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“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
For many Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) participants, step 8 is the most difficult. This is because it’s the point in the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in which you make a list of the people you’ve caused harm to because of your drinking.
It’s one thing to face the damage created by alcoholism with yourself and your Higher Power or God — you did this during your moral inventory. Even admitting to someone who can relate is easier than discussing things with those you’ve harmed.
But step 8 allows you to begin a life of peace and start to deal with personal relations.
Recovering alcoholics often see step 4 of the 12-step process as personal house cleaning. Step 8 is similar, but more about cleaning up your social house.
To complete step 8 of the 12-step program, start by making a list of the people you’ve harmed because of your drinking. List the specific ways you caused each one of them harm.
It doesn’t matter if the harm was intentional or not. If there’s a possibility you harmed someone, include them on the list.
This means reflecting on experiences you’d probably rather forget, which is difficult. But remember that each of the steps leading to this one were also challenging. You’ve built a foundation that requires courage; use it now to get through step 8.
Once your list is complete, use it to plan for the amends you’ll make in step 9. And if it won’t cause more harm, you ask for forgiveness from them.
Ultimately, you want to take healing action and learn how to live in the world soberly. This prepares you to repair relationships with others in the next step.
Some people assume that making amends means apologizing, but these two things are not the same. Apologizing might be part of making amends, but amends includes more than just saying “I’m sorry.”
Think of an apology as a bandage. You place it over the wound and with time it disappears. Saying you’re sorry covers pain, and it might help people feel better, but it doesn’t correct the wrong.
It’s impossible for a former addict to simply apologize for the pain they’ve caused others and expect the damage to be undone.
Making amends helps you reconnect with people you’ve hurt in a deeper and more meaningful way than an apology. It requires honesty, self-awareness, and responsibility.
Step 8 is important because it enables you to move on to rebuilding relationships that were damaged. It doesn’t guarantee this will happen, but the step is the first toward achieving this.
It’s also about taking responsibility for your role and cleaning up your side of things during addiction recovery and in life. This includes holding yourself accountable for your actions, but not exaggerating the shortcomings of yourself or others.
Even if the harm caused to the relationship was mutual, in this step you're preparing to right your wrongs.
Finally, this step is important because it continues the honest present in the previous steps. As most AA participants will confirm, honesty provides freedom and opens the doors to joy.
Sober, you're free to exist in the present moment, not always waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
Keep in mind, as you move through this step, that things take time. There’s no good in rushing. Your sponsor provides a great deal of guidance during this step and helps you avoid doing things incompletely.
Recognize if you're reluctant to begin or move through step 8 due to resentment. You might be reluctant to make amends with someone who harmed you because you resent them.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive them, though. The cost of holding onto resentment is not gaining the freedom that’s available from the 12 steps.
Many people are surprised by their eventual willingness to forgive and let go of self-pity. Be patient and let your positive feelings develop.
There are several questions that you can ask yourself and answer that will help you work through step 8, including:
The first part of this step is creating a list of the people with whom you need to make amends.
Write this list down. Keeping a list in your head is not sufficient to complete step 8. This “right-sizes” the list and allows you to prevent it from growing out of control in your imagination.
Putting your list in writing also allows you to begin letting go of any resentment you have in your personal relationships that have harmed you.
Your list should include the names of every person you can think of who you might have harmed. Even if you aren’t sure if you owe someone amends, include their name on the list.
Once you feel you have a thorough list, categorize it in the following way:
The step is about surveying the damage AUD caused in your life. You’ll begin righting wrongs in the next step. In step 8, you must be courageous and honest with yourself.
It’s important to recognize that you aren’t to limit your list to only people who you believe will accept your attempt to make amends. Everyone must be included, even if your efforts are refused.
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