholic can fully make amends when still in early sobriety.
  • The second category includes individuals to whom the recovering alcoholic will only express partial amends. The second category should include those people to whom the person will make partial amends because full surrender would cause more harm than good.
  • The next category includes individuals who should not be contacted until the individual has achieved a complete and unbreakable recovery. Usually, children fall into this category because there is a concern that if the recovering alcoholic relapses, it could impact the child’s development and ability to trust others.
  • The final category includes individuals who are impossible to reach and make amends. Examples include those who have passed away or are unreachable after an extensive search.

Before completing step nine, the recovering alcoholic needs to be ready to deliver their message with the best intentions, not motivated by false expectations. However, following the Big Book, the guiding principle of step nine is to complete your full amends at the earliest opportunity, of course, only if such action is possible, proper, and will not result in additional harm. The reason why it is better to make amends earlier rather than later is based on experience and case studies. Many recovering alcoholics have relapsed when they allowed their fears to block them from completing step nine. For example, Dr. Bob, one of the original founders of the AA program, could not stay sober until he went around town and made amends to all those he had hurt.

An important element of step nine is that those in recovery have already begun making amends to themselves by changing some of their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. The goal of this step is to find freedom by cleaning up the past to live peacefully in the present. Those in recovery are encouraged to keep an ongoing ninth step in their life by continuing to pay off debts and refraining from lying, stealing, or cheating. The ninth step is very action-oriented and provides a sense of relief. Although step nine can be difficult, participants should remember that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes willingness and courage to reflect on and find a resolution to your mistakes. If the recovering alcoholic is able to do this, then it demonstrates that they are progressing positively and ready for the tenth step. The guilt for your wrongdoings will eventually dissipate and by making an apology and amends, you will be able to let go and live.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we support clients through the steps and encourage them to make amends when appropriate to restore their relationships and sense of morality.

Guide to Step 9 and Making Amends

Important Terms to Know

  • Direct Amends – taking personal responsibility for your actions and confronting the person you would like to reconcile with.
  • Indirect Amends – finding ways to repair damage that cannot be reversed or undone through actions such as volunteering and helping others.
  • Living Amends – showing others as well as yourself that you have made a genuine lifestyle change. Making a commitment to yourself and those that have been hurt by your addiction that you will no longer engage in your previous destructive behaviors.
  • Restoration – bringing something back to its former state, usually something that has been damaged. This can mean restoring your reputation or trust in a relationship.
  • Resolution – finding a resolution to past experiences that trouble alcoholics in recovery. Coming up with answers and solutions and laying old problems to rest.
  • Restitution – the act of returning something material (or abstract) to its rightful owner.

The Ninth Step Promises

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway 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.

– Big Book pages 83 & 84

Step Nine Questions and Guidelines

  • While progressing through step nine, it is really important to keep in mind that the way things feel is not necessarily the way things are.
  • By letting go of all expectations and previous interpretations about how amends will or should turn out, your step nine will be completed just like it should be. The questions below can help support anyone willing to work step nine:
  • How is “making amends” committing to a continuous process of change?
  • Do I have fears about making amends? Am I worried that someone will take revenge or reject me?
  • How does the Ninth Step require a new level of surrender to the program?
  • What about my financial amends? Do I have faith that the God of my understanding will ensure I have what I need even though I am sacrificing to make amends?
  • Why doesn’t it matter how my amends are received?
  • How will other addicts, my sponsor, and my Higher Power be sources of strength in this process?
  • Which names on my Eighth Step list are complicated by circumstances? Do I owe any amends that might have serious consequences if I made them? What are they?
  • What behaviors do I need to amend?
  • What are my immediate plans for making amends to myself? Do I have any long-range goals that might also fit as amends to myself? What are they? What can I do to follow through?
  • Have I accepted responsibility for the harm I caused and for repairing that harm?
  • What experiences have I had that led me to see the harm I caused more clearly? How has that contributed to an increase in my humility?
  • What are the benefits to me of practicing the principle of forgiveness? What are some situations in which I’ve been able to practice this principle?
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