By Robert White
What are the 8th and 9th steps?
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Throughout my journey in recovery, I have found that if I am rigorously authentic if I surrender the outcome, and if I do uncomfortable work then I can experience the freedom that is guaranteed within the process of the 12 steps. The result of me being sober is the by-product of me waking up to who I am and how I interact with the rest of the world.
Just like all of the steps, Step 8 requires willingness. If I am not willing, I will not grow. I will surely return back to my old manner of living. In order for me to have an experience with Steps 8 & 9 I have to have the willingness that is required for these steps. I must be convinced of everything that has been revealed to me through the process of steps 1 – 7.
From 17 – 24, I went in and out of recovery and always treated the steps like a buffet. I would pick and choose what I was willing to do. Mostly the things that were most convenient. On several different occasions, I would find myself looking at the 12 steps and I would go and make amends to family and friends before I even knew why I needed to do so. Really, I wasn’t making amends at all. I was just doing what I always had done. I would call up family and apologize. But I wouldn’t change because I wasn’t sold out on the fact that I needed to change. I would only say sorry because I thought that’s what I needed to do. What I really wanted during those years was a relief and that is all I got.
I used to think that the 8th step list was to be only created based off of who I thought I had harmed. I thought that this list was to be separate from the grudge list that I made in the 4th step. This is only a partial truth. If we take a look at what our literature (The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous) says, we actually came up with our 8th step list when we wrote inventory.
On page 76, Into Action, “Now we need more action, without which we find that “Faith without works is dead.” Let’s look at Steps Eight and Nine. We have a list of all persons we have harmed and to whom we are willing to make amends. We made it when we took inventory. We subjected ourselves to a drastic self-appraisal. Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the very beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.” On page 13, in Bill’s Story, “We made a list of people I had hurt or toward I felt resentment. I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.”
What I love about the 12 steps is that they work together in unison and if I am going to take action in 12 step recovery there are some requirements or agreements that were made from the very beginning. Before 2012, I had operated at a certain level of willingness during the times that I had gotten sober. I had gotten relief but had never truly gone all in. I never was willing to go to any length. And the result that I got from those efforts was staying sober for periods of time always followed up by another relapse.
In April 2012 I had once again been beaten up by my half measured attempt at recovery. I had gone on yet another 4-month spree and was full of remorse and self-pity. I did not want to live. I thought that the 12 steps were a lie. I remember telling myself that there was no hope. Everything that recovery had promised me was false. I had made up my mind that I was going to continue to use and hope that I would not live to see 25. Then another thought came into my mind. Something said that what I had just thought was nonsense. Something said the reason that I was yet again in this position of hopelessness was that I never went all-in on my recovery. Something said that I have been unwilling to go to any length. On April 28, 2012, I made a decision to go all-in and take action in recovery like my life depended on it because it surely did.
When I got to Steps 8 & 9, I was completely willing to do whatever it took. Of course, there were some amends that I didn’t necessarily want to make but I remained willing. I prayed and talked with my brothers in recovery whenever these doubts would crop up. I listened and followed direction. I sat quietly and listened for guidance. I got uncomfortable. I took action.
Through experience, I found that even the amends that I thought were going to go “bad”, the opposite happened. Through humbling myself and being specific about the wrongs I had done to others, I was met with love, tolerance, and forgiveness. I got to see how my selfish actions affected others. I got to listen and was given the opportunity to make it right. Some of the people on the list never responded and I got down on myself around that because I didn’t know how I would right it. So I sat quietly and listened. I talked it over with others and took action around what was brought to me through the conversations with my brothers and through what I had received in meditation. Those that did not answer or respond early on eventually returned my messages and I was able to show up to make amends. I continued to remain willing and patient. One of the amends that finally responded was two police officers that I had assaulted when I was in a blackout. I had tried to reach out to them several times with no luck. I was out of town with a friend of mine at my grandparents farm located about an hour away from where I had committed that offense. I had an intuitive thought to try and reach out. I prayed and talked about it with my friend and reached out to them. About an hour had passed and still nothing. Then my phone rang. It was getting late but I answered and it was one of the officers. He said that I could come to visit them in an hour if I was available. I told him that I would be there in an hour. My friend had already gone to bed so I was kinda down about that, but my grandfather was still awake and he said that he would ride with me. During the hour ride to the police station, my grandfather and I talked and I got to ask him questions about his life. He told me many things that I would have never learned if my friend had been up and went with me instead. When we arrived, my grandfather asked if he could pray for me before we went inside. I said yes of course. We walked in and found the two officers and I was able to make amends. They listened. I asked them if I had left anything out. Then I listened. They told me that in the last 25 years only one other person had approached them to make amends and that there were grateful that I took action to better my life. They told me that if I ever needed anything for me to give them a call and that they would be there for me.
There are still some amends that I have yet to make due to me not being able to find them or them not responding. I continue to make amends as things crop up. The gift of Steps 8 and 9 is that I am able to finally be myself and instead of just saying ‘sorry’, I am able to take action and show up as God would intend me to show up. I am able to make mistakes and own up to those mistakes. Through this process of recovery, I have been gifted with the trust of my family, friends, and employees. I get to lead by example. This all happened because finally, after years of just seeking relief, I finally went all in and sought freedom above everything.