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

Step Nine is a logical follow-up to Step Eight, where you are asked to list individuals who you have harmed through your addiction and character flaws.  In order to carry out Step Nine, you need the foundation of all eight of the preceding steps.  Step Nine involves bringing others in to the process in a way that they haven’t been involved before, and thus can be particularly shame-inducing.  You will need your support individuals, God, your 12 Step group, and the recovery you’ve completed so far to help guide you through this process.

Step Nine involves acknowledging that your actions have consequences.  Apologies are not the only necessary step to reconciliation: you must also follow those up with actions.  The goal of this step is to foster empathy and restitution, rather than to check a box or move on.

Be mindful of your motives in completing Step Nine.  Often addicts simply want to get their painful feelings off their chest and don’t regard the emotions or responses of others.  If you’re motivated by a desire to vent, relieve your own guilt, or reconnect with someone who has intentionally removed themselves from your life, talk with your sponsor and reconsider.  If you’re rushing into amends, ask yourself if you’re acting out of selfishness or self-serving motives.

How to Work Step Nine

Separate your list of direct and indirect amends.

Identify those individuals with whom it is appropriate to make direct amends with the help of your sponsor.  You may feel a burning desire to make direct amends to someone, but acknowledge when it would actually cause more harm than good to do so.

Pray and ask God to help you experience willingness to move toward amends.

As you work this step, it will feel daunting to tackle making amends with all the individuals on your list.  Pray and ask God for help and support through this process and seek to focus on just one person at a time rather than trying to take on the whole list.

Practice self-care.

This step can be incredibly taxing on the shame-based identity that’s driven your addiction.  Combat the power of that shame by prioritizing self-care and support.  Create a self-care plan for before, during, and after completing amends, and have your sponsor or a support individual from your 12 Step group hold you accountable to that self-care. 

For Direct Amends

Intentionally select who you share amends with first.

Choose who you will break the ice with in making amends first by asking your sponsor who might be the best option for you.  It may be helpful to make amends with the person who you feel the most distress about sharing first, in order to get it out of the way.  Alternatively, it might be worthwhile to make amends with an individual with whom you feel more comfortable first in order to build up your confidence. 

Write a letter outlining the harm you’ve done.

Use the list of specifics you created in Step Eight to draft a letter outlining the harm that you’ve done.  Remember, the purpose of the amends is to take responsibility for your actions rather than to explain or to offer excuses, so focus on “I statements” and limit the details that may come across as defensive.  Limiting details also helps limit the potential for harm.   

Identify ways in your letter in which you can make direct amends in the form of financial restitution, commitments to family obligations or housework, or other forms of restitution.  Ask those with whom you are making amends what they think you could do to make things right.

Practice reading aloud the letter with your support people.

Read the letter several times through with your sponsor, accountability partner, trusted mentor, or therapy group.  This will allow you to become more comfortable with sharing, allow the flow of the letter to feel natural, and receive feedback from others.

Prepare for negative or unexpected responses.

While reading the letter to your support people, anticipate and discuss possible negative responses you might receive from the one you’ve harmed.  Keep in mind that the amends are not causing the pain in the harmed individual: the addiction has already caused the pain.  Remember that the responses of others are not your responsibility and they are able to choose whether they want to reconcile the relationship, but you can only offer your own part in making the amends.

Set up a face-to-face appointment with the harmed individual.

If you are still in contact with the harmed individual, connect with them to set up an appointment time to discuss your amends.  If you or they need to have support individuals involved in the amends process (ie. a sponsor, therapist, pastor, or friend), then make allowances as needed.  Talk with your sponsor about the best way to reach out to individuals with whom you are not in contact.

Indirect Amends

Brainstorm ways you can provide indirect amends.

Perhaps your list of those you’ve harmed includes someone who is deceased.  Or maybe you used pornography or objectified anonymous others sexually.  It could be that re-opening a connection with a former acting out partner would cause more harm than good. 

Talk with your sponsor or 12 Step group about ways to make amends indirectly.  For example, you may be able to offer an anonymous donation or volunteer your time to an organization that fights sex trafficking.  Former acting-out partners can receive a letter of amends rather than a face-to-face meeting.  Writing a letter to a deceased individual may still offer those indirect amends. 

Schedule in your plan to make those amends.

Once you’ve decided the best way to make indirect amends, commit it to your schedule.  For example, if you’ve decided you’ll complete 20 hours of volunteering, sit down and schedule 1 hour a week into your time.  Research organizations to find one that is the best fit for your donation and plan a date to make the donation. 

Use commitment to recovery as “living amends.”

As mentioned earlier, making amends isn’t just about apologizing.  It’s also about a change in action that indicates a commitment to recovery and change.  Even if you can’t make a direct amends, you can live out the change in your life that would offer reparation for the damage caused to those individuals.  You can continue staying sober, changing your behavior toward others, and improving your current relationships.

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Are you intimidated by the thought of making amends?  Do you feel pressure to apologize, but aren’t sure your motives are in the right place?  Do you feel stuck on this step?  At Restored Hope, I know how hard it can be to take that step toward amends.  I offer counseling that integrates the 12 Step approach into my work with sex and love addiction.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Ann Arbor office location.