by Bill Wigmore
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
If we’re going to get sober and stay sober, we’ve simply got to change. Working the Steps is what changes us. By working the Steps, we change the three primary relationships in our lives:
1. Our relationship with God
2. Our relationship with our selves
3. Our relationships with people
Let’s do a very quick review. The first three Steps fundamentally change our relationship with God.
In Step One we finally admit our powerlessness (our allergy) to alcohol or drugs. We simply don’t drink or drug like most other people. Once we start using, we don’t know when we’re going to stop. Then, in the second half of that Step, we finally begin to recognize and feel the seeming hopelessness of our condition. We try to slow down and we can’t. We try to quit and we fail. (Welcome to the terror of addiction!) We’re made painfully aware that we can no longer “manage” our lives. We simply can’t “manage” to quit by ourselves. We see how, without help, our obsession – our “unmanageability” – will sooner or later lead us right back to using the very stuff that’s been killing us.
“God help me!” we cry; and we’re into Step Two. Our relationship with God fundamentally changes. Most of us move from a fuzzy belief in some kind of a God who up to that point probably had very little to do with us and with our lives, and we enter into a new and totally different relationship. We soon come to believe that this Power can do a far better job of managing our lives and so in Step Three we make a decision to let God do it.
In Steps Four through Seven, we make a fundamental change in the relationship we have with ourselves. We take an inventory of this “self” and we see how it’s been driven by a hundred forms of fear. We see a pattern of self-centered fear that’s controlled us and blocked us from being in a right and healthy relationships with God and with the people around us. We see how that fear has kept us from living as our true selves. So we share our inner secrets and our patterns and our shame with someone – and for the first time someone knows all of me – and they don’t run away! Then we resolve in Steps Six and Seven to enter a life-long, healing relationship with this God, where God removes our character defects as we become willing to bring this newly-emerging self more and more into alignment with God’s will and God’s love for us.
Then in Steps Eight and Nine we turn to the healing of our relationships with others.
Making direct amends to the people we’ve harmed offers us the opportunity for healing our past and freeing us from our guilt and shame as well as from the remorse and fear that most of us carry into sobriety. The weight of this load can become intolerable, and healing these relationships is as vital as was healing our relationships with God and with ourselves.
When my sponsor took me through this part of the program, he helped me sort through the different categories of amends I needed to make. Some could be done immediately, some would take time, some would have consequences for others and required their consent, and some were dropped from the list entirely because they would only benefit me at the expense of other people. Getting direct guidance from people and from God in the handling of amends is critical; putting them off can be fatal.
The Big Book devotes several pages to the Ninth Step and we could all benefit from the wise counsel given on pages 76 through 84. Now might even be a good time to dust off your Big Book and read them. They give far more practical advice than space here allows and they end with the beautiful promises the program offers to all.
One of the promises is that we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. As a matter of fact, it goes on to make a further promise that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. Benefiting others isn’t the usual focus of Step Nine, but we may be missing a key element in this Step if it’s totally overlooked. The God-directed attempt at healing a damaged relationship is almost certainly bound to affect the person to whom we make an amend. Honesty – expressed humbly and with full responsibility for our actions – often calls forth honesty in another. The program is right not to make this the purpose of the amend; but the book does say, Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.
Perhaps a lesson we have to learn in traveling the Steps is that now that we’re on a spiritual journey there simply are no coincidences in our lives, only God-given and God- directed opportunities. Those opportunities are there not only for our own healing, but also for the healing of all the people God places in our lives. This includes the people on our amends list. Remember, you might be the only Big Book they ever get a chance to read; and that just might change their life too!