Step Eight: Journey Through the Twelve Steps

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This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  My specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out my introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

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

The “making amends” steps are a pivotal point for many individuals in their 12 Step recovery journey.  This is the point at which your relationships with others outside of the 12 Step group are invited into the process.  Those around you are given the gift of apologies and offers for reconciliation, while you are presented with the gift of humility, honesty, and the potential for restored relationship.

You might say to yourself, “This is too hard.  I really wish I didn’t have to do this.”  Once you’ve come clean with your sponsor and yourself about the ways in which you’ve caused harm, you might think that you’re finished with the process.  But it becomes crucial to connect with others you have harmed to offer amends.  As a recovering addict, you must be prepared to go to any lengths to be released from your addiction.  Ask God in these moments of self-doubt for strength to handle any consequences that may come your way as a result of making amends.

Direct amends involve having a conversation with an individual whom you have harmed.  However, in some cases, to directly make amends to someone is not the best option: either it would cause more harm to them, they may be deceased, or you may not be able to contact them.  In this case, it may be helpful to think of ways you can make indirect amends, such as volunteering or giving financially to organizations that support individuals similar to those you have harmed.

Why is this step so important?

Making amends takes you out of the victim role, which is an easy default in distorted thinking of the addiction.  It propels you into taking responsibility for the harm you’ve done to others.  It doesn’t allow you to hide behind the mask of saying it was anyone else’s fault but your own.  By doing whatever is necessary to right the wrongs you’ve done, you become free from the guilt you have carried for years in your addictive behaviors.

How to Work Step Eight

Focus just on Step Eight and not Step Nine.

It can be paralyzing to think of taking the action of making amends at first, but allow yourself to use Step Eight to simply explore the idea of making amends.  In this process, you’ll experience empathy for those you have wronged, which then leads more naturally to making amends.  If you struggle to separate Step Eight from the upcoming Step Nine where you will be carrying out these amends, ask God to give you the willingness and strength to try.  Have grace with yourself and know that you can always return to this step throughout your 12 Step journey.

Write a list of those you have harmed.

Using your Step Four inventory, identify those individuals who have been directly or indirectly affected by both your acting out behaviors and your character flaws.  Make this list as complete as possible, going back all the way to childhood.  This might include family members, spouses, children, friends, acting out partners, or even individuals you don’t know personally.

Pay special attention to individuals who you may not have actively or intentionally harmed, but who have been hurt by your abandonment, withdrawal, or rejection.  Include even those who you feel have done more harm to you than you have done to them.  It isn’t the time to seek vengeance for wrongs against you: it is time to take responsibility for yourself.

You may even include yourself as an individual you have harmed on your list.  This offers the opportunity for self-compassion, and it helps you pay attention to ways you have damaged yourself and your sense of self-worth through your behaviors.

Identify those to whom making direct amends may cause more harm than benefit.

One common individual that the distorted thinking of the addict tends to gravitate toward when first considering making amends is to former affair partners.  Yes, they have been harmed by your actions, but it is clear that involving them in the amends process could re-start a relationship and ultimately create more destruction in its wake.  On the list of those you have harmed, mark those who you think might experience greater harm if you attempted to make amends with them.  Talk with your sponsor about whether direct or indirect amends would be recommended in those cases.

Get feedback from your sponsor.

Talk with your sponsor, therapist, or other trusted individuals who know your story.  Be open to hearing who they might suggest including on your list.  Often others in the 12 Step program have their own experiences of amends from which to draw upon.  They will also point out blind spots you are avoiding because they feel too uncomfortable or vulnerable to admit.  Similarly, they may also suggest you take certain names off your list if you are feeling guilt over something for which you are not responsible.

Write specifics about the harm done.

For each individual on your list, write down specifics about the harm you have done to them and its results.  Include what you think or feel about that harm now.  As you flesh out these details, you’ll gain a greater sense of perspective and empathy, as well as create a resource for the process of making amends in Step Nine.  The more detail you include, the more you will demonstrate engagement in the process.  This helps the person who was harmed feel known and understood.

Examine what you hope to accomplish by making amends.

Examining your motives is important.  If you are only making amends to check a box off the 12 Step process or impress others, then you need to re-evaluate your motivations with the help of your sponsor.  For example, you might be making amends as a way to manipulate the other person into apologizing for their own harmful behavior.  However, you must realize that the only person you can control is yourself.  It’s also important to acknowledge your desired outcome so you can come to terms with the fact that you may not receive it.  Understand that even with the worst outcome possible, you have done your part in making amends, and that is what counts more than their response.  As Paul says in Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV; emphasis mine)

Make a list of possible action steps you can take.

Whether you are making direct or indirect amends, a powerful part of the process involves taking action to embody the new commitment you’ve made to a healthier life.  Addicts are often full of empty promises that don’t come to fruition.  Unless you follow through on your words of apology with corresponding action to solidify the truth of the change, you will not be able to move toward reconciled relationship.  Think of ways you may make financial amends or relational amends.  Consider if there are any legal consequences you have been avoiding from your actions.

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Are you intimidated by the list of the individuals you have harmed?  Do you feel like even the suggestion of talking to any of those people leads you to withdraw in fear?  Are you preparing to make amends, but feeling anxious about the outcome?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling to help you experience freedom from your addictive behaviors with the end goal of creating restored and redeemed relationships.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.