After working step eight, you should have a list of people you have harmed and you should be willing to make amends to them all. If so, then you are ready to work step nine. Step nine should not be undertaken without first consulting your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Period. No exceptions. Do not jump into step nine without the assistance of a mentor who has already been there.
In all likelihood your advisor will ask you to share with him or her your step eight in detail, asking you about your goals in making amends, how you plan to perform your amends, and when you plan to make them. This person, having already worked step nine, understands that timing, courage, and prudence are much more valuable to you at this point than sheer enthusiasm, and he or she can therefore guide you through the process.
For starters, making direct amends is not always a good idea. That is why the second half of step nine reads “except when to do so would injure them or others.” It may be that the harm you have done to someone is so severe that simply seeing you would cause them great consternation, no matter how benevolent your current intentions. In such cases, you should probably not make a direct amends. It may also be that the person is unaware of the harm you have caused, and simply making them aware will cause them significant pain. It is also possible that approaching someone and admitting your behavior could stir up the proverbial hornets’ nest, putting your job or freedom in jeopardy, which might in turn injure your loved ones – especially if you are your family’s primary breadwinner. In such cases, direct amends should only be undertaken after much careful consideration by you and your advisor, plus consultation with anyone else (family members) who might be affected. Sometimes an indirect amends – simply being aware of what you have done and working hard to live differently in the future – is the best that you can do.
Most of the time, however, a direct amends can and should be made. In such instances, your advisor can help to ensure that you are making the right amends for the harm done. Sometimes just admitting your bad behavior and saying, “I’m sorry, and I’m working hard to behave differently in the future,” is sufficient. Other times you may need to repay, or promise to repay, money that is owed (along with the apology and assertion that you are changing your behavior). In all cases an amends is more than just an apology; the most important part of any amends is the follow-up of not making the same mistakes again.
Not surprisingly, step nine is among the scariest steps in recovery. The prospect of approaching someone we have wronged, admitting what we’ve done, apologizing and making restitution when appropriate, and then living differently in the future is, at best, daunting. However, making amends is it rarely as difficult as we make it out to be. Nearly everyone is receptive to a genuinely sincere effort. Sometimes people we’ve long held resentments against will actually use the opportunity to make an amends of their own. Usually, at worst, others appreciate the effort we are making to set things right.
In rare instances the people to whom we are making amends are not receptive. They may distrust our motives, they may just be so angry with us that they can’t accept our apology and attempts at restitution, or they may have an emotional or psychological issue that prevents them from behaving as most others do. This is their prerogative, and it is not a reason for us to deviate from our course. We make our amends anyway. After all, this is our recovery, not theirs.
For many recovering addicts, step nine is a key stride on the road to lasting recovery and a life changed for the better. In fact, this “change for the better” occurs so often that the book Alcoholics Anonymous (upon which all 12-step recovery programs are based) lists what are commonly called “The Promises” at the conclusion of step nine. They read:
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.
For many people it is helpful and comforting to do a “Promises” check-in after completing step nine. Nearly always, many or all of the promises have come true to a certain extent. Seeing this tangible proof that the 12 steps really do work is a great incentive for continued sobriety and step-work.