What is Step 8 of the 12 Steps Program?
Step Eight of the 12 Steps: We made a list of all persons we had wronged, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step Eight of the 12 Steps is the first major move toward returning to the “real world” with changed behavior to match your changed attitude. In a way, this step is counterintuitive. If the average person were asked, “Once you’ve clarified what you’ve been doing wrong, what is the first thing you do to initiate major change on the practical level?,” the reply would be “Make a plan to eliminate the triggers for old habits” or something else geared toward the future. Instead, the 12 Steps tell us to reach into the past and dig up old wounds–not our own, but those we inflicted on others.
Step Eight of the 12 Steps: Making Your List
Whom have you wronged materially through neglect or through irresponsible management of shared resources? Whom have you let down by not keeping your word or doing your fair share? Whom have you cut to the heart emotionally, flinging hurtful words in their faces or disappearing from their lives without explanation? Have you gone so far as to destroy treasured possessions, or injure someone physically, under chemical influence?
Chances are, if your substance-abuse problem has lasted any length of time, you’ll finish your list, take a good look at it–and experience a major burst of panic. No matter how willing you are to make amends and how much you want to restore damaged relationships, the impact of realizing that you owe multiple apologies to practically everyone whose life you’ve touched is daunting, to say the least. You may find that your list of “people to make amends to” numbers in the dozens.
Terrifying as it is to contemplate apologizing to each individual face to face, making up for the past is a vital step toward a better future. For one thing, the “I’m not hurting anybody but myself” rationalization is best debunked soundly, otherwise it may offer a future excuse for relapsing. For another thing, the courage to take responsibility for your actions (vital to refraining from substance abuse in the future) begins here. It’s easy to take the coward’s way out and rationalize that “they’ve probably forgotten what happened”; but even if they have, your remembering it will always stand in the way of reestablishing an open relationship with them. And if they really have forgotten, it can’t be so serious to them that they’ll hold it against you if you bring it up long enough to apologize.
Others–family and close friends especially–may have already forgiven you and just be waiting for your readiness to fully restore the relationship. Even they, however, need solid assurance that you genuinely intend to change and become reliable again–these are probably the people who gave you “one more chance” until they could hardly think about you without bracing for the next disappointment. It takes more than a single apology or even the full repayment of a material debt to restore an intimate relationship; it requires the rebuilding of long-term trust, which usually takes months of being consistently dependable in your new habits. It’s not necessarily all the way back to Square One if you do slip, though; to immediately apologize, and make amends rather than excuses, can evidence you’ve changed as much as can avoiding the slip in the first place.
Let’s close with a look at dealing with the harder apologies.
If Someone Shares Guilt for the Situation
Perhaps some of the people on your list have wronged you as much as you have them, through provocation or retaliation or enablement. In such a case, it’s easy to start by hinting that they owe you amends first, or to walk away furious if they don’t immediately respond to your apology with one of their own. Don’t fall into this self-justification trap. Nothing anyone else did changes the fact that you did what you did; come clean about it and settle any debts you incurred, and you’ll have taken a major step into the responsible world of sobriety. You needn’t have anything more to do with the other party if they evidence no guilt and have proved themselves toxic to be around; it’s enough that you’ve set an example and left the door open for future relationships if and when they decide to change.
If the Damage was Permanent and Irreparable
I pray that none of you will ever face the situation of having on your “wronged” list a total stranger whose child you killed by driving while impaired. Even less extreme situations may be beyond complete rectification: the business opportunity lost because of how a representative behaved under the influence; the damaging rumor that indefinitely outlives the blame-shifting lie. In such a case, all you can do is make your most heartfelt plea for forgiveness and–whether or not it’s granted–move on. Remember, also, that if you’ve done something truly terrible you have also wronged humanity itself on some level; determine to make amends there by influencing others to avoid such mistakes.
If They Won’t Forgive
This doesn’t happen only in “permanent and irreparable damage” situations; there are always a few stubbornly proud people who consider an impatient word or neglected thank-you fair cause to snub someone for life. Remember, you are responsible only for your own actions. The refusal of an apology or reparation doesn’t negate all value in your having offered it; you have done what you could by showing your willingness to accept responsibility. Let it go and consider your duty done. The other party may come around eventually; in any case, you needn’t let the problem continue to weigh you down.
Whatever eventually comes of your amends, in being willing to offer them you have taken your first step toward a fresh start.
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