My Name Is Paul And I’m An Alcoholic, Step 8

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 7. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all” (Step 8).

“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” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 78-79).

At first glance, it may seem like a step devoted to list-making is just a lame attempt to make an 11 step process reach the number 12. However, there is a lot that goes into this list that recovering addicts make in Step 8.

At this point in the recovery process, a connection with God has been established (or re-established). A healthy relationship with self has been started. And a devotion to becoming a better person towards others has begun. But we remember “what poor favor” we stand in with many people.

Whatever the addiction is, when a person is enslaved to their obsessions they hurt other people; whether that pain is inflicted indirectly or directly, by commission or omission. I hurt people by the things I did and I hurt people by the things I did not do. I hurt the people who loved the people I hurt. So as I began to look at the process of reaching out and making amends I needed a starting point.

That starting point was a list. A list of names. Names of people I had hurt. Names of people I needed to make amends to. Just writing down the names proved to be difficult. Because as the names were listed, more names came to mind. Just how awful of a person was I?

Making a list is not easy. But facing the people is so much more difficult. By taking the time to make a list, I was doing several things:

  1. Being organized. This is too important to go into haphazardly.
  2. Beginning to practice the humility needed to approach others.
  3. Bathing the process in prayer. There is a lot of willingness needed to continue.

When a person in recovery makes their 8th Step list there are two categories of people: those I am willing to make amends to and those I am not willing to make amends to. For those people I am willing to make amends to, I pray to thank God for that willingness and the strength to follow through.

For those people I am not willing to make amends to, I ask myself, “Why?” For some people, I would cause harm by making amends (more on that next month). When that is the case, I pray for those people. I pray for a change in me and in the relationship.

For others, I may still be angry at them for the pain they have caused me. Now is not the time to work on the relationship. When that is the case, I pray the willingness to be able to move that person from the “not willing” to the “willing” category.

And finally, there are others I cannot make amends to because I cannot find them (either they have moved and we lost contact or they may have passed away). In those cases, I work with my sponsor. I pray to have the willingness should I ever find them; I pray to live differently so that I never inflict that kind of pain again; and I pray for creative ways, such as letter writing, to make amends.

So I am listing people I will not make amends to now in the prayerful hope that one day I will.

In this series, I have been hoping to provide some practical advice for people in churches or family members who do not struggle with addiction. I have been wanting to share some thoughts on how all people can partner together in this process.

But for Step 8, there is not much you can do to help. Having said that, however, I recommend the following two items:

Be patient. Amends are too important to rush through. The recovering addict is not going to work through the process on your time schedule. You may know people they have hurt; you may be one of the people they have hurt. Give them the time to work through this.

Pray. If you know someone is working through the 12 Step process, know that they are going to be doing the hard work of restoring relationships. That is not easy for anyone.

Next month, we will deal with Step 9. But before we can get there, we need to take the time necessary to make the list of those people  with whom we need to amend relationships.

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