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Step Eight

"Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all."

Steps Eight and Nine are concerned with personal relations. First, we take a
look backward and try to discover where we have been at fault; next we make a
vigorous attempt to repair the damage we have done; and third, having thus
cleaned away the debris of the past, we consider how, with our newfound
knowledge of ourselves, we may develop the best possible relations with every
human being we know.
This is a very large order. It is a task which we may perform with increasing
skill, but never really finish. Learning how to live in the greatest peace,
partnership, and brotherhood with all men and women, of whatever description,
is a moving and fascinating adventure. Every A.A. has found that he can make
little headway in this new adventure of living until he first backtracks and
really makes an accurate and unsparing survey of the human wreckage he has left
in his wake. To a degree, he has already done this when taking moral inventory,
but now the time has come when he ought to redouble his efforts to see how many
people he has hurt, and in what ways. This reopening of emotional wounds, some
old, some perhaps forgotten, and some still painfully festering, will at first
look like a purposeless and pointless piece of surgery. But if a willing start
is made, then the great advantages of doing this will so quickly reveal
themselves that the pain will be lessened as one obstacle after another melts
These obstacles, however, are very real. The first, and one of the most
difficult, has to do with forgiveness. The moment we ponder a twisted or broken
relationship with another person, our emotions go on the defensive. To escape
looking at the wrongs we have done another, we resentfully focus on the wrong
he has done us. This is especially true if he has, in fact, behaved badly at
all. Triumphantly we seize upon his misbehavior as the perfect excuse for
minimizing or forgetting our own.
Right here we need to fetch ourselves up sharply. It doesn't make much sense
when a real toss pot calls a kettle black. Let's remember that alcoholics are
not the only ones bedeviled by sick emotions. Moreover, it is usually a fact
that our behavior when drinking has aggravated the defects of others. We've
repeatedly strained the patience of our best friends to a snapping point, and
have brought out the very worst in those who didn't think much of us to begin
with. In many instances we are really dealing with fellow sufferers, people
whose woes we have increased. If we are now about to ask forgiveness for
ourselves, why shouldn't we start out by forgiving them, one and all?
When listing the people we have harmed, most of us hit another solid obstacle.
We got a pretty severe shock when we realized that we were preparing to make a
face-to-face admission of our wretched conduct to those we had hurt. It had
been embarrassing enough when in confidence we had admitted these things to
God, to ourselves, and to another human being. But the prospect of actually
visiting or even writing the people concerned now overwhelmed us, especially
when we remembered in what poor favor we stood with most of them. There were
cases, too, where we had damaged others who were still happily unaware of being
hurt. Why, we cried, shouldn't bygones be bygones? Why do we have to think of
these people at all? These were some of the ways in which fear conspired with
pride to hinder our making a list of all the people we had harmed.
Some of us, though, tripped over a very different snag. We clung to the claim
that when drinking we never hurt anybody but ourselves. Our families didn't
suffer, because we always paid the bills and seldom drank at home. Our business
associates didn't suffer, because we were usually on the job. Our reputations
hadn't suffered, because we were certain few knew of our drinking. Those who
did would sometimes assure us that, after all, a lively bender was only a good
man's fault. What real harm, therefore, had we done? No more, surely, than we
could easily mend with a few casual apologies.
This attitude, of course, is the end result of purposeful forgetting. It is an
attitude which can only be changed by a deep and honest search of our motives
and actions.
Though in some cases we cannot make restitution at all, and in some cases
action ought to be deferred, we should nevertheless make an accurate and really
exhaustive survey of our past life as it has affected other people. In many
instances we shall find that though the harm done others has not been great,
the emotional harm we have done ourselves has. Very deep, sometimes quite
forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of
consciousness. At the time of these occurrences, they may actually have given
our emotions violent twists which have since discolored our personalities and
altered our lives for the worse.
While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally
necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every
bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we
can. 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.
Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We
can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see
those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the
whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay--and pay
We might next ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we have "harmed"
other people. What kinds of "harm" do people do one another, anyway? To define
the word "harm" in a practical way, we might call it the result of instincts in
collision, which cause physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage to
people. If our tempers are consistently bad, we arouse anger in others. If we
lie or cheat, we deprive others not only of their worldly goods, but of their
emotional security and peace of mind. We really issue them an invitation to
become contemptuous and vengeful. If our sex conduct is selfish, we may excite
jealousy, misery, and a strong desire to retaliate in kind.
Such gross misbehavior is not by any means a full catalogue of the harms we
do. Let us think of some of the subtler ones which can sometimes be quite as
damaging. Suppose that in our family lives we happen to be miserly,
irresponsible, callous, or cold. Suppose that we are irritable, critical,
impatient, and humorless. Suppose we lavish attention upon one member of the
family and neglect the others. What happens when we try to dominate the whole
family, either by a rule of iron or by a constant outpouring of minute
directions for just how their lives should be lived from hour to hour? What
happens when we wallow in depression, self-pity oozing from every pore, and
inflict that upon those about us? Such a roster of harms done others--the kind
that make daily living with us as practicing alcoholics difficult and often
unbearable could be extended almost indefinitely. When we take such personality
traits as these into shop, office, and the society of our fellows, they can do
damage almost as extensive as that we have caused at home.
Having carefully surveyed this whole area of human relations, and having
decided exactly what personality traits in us injured and disturbed others, we
can now commence to ransack memory for the people to whom we have given
offense. To put a finger on the nearby and most deeply damaged ones shouldn't
be hard to do. Then, as year by year we walk back through our lives as far as
memory will reach, we shall be bound to construct a long list of people who
have, to some extent or other, been affected. We should, of course, ponder and
weigh each instance carefully. We shall want to hold ourselves to the course of
admitting the things we have done, meanwhile forgiving the wrongs done us, real
or fancied. We should avoid extreme judgments, both of ourselves and of others
involved. We must not exaggerate our defects or theirs. A quiet, objective view
will be our steadfast aim.
Whenever our pencil falters, we can fortify and cheer ourselves by remembering
what A.A. experience in this Step has meant to others. It is the beginning of
the end of isolation from our fellows and from God.

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