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Step Nine: Moving from Apologies to Amends


The 9th StepI recently started working on my ninth step.  My sponsor and I went over the Twelve and Twelve’s chapter on step 9 and then discussed the importance of the amends process and how they differ from the standard “I’m sorry” apology.  She stressed that I generally should avoid the term “sorry.”  I found that odd at first, because I had thought that essentially was the point of the ninth step, to admit our fault through apologizing, and taking accountability for the “wreckage of our past” through saying we were “sorry.”  However, once my sponsor carefully explained the amends process to me, I see how making an amends and an apology are different.

Here is the format my sponsor taught me to do amends:

I owe you an amends.  I felt ___ (emotion, generally fear), so I acted (insert character defect(s)).

Is there anything I missed? *listen*

Is there anything within reason that I can do to make it better? *listen*

The phrase “I owe you an amends” does not necessarily reveal or reflect any emotion of the individual at the time and simply states a perception about our behavior.  Meanwhile, “I’m sorry” indicates guilt or sadness, which, depending on the situation we may not feel.  This emotional context may be a situation where the person making the amends feels that the other individual did more damage.  I think of a personal situation where I may be making an amends to a sexually abusive individual.  I certainly have no desire to apologize or show much emotion towards him, but, simultaneously, I acted inappropriately after the fact.  In no way does my making an amends imply that I am the one at fault more than he; it is simply taking accountability for my behavior.  I will say that if he tells me there is anything I can do to make things better I probably will not do it.

The question of asking the other individual if I further harmed him and don’t know about it (or blocked it out or was blacked out) allows the other individual to express himself.  It takes a lot of guts to ask the question and listen to the answer.  It shows respect for the other individual’s point of view and experience.  It also makes it terribly scary.

Once the person receiving the amends requests something, it often comes in the form of a living amends.  Whether it is paying back a debt in installments or contributing more effort towards a relationship, making things right is yet another terrifying element of the amends process.

As an addict, when I was high and even sober (but thinking about getting high or drunk), I made so many careless and thoughtless apologies to people I had truly harmed.  Sometimes I really felt them, but I lacked the ability follow through to stop behaving inappropriately or to make it up to that individual.  While nearly every step of the 12 I’ve been through scares or disturbs me in some way, I am always amazed at how I feel when I move on to the next step.  I feel enlivened, invigorated, hopeful, and stronger.

My belief in the 12-step system and groups as a guiding force in my life that I trust gives me the will to face this painful and overwhelming task.  I am reminded that the promises I hear again and again during meetings are the 9th step promises, my favorite being that, “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”


By Anonymous

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