It’s time for us to continue our usual series on the Twelve Steps. This time, we turn our attention toward Step Nine. At this point, we reach the last step in our initial plan of action. The last few steps concentrate on continuous action, but Step Nine focuses on what we can do today in order to better ourselves. This section of the 12 steps recovery program began in Step Four, when we detailed our resentments and the harm we had done. It continued in Step Five, when we shared this information with another. In Step Six and Step Seven, we faced our character defects. And in Step Eight, we looked at the amends that we now must make.
Step Nine can be scary to those who feel they do not deserve forgiveness. This is why we must remember that forgiveness is not the principle of Step Nine. It certainly plays a role, in that we must be able to forgive those who harmed us. But if our amends are not met with forgiveness, we must continue to move forward. Whether or not others accept our amends should not be the issue here. Instead, the issue is whether or not we are willing to make these amends in the first place. If we are not, then we will surely fail this step.
Making amends can be tiresome. It can leave us emotionally and physically drained. Nonetheless, we must attempt to make amends to every single person on our Step Eight list. If we think of someone not present on the list, we must add them and endeavor to make amends immediately. Otherwise, we simply will not gain everything the Ninth Step has to offer. And this would be unfortunate because this is the point at which the Twelve Promises often begin to reveal themselves. We’ll cover this in more detail below.
What Is Step Nine?
As written in the AA 12&12 (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), Step Nine states:
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
The 12&12 notes that we’ll need a few qualities to successfully complete this step. It requires careful forethought, a sense of caution, decent timing, and at least an ounce of bravery. Without these things, we might not even make a beginning. We must know which people require amends as soon as possible. In addition, we must know which people on our list might never receive complete restitution. Finally, there will be some people to whom we must never speak again, even if we feel confident that they deserve amends.
On the plus side, we often begin making “living amends” before we even reach this step. That’s because we never caused certain people direct harm. Nonetheless, our addiction hurt them greatly. Simply by seeing us embrace an earnest desire to recover, they feel a sense of ease. We make amends to such people by striving toward spiritual progress. As long as we right the ship and stay on the path of virtue, we do right by those who care about us the most.
Thankfully, we find that many people meet us halfway. Even those to whom we owe financial amends may not request an arm and a leg. Once they know that we truly desire to set things right, they help us figure out a plan. Upon finalizing this plan of action, our sole duty remains to follow up on it. We should never fall prey to the belief that every compromise works in our favor. If we don’t do what is expected of us, we will face consequences.
Sincerity and humility are the principles that drive Step Nine. It isn’t always easy to approach those we have wronged. But we must do so, and we must mean everything we say. Never assume that empty promises are enough to complete the Ninth Step. Too long have addicts and alcoholics relied on empty words to pave their way. Step Nine is entirely action-oriented. If we don’t intend to follow through on our amends, we may as well not make them at all. Those who cannot complete this step with rigorous honesty are doomed to repeat the past. This isn’t about a “get out of jail free card.” It’s about spiritual growth. Never settle for anything less.
What It Means
So what does Step Nine mean when referring to amends? The answer is quite simple. To “amend” something doesn’t mean to apologize for it. Think about our constitutional amendments. They aren’t apologies, but rather corrections. When we make amends, we ultimately change the state of our relationship with the other party. Our relationships often disintegrate during addiction. During Step Nine, our primary purpose becomes that of healing. We are trying to change those relationships that suffered the most damage from our prior actions.
Again, note that Step Nine doesn’t require forgiveness. Some relationships cannot be changed for the better. This decision lies solely in the hands of those to whom we now present ourselves with utmost sincerity. Our only goal here should be to sweep our own side of the street. Whether or not we do so successfully bears no relevance. The best that we can do is try. If we do so rigorously and honestly, then we have completed the goals set forth by this step. We shouldn’t expect anything in return.
The hardest thing about accepting angry responses to our amends will ironically be the lack of such responses in many cases. When we perform Step Nine, we find many people on our list to be quite forgiving. This might spur our ego a bit, and we assume that all people will react in the same manner. But we shouldn’t argue or become overly persistent when they do not. Nor should we give up simply because a few of our attempts went south. We must continue our work, no matter what the response. At the end of the day, we must satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that we did our very best. And if we cannot say that we did our best, then perhaps we must make another attempt.
Let us now consider the concept of injuring others with our amends. This largely depends upon the nature of the amends themselves. For instance, our sexual conduct may convince us that certain former paramours deserve attention while working Step Nine. But perhaps we hurt them to an extent that we know our amends will fall on deaf ears. In fact, hearing from us might do little aside from rubbing salt on old wounds. When such cases present ourselves, we turn to our sponsors. If they tell us to leave someone out of our amends, we must listen to them. Never risk hurting another person simply to clear your own conscience. This is pure selfishness, which goes against everything that Step Nine represents. It’s hard at first, but you may one day realize that these amends would have changed little other than hurting those we proclaim to love.
We often see many promises delivered upon working Step Nine. The Twelve Promises, also known as the Step Nine Promises, tend to manifest once we begin this last step of action. Our entire outlook on life begins to change, and the past holds less sway over the present. But in order to see these promises in action, we must do what Step Nine asks of us. Don’t worry, however, as this is actually much easier than it sounds.
How to Practice
We should make another note regarding harm done to others. In this case, let’s allow the 12&12 to speak for itself. This particular passage refers to those who steal from their place of employment:
“Suppose this may continue to go undetected, if we say nothing. Do we instantly confess our irregularities to the firm, in the practical certainty that we will be fired and become unemployable? Are we going to be so rigidly righteous about making amends that we don’t care what happens to the family and home? Or do we first consult those who are to be gravely affected?”
The 12&12 goes on to state that no perfect answer exists in such instances. What matters is that we give the matter serious thought, and consult those who might be affected by our decision. Step Nine exists because our addiction hurts more than just ourselves. Our recovery shouldn’t hurt them as well. At the same time, we can’t allow ourselves to create undue loopholes. We must ensure that we do the right thing rather than procrastinate or evade our duties without good reason.
When we find ourselves sure that amends are in order, we make them at the earliest opportunity. We don’t pick a fight or get defensive. Instead, we lay the cards on the table and allow the other party to read them as they will. If they forgive us, then we approach them with gratitude. We make sure they understand our willingness to do whatever it takes to set things right. But if they meet us with anger and order us to leave, we still thank them for their time. At this point, there’s little else we can do.
There may be consequences to making amends. In such instances, we accept them with grace. For too long, we have avoided the consequences of our actions. Step Nine requires us to step forward. It’s time to stop running away. No one stays sober by hiding from the past. But if we can approach it head-on and come out the other side as better people, then we will make great leaps toward the spiritual progress that allows us to remain sober. And upon doing so, we get one step closer to a life of principle. Such a life is the only one that is truly worth living.