by Bill Wigmore
Step Eight: Made a list of all people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Every once in a while another little piece of God’s truth seems to jump out from the pages of our recovery literature and hits me right between the eyes. I might have read the words a hundred times before the little epiphany happens but then – in God’s good time – my mind is finally ready to absorb another little part of his amazing message. And so there it is jumping out at me – right on schedule (his schedule, not mine). The lights go on, I wake up a little more, and as the book promised, more has been revealed.
That’s exactly what happened to me in a meeting some time back when someone was reading Step Eight from Bill Wilson’s book 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Here’s what they read
Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one.
Now go and read the underlined part of that quote one more time. That was the part that hit me. Could defective relations with human beings really lie at the heart of all my problems, including my alcoholism? Step Eight was never my favorite Step; but then, relating to people, especially relating to them rightly, was never my favorite sport either! Maybe Wilson was really on to something here.
Recovery is about “righting relationships” that have gone wrong. Remember, the whole purpose of working the Steps is to produce in us a spiritual awakening. This awakening, we are told, is necessary for us to overcome addiction. It must be obtained at all cost and we must be willing to go to any length to achieve it. Some people call this awakening a conversion experience, others refer to it as a personality change, still others, a shift in consciousness.
Whatever it’s called, at its root, it entails the transformation of the mind and the spirit away from an inflated ego state – prideful and isolated – and into an ego-deflated state; a new state of consciousness that is humble, teachable and now living, one day at a time, in right relationship with God, with self and with others.
Step Eight is critical to this process. The Big Book reminds us, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people around us.” In Step Eight we begin to bring our newly emerging self into right relationship with those we have harmed in our lives.
We are directed to make a list of those people we’ve harmed in our lives. Once we begin to examine the list with the purpose of making amends for past wrongs, we’ll probably meet our ego in the full force of all its power. The ego’s position as ruler of our lives is now seriously threatened. If we go through with making amends, it knows full well we’ll achieve a heavy dose of humility and the ego’s control will be severely weakened.
Be prepared for some heavy resistance on this one. Be prepared for genuine spiritual warfare! Our egos will say to us, “Don’t look back. Just forget about those people and forget about the wrongs you did to them. What good can possibly come from digging up your past?” We’ll also hear our egos scream. “What about all the wrongs they did to you? Hell, they should be the ones making amends to you!”
Welcome to the real battlefield of recovery – our twisted human relationships; or, as Wilson calls them, “the immediate cause of all our woes including our alcoholism.”
Dr. Bob, along with a great many other alcoholics and addicts, stumbled badly on this Step. He had received the message of recovery Bill Wilson brought him and stayed sober for several weeks but he tried doing it without making any amends. He hoped he could stay sober without this seemingly extreme exercise in humility. He could not. He got drunk. June 10th, 1935 was the start date of AA because it was the day Dr. Bob took his last drink. It is not coincidentally also the day that Dr. Bob finally swallowed his pride and went the rounds in Akron, Ohio making amends to the people he had harmed.
Clearing away the wreckage of our past is frightening business; but like Wilson wrote, “… no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one.” Going through the process of becoming willing to work this Step will likely drive us further and further into the arms of God and into the arms of our newly found friends and sponsors in sobriety. Those are exactly the right relationships we so sorely need.
A huge chunk of the needed spiritual awakening will come into our lives as we overcome the power of the ego through God’s grace and we face the truth of just how twisted some of our relationships had been – how we had wronged so many of the people in our lives. We’re now invited to grow up and take responsibility for our past actions, whether they were done drunk or sober and whether the other person had harmed us or not.
Sam Shoemaker was an Episcopal priest and the one Wilson credited with teaching him and Dr. Bob all the spiritual principles that underlie the 12 Steps. Listen to what he says on this business of relationships:
I want to remind you that our experience of God is all bound up inextricably with our human relationships. ‘If a man loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he hasn’t seen?’ (and) ‘If you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, first go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ It is idle (foolish) for us to try to be in touch with God, or keep in touch with Him, so long as there are human relationships which must be righted at the same time.
It’s no wonder I hated this Step!
Reprinted by kind permission of the author. More of his writings can be found at www.austinrecovery.org.