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What is Step 9 in AA?

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

What is the Purpose of Step 9 in AA?

The 9th step includes the willingness to go to any lengths to make amends. You must do so regardless of the consequences. Amends could end a relationship. You could go to jail, face a significant fine, or suffer other serious consequences. It doesn’t matter. 

To complete this step, you must be willing to admit to and face the consequences of your behavior and past wrongs.

Making amends doesn’t mean apologizing to everyone you’ve harmed regardless of what additional harm it might cause. It also might not be possible to repair relationships in every case.

Many AA participants find that dividing the list created in the eighth step helps in their approach to step 9. 

The four recommended categories of division include:

  • People to whom you can make full amends as soon as you are sober
  • People to whom you can make partial amends because full amends cause more harm than good
  • People to whom you should make amends after making a full recovery
  • People to whom it is impossible to make full amends

In general, AA participants should aim to make full amends as early as possible, as long as it causes no additional harm.

Completing step 9 enables AA participants to build bridges to new relationships as sober people. Many find that their guilt and shame no longer prevent them from a full recovery after they’ve moved through step 9. 

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The 12 Promises of Step 9

Step 9 includes a set of 12 Promises that include:

  1. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half-way through.
  2. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  3. We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.
  4. We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace.
  5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  8. Self-seeking will slip away.
  9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life with change.
  10. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

Types of Amends 

There are different types of amends, including:

Direct Amends

Direct amends require taking personal responsibility for one’s actions and making a face-to-face reconciliation with the person you’ve wronged.

Indirect Amends

Indirect amends require one to find a way to repair damage when contacting the person you wronged would cause more harm or if face-to-face contact is not possible. In some cases, writing a letter or sending an email is appropriate. Sometimes no contact is better.

Living Amends

Living amends require demonstrating your lifestyle changes and being committed to the complete discarding of destructive behaviors. With living amends, you show that you have learned from your mistakes and will make better choices in the future. 

Your loved ones deserve living amends from you, whether they are alive or if they have passed. This is one of the best tools you have for making amends with a deceased loved one.

Financial Amends

Financial amends, as you might expect, require compensation to anyone harmed financially by someone’s alcoholism. Perhaps you stole money from a loved one when you weren’t sober. Maybe you crashed their vehicle while driving drunk. The goal is to financially make right what you did wrong.

How to Make Amends With People

It might be easy for you to recognize who you’ve hurt with your drinking, but figuring out how to make amends can be a different matter. The entire process can feel overwhelming.

Begin by making a sincere effort to apologize to your list of people. 

It’s important to forgive yourself for your self-centeredness and the behavior for which you are apologizing before offering an apology to the other person. When possible, and when it won’t cause additional harm, apologize face-to-face. If you can’t do it face-to-face, use a handwritten letter instead of an email or a text message. 

In addition to apologizing, acknowledge your wrongdoing. This shows you understand what you did that hurt the other person and shows that you are taking responsibility for your behavior. 

Your loved one must know that you are apologizing for what you did and the harm you caused. It’s not about feeling sorry that you were caught or that the person is unhappy with you.

Once you’ve made your statement of apology and acknowledged specifically what you’ve done wrong because of your substance use, listen to the person and validate their feelings. This shows you understand how you hurt them and are willing to listen to their opinions and thoughts.

This can feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to not respond defensively. You know what you did and you’ve forgiven yourself. The best thing you can do is feel empathy for the person you hurt.

After the person to whom you are making amends speaks his or her mind, ask if there is anything you can do to right the wrong. For step 9 to be successful, you must be willing to make things right.

Keep in mind, not everyone will have your well-being in mind. You might be healing and growing throughout your addiction treatment, but that doesn’t mean everyone in your life is doing so too. 

Suppose a response to your apology is manipulative or hurtful. In that case, it’s okay to tell the person you are unable to fulfill their request, thank them for the opportunity to take responsibility for your mistake, and move on.

Finally, remember that making amends might not go as you planned. Chances are you fantasized about the process of amends making in step 8. 

Now that you’re putting your intentions into action, it might look different than you expected. That’s okay. You aren’t making amends to get a specific reaction from someone. 

The Three R’s of the Ninth Step

Step 9 can feel complicated and overwhelming. The Three R’s were created to simplify things. 

These concepts help you keep the amends-making process in perspective and include:

Restoration

With restoration, you aim to bring something back to what it formerly was. If your alcoholism caused you to damage something, your goal is to restore it as much as possible. 

Resolution

With resolution, you aim to find a solution or resolution to the problems caused by alcoholism. You likely have past experiences that disturb you. In this step, you look for answers and solutions and finally lay these issues to rest.

Restitution 

With restitution, you aim to return anything taken from its rightful owner back to that owner. 

Questions to Ask Yourself While Following the Ninth Step

There are several questions that you can ask yourself and answer to help you work through step 9, including:

  • How is making amends a continuous process?
  • Am I scared of making amends?
  • Do I think someone will reject me or use my attempt to make amends as revenge on me?
  • How does this step require a new level of surrender to the 12-step program?
  • Do I believe that my higher power will provide me with what I need to make and after making financial amends?
  • How can my higher power, my sponsor, and other AA participants provide support as I complete step 9?
  • Are there any complications in making amends to anyone on my list?
  • Will there be serious consequences to any of the amends I make? If so, what?
  • What behaviors must I amend?
  • What are my plans, now and in the future, for making amends with myself?
  • Have I accepted responsibility for the harm I’ve caused?
  • Are there any amends I’ve already made?
  • How do I feel about the process of making amends?
  • Is there anyone on my list for whom amends will cause harm?
  • How will I feel and what will life be like once I’ve made amends with the people on my list?

Why is Step 9 Important for Recovery? 

Step 9 is an important part of addiction recovery because it provides an opportunity to take action and apologize to those you’ve harmed. 

This step offers peace of mind and relief. 

Most AA participants feel liberated from their regrets after completing this step. Step 9 allows you to accept the consequences of your past actions and take responsibility for the well-being of yourself and others moving forward.

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Resources

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“Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous.” aa.org, 2019, www.aa.org/pages/en_US/alcoholics-anonymous.

“What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 12 Sept. 2011, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/what-makes-aa-work/.

Schneider, Kathleen M., et al. “Evaluating Multiple Outcomes and Gender Differences in Alcoholism Treatment.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan. 1995, pp. 1–21, 10.1016/0306-4603(94)00037-y. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1981.tb05352.x.

Stone, David A., et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 1 Jan. 2011, 10.22229/nav074629. https://journalofcounselorpractice.com/uploads/6/8/9/4/68949193/stone_et_al_vol8_iss2.pdf.

Suire, Jared G., and Robert K. Bothwell. “The Psychosocial Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” American Journal on Addictions, vol. 15, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 252–255, 10.1080/10550490600626622. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16923673/.

“Alcoholics Anonymous: Is A.A. For You?” www.aa.org. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/is-aa-for-you.

Tonigan, J, and Susanne Sturmhöfel. Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/ahrw18-4/308-312.pdf.

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