by Sean McG. (Punanai 2010)
Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.
~ Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76
As my sponsor guided me through the 12 steps, I was always eager to move to the next step. I had been struggling to get sober for a few years, both in and out of the program, and this was the first time I was actually taking the steps with a sponsor. I was amazed that just a few weeks in, right before my fourth step, I no longer had the desire to drink. This was a miracle in my eyes. I had never experienced much relief from the obsession before that. Just a week following my worst bottom I had already started contemplating drinking again. So when I was freed from the insanity of drinking, I couldn’t take the steps fast enough.
I had been frustrated by Step Seven because it seemed so intangible. Yes, I said the seventh step prayer for each of my character defects and continued to use the prayer on a regular basis. I even had faith that a power greater than myself could remove my shortcomings. After all, if the power I chose to call God could take away my obsession with alcohol, I knew that power was boundless. But I continued to see my character defects crop up regularly, seemingly immune to my prayers and even my efforts to not indulge in them. I was eager to move right into Step Eight, which I saw as much more concrete.
I’ve heard a lot in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous that it is often in hindsight that we see how a step works. This has been my experience with Step Eight. That first time through the steps with my sponsor, I saw Step Eight simply as a pen-and-paper exercise that served as a starting point for Step Nine. Today I see it as much more than that. And instead of seeing it only linked in a pair with Step Nine, I see its important relationship to the previous step. My initial eagerness to always be focused on the next step in early recovery blinded me to this relationship. I can now see how each step not only prepares us for the next step, but also rests firmly upon the prior step.
Step Eight wasn’t just a list of people I had harmed. It was a snapshot of how I often chose to interact with the world. It was a record of the impact my character defects had on others.
Before each amends I make, I speak with my sponsor who always asks, “What was the harm done?” For me, this question is best answered by looking at which one of my character defects was active at the time. Was it envy? Anger? Greed? Self-righteousness? My eighth-step list isn’t just a list of everyone who I interacted with during my drinking. And it’s certainly not limited to interactions I had while drinking. It is a very specific list of people who I’ve harmed as a result of indulging in my character defects. Perhaps my greed led me to steal from someone. Maybe my envy resulted in my gossiping and spreading rumours about the person I envied.
A solid understanding of my Steps Six and Seven guide me through my Step Eight. It seems so self-evident today, but in my first year of sobriety all my thoughts while writing my eighth-step list were firmly aimed at the amends that were to come.
I believe this type of tunnel vision impaired my efforts on the second part of Step Eight – “… and became willing to make amends to them all.” Instead of focusing on developing the quality of willingness for some of my amends, I got caught up in fantasizing about how the amends would turn out. I would imagine a person rejecting my amends before I had even made it, which would lead to self-centered fear and resentment.
The 12 and 12 talks about developing the quality of willingness in its third chapter:
All by himself, and in the light of his own circumstances, he needs to develop the quality of willingness. When he acquires willingness, he is the only one who can make the decision to exert himself.
~ Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 40
There are two ways I go about developing the quality of willingness for Step Eight. First, I ask what might be blocking my willingness to make a certain amends. It is likely fear and/or resentment, both of which I can look at using a Step Four inventory. I look over my inventory and say the corresponding prayers. I speak with my sponsor to check my perception of the situation. Often I’m operating under misperceptions, and my sponsor helps steer me back into reality. Second, I pray to develop the willingness to do the amends.
The test of my willingness to make an amends is simple. Am I taking concrete actions to make the amends? If the answer is no, more work needs to be done on the willingness aspect of Step Eight. The Big Book reminds me right before laying out how to proceed with Step Nine that victory over alcohol comes when we are willing to go to any lengths.
It’s been my experience that the willingness that comes with Step Eight not only worked to defeat the tyrant alcohol, it also paved the way for a life that I never knew I could have and one that I’m only just beginning to discover.