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Step Nine

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

Good judgment, a careful sense of timing, courage, and prudence--these are the
qualities we shall need when we take Step Nine.
After we have made the list of people we have harmed, have reflected carefully
upon each instance, and have tried to possess ourselves of the right attitude
in which to proceed, we will see that the making of direct amends divides those
we should approach into several classes. There will be those who ought to be
dealt with just as soon as we become reasonably confident that we can maintain
our sobriety. There will be those to whom we can make only partial restitution,
lest complete disclosures do them or others more harm than good. There will be
other cases where action ought to be deferred, and still others in which by the
very nature of the situation we shall never be able to make direct personal
contact at all.
Most of us begin making certain kinds of direct amends from the day we join
Alcoholics Anonymous. The moment we tell our families that we are really going
to try the program, the process has begun. In this area there are seldom any
questions of timing or caution. We want to come in the door shouting the good
news. After coming from our first meeting, or perhaps after we have finished
reading the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," we usually want to sit down with some
member of the family and readily admit the damage we have done by our drinking.
Almost always we want to go further and admit other defects that have made us
hard to live with. This will be a very different occasion, and in sharp
contrast with those hangover mornings when we alternated between reviling
ourselves and blaming the family (and everyone else) for our troubles. At this
first sitting, it is necessary only that we make a general admission of our
defects. It may be unwise at this stage to rehash certain harrowing episodes.
Good judgment will suggest that we ought to take our time. While we may be
quite willing to reveal the very worst, we must be sure to remember that we
cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others.
Much the same approach will apply at the office or factory. We shall at once
think of a few people who know all about our drinking, and who have been most
affected by it. But even in these cases, we may need to use a little more
discretion than we did with the family. We may not want to say anything for
several weeks, or longer. First we will wish to be reasonably certain that we
are on the A.A. beam. Then we are ready to go to these people, to tell them
what A.A. is, and what we are trying to do. Against this background we can
freely admit the damage we have done and make our apologies. We can pay, or
promise to pay, whatever obligations, financial or otherwise, we owe. The
generous response of most people to such quiet sincerity will often astonish
us. Even our severest and most justified critics will frequently meet us more
than halfway on the first trial.
This atmosphere of approval and praise is apt to be so exhilarating as to put
us off balance by creating an insatiable appetite for more of the same. Or we
may be tipped over in the other direction when, in rare cases, we get a cool
and skeptical reception. This will tempt us to argue, or to press our point
insistently. Or maybe it will tempt us to discouragement and pessimism. But if
we have prepared ourselves well in advance, such reactions will not deflect us
from our steady and even purpose.
After taking this preliminary trial at making amends, we may enjoy such a
sense of relief that we conclude our task is finished. We will want to rest on
our laurels. The temptation to skip the more humiliating and dreaded meetings
that still remain may be great. We will often manufacture plausible excuses for
dodging these issues entirely. Or we may just procrastinate, telling ourselves
the time is not yet, when in reality we have already passed up many a fine
chance to right a serious wrong. Let's not talk prudence while practicing
evasion.
As soon as we begin to feel confident in our new way of life and have begun,
by our behavior and example, to convince those about us that we are indeed
changing for the better, it is usually safe to talk in complete frankness with
those who have been seriously affected, even those who may be only a little or
not at all aware of what we have done to them. The only exceptions we will make
will be cases where our disclosure would cause actual harm. These conversations
can begin in a casual or natural way. But if no such opportunity presents
itself, at some point we will want to summon all our courage, head straight for
the person concerned, and lay our cards on the table. We needn't wallow in
excessive remorse before those we have harmed, but amends at this level should
always be forthright and generous.
There can only be one consideration which should qualify our desire for a
complete disclosure of the damage we have done. That will arise in the
occasional situation where to make a full revelation would seriously harm the
one to whom we are making amends. Or--quite as important--other people. We
cannot, for example, unload a detailed account of extramarital adventuring upon
the shoulders of our unsuspecting wife or husband. And even in those cases
where such a matter must be discussed, let's try to avoid harming third
parties, whoever they may be. It does not lighten our burden when we recklessly
make the crosses of others heavier.
Many a razor-edged question can arise in other departments of life where this
same principle is involved. Suppose, for instance, that we have drunk up a good
chunk of our firm's money, whether by "borrowing" or on a heavily padded
expense account. Suppose that 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? Do we lay the matter before our sponsor or spiritual adviser,
earnestly asking God's help and guidance--meanwhile resolving to do the right
thing when it becomes clear, cost what it may? Of course, there is no pat
answer which can fit all such dilemmas. But all of them do require a complete
willingness to make amends as fast and as far as may be possible in a given set
of conditions.
Above all, we should try to be absolutely sure that we are not delaying
because we are afraid. For the readiness to take the full consequences of our
past acts, and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same
time, is the very spirit of Step Nine.

 

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