All of the steps from four onward are concerned with interpersonal relations – how we interact in the wider world, including the pain we cause, the resentments we form, etc. The process, essentially, is:
- To look back on our lives and see where we have caused problems for ourselves and others
- To make a vigorous attempt to repair the damage we have done
- To live differently in the future
Step eight, coupled with step nine, is the middle portion of this procedure – making a vigorous attempt to repair the damage we have done.
The first part of step eight is compiling a list of the people we have harmed, not forgetting to include ourselves on the list. Reviewing step four (our fearless and searching moral inventory) is a great place to start when compiling this list. Most of the names on that list will also appear on our step eight list, but some may not, and new ones will likely be added.
Typically, this list includes more than just the injured person’s (or institution’s) name. Most people also write the specifics of the harm, along with how the person harmed reacted to the situation (anger, fear, distrust, depression, etc.) After you’ve written down who you’ve harmed and how, you should add your current feelings about the situation, acknowledging guilt and shame along with any lingering anger or resentment that you may have. Next you should examine your motives for making amends. What do you hope to accomplish by making amends? If your goal is simply looking good in the eyes of others, you’re probably not yet willing (the second part of step eight) to make that particular amends. Finally, you should list the type of amends you can make to each person for the harms you’ve perpetrated.
Sometimes the amends you propose will be as simple as admitting what you did and saying “I’m sorry.” Other slights may require a financial payment or some other tangible recompense on your part. Occasionally the person we have victimized is no longer living or the situation (theirs or ours) is such that further contact with them might cause additional damage. In such cases the best amends may well be vowing to live differently in the future and then actually doing so.
For many recovering addicts, the second half of step eight – becoming willing to make amends – is sometimes tougher than actually compiling the list. And when you think about it, this is perfectly natural. The simple truth is most of the people on your list have probably, at some point in time, behaved badly toward you as well. It is very easy to seize upon the other person’s wrongdoing as a way to excuse your own behavior. If you find yourself doing that, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just recognize your feelings and remind yourself that step eight is not about the other person, it’s about you. You’re working the steps for your recovery, not theirs.
Sometimes recovering addicts struggle for days, weeks, months, or even years to find the requisite willingness. If you find yourself battling old anger and resentments in this way, it is a good idea to discuss it with your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. An old 12-step trick one of them might suggest is praying (as sincerely as possible) for the other person’s health and wellbeing every morning and night for two weeks. Most people find that doing so greatly diminishes lingering resentments. Positive affirmations are also helpful. A few general affirmations that many people have found useful are:
- I am willing to take responsibility for my actions, regardless of the actions of others.
- I am open to the lessons I can learn from making amends.
- I understand and accept that making amends is a necessary part of my recovery.
More specific affirmations may be even more helpful, such as: “I am no longer angry with X, and I am willing to make amends to him/her for my behavior.” Usually, if you say this enough times you’ll start to believe it.
The most important thing to know about step eight is that this is not the point at which you actually make the amends. That’s step nine, and step nine should never be taken without first discussing your step eight list and proposed amends with your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Jumping the gun and making amends before the time is right often causes more problems, which later require even more amends. So be patient, make your list, and then discuss it before proceeding.