Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 9

A Guide To Working Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous is a continuation of the reckoning that began in Step 8. Now that we’ve given proper thought to who we’ve hurt and how we did it (even if we didn’t realize it at the time), the time has finally come to make contact and make amends. But, Step 9 isn’t only having the courage to initiate difficult conversations in order to right past wrongs. It’s also about considering the potential repercussions of your admissions/apologies and making sure you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t result in additional harm – either to the direct individual or to third parties. This means being mindful of how you choose to make amends, when you decide the time to do it, and how much you disclose.

Time To Make Contact: Where Do I Start?

Admitting past wrongdoings is not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. As stated in the original wording of the text, sometimes direct amends won’t always be possible – so what then? For this reason, the act of making amends is typically broken down into three types: direct, indirect, and living. Additionally, these amends can come in several forms, such as verbal apologies, apologies through action, or even restitution.

The 3 Types of Amends

  • Direct Amends – This method of making amends involves making direct contact with the affected person. This involves face-to-face, not just talking over the phone. There are a number of reasons that might make this approach unfeasible: physical distance, unwillingness on their part, or it could be an unsafe/triggering situation for yourself. If it’s the latter, it’s usually not advisable to attempt to make a direct amend.

  • Indirect Amends – When you’re unable to meet with someone face to face, indirect amends can still be meaningful. It can mean paying old debts, replacing things you’ve broken, returning items you stole, volunteering for a related cause, etc. These are helpful in fixing physical damage, however, may be limited by way of addressing emotional harm.  

  • Living Amends – Sometimes, words just don’t cut it; you’ve either broken promises too many times that saying an apology carries little weight. In these cases, living your apology is the next best thing. If you’re unable to verbally communicate with someone, you can atone for your past actions through your current ones. Committing to this new sober lifestyle can speak volumes to those you’ve let down in the past. Opting for living amends might be the most appropriate for individuals that you either can’t reach or who are unwilling to see you.

Tips For Making Amends

Just as the nature of the grievance itself can vary, so will the means of resolution. Different situations will warrant different ways of proving that you are sorry. To correctly assess which type of amendment is best on a per-case basis, it’s important not only to think about the individual themselves and what they’re more likely to appreciate but the very nature of the wrongdoing itself.

  • It’s not just an apology. Expressing remorse might make you feel better, but comes up short of actually making up for the harm caused
  • Try to see it from their perspective. Really evaluate the extent of your wrongdoings. The best way to show that you’re truly repentant is to show that you understand why your actions or words were so hurtful
  • Address the mistake itself. Even if it’s difficult to say out loud, you owe it to the person you care about to truly own up to your past actions
  • Prepare yourself in the instance that they might be unreceptive (or even hostile). No one owes you anything, much less their forgiveness. 
  • Have suggestions for making it up to them. Actions speak louder than words and shows you’re serious about making things right
  • Be patient. If you’ve lost someone’s trust, it can take a while to rebuild your relationship

Working Step 9: Action Meeting Intention

Step 9 emphasizes the importance of making amends in the least damaging way possible for both yourself and others. Just because you feel ready to bare your soul regarding a certain situation, doesn’t mean someone is ready to hear the whole truth. You might reveal something that opens up a fresh emotional wound or creates situations that adversely affect an innocent third party. 

However, this also doesn’t mean to shirk the hard confessions. The particularly heinous offenses you’ve committed (or perhaps one that would have drastic legal or financial consequences), will require your judgment call. Perhaps you own up to committing a crime – where would that leave your family if you were to go to jail? Talk to your sponsor to see if there is a happy medium that allows you to be true to the process but minimizes the most damaging consequences.

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