NA Step 9


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

—Step Nine

We hear over and over in NA that the steps are written in order for a reason: Each step provides the spiritual preparation we’ll need for the following steps. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Ninth Step. We would never in a million years have been able to sit down with the people we’ve harmed and make direct amends without the spiritual preparation we got from the previous steps. If we had not done the work of admitting our own limitations, we wouldn’t now have a foundation on which to stand while we make our amends. If we had not developed a relationship with a God of our understanding, we wouldn’t now have the faith and trust we need to work Step Nine. If we had not done our Fourth and Fifth Steps, we would probably still be so confused about our personal responsibility, we might not even know for what we’re making amends. If we hadn’t developed humility in the Sixth and Seventh Steps, we’d probably approach our amends with self-righteousness or anger and wind up doing more damage. The willingness we gained through our acceptance of personal responsibility made it possible for us to make our Eighth Step list. That list was our practical preparation for working the Ninth Step.

The final preparations we’re about to do in this step, before we actually make our amends, are mostly to strengthen what is already a part of us. The level at which we are able to practice the principle of forgiveness, the depth of insight we have, and the amount of self-awareness we are able to maintain throughout the amends process will depend on our previous experience with the steps and how much effort we’re willing to put into our recovery.

• How has my work on the previous eight steps prepared me to work the Ninth Step?
• How does honesty help in working this step?
• How does humility help in working this step?

Amends

The Ninth Step is not a step that can be neatly contained within a particular time frame. We don’t write our Eighth Step list and then resolutely start making amends, crossing off “completed” ones like we would items on a shopping list. In fact, many of our amends will never be “finished”; our efforts will go on throughout our recovery. For instance, if we owe our families amends, we will spend the rest of our lives practicing the spiritual principles that will bring real change to the way we treat people. There may be one day when we sit our families down and make a commitment to treat them differently than we have in the past, but that won’t be the end of our amends. Each day that we make an effort to refrain from hurting our families and try to practice loving behavior with them is a day when we’ve continued our amends to our families.

Even such relatively concrete amends as paying a past-due debt aren’t likely to be done once and for all when the debt is paid off. Living our Ninth Step requires that we try not to incur new debts that we can’t pay. On a deeper level, we may need to look at the varieties of debt we incur—for instance, taking favor after favor from friends but never reciprocating, or overextending the patience of people with whom we share responsibilities by not assuming our fair share. Avoiding such liabilities in the future is just as much a part of our amends process as making regular payments on past-due debts.

• What does “making amends” mean?
• Why does making amends mean that I have to do more than say “I’m sorry”?
• How is making amends a commitment to a continuous process of change?

Fears and Expectations

Making amends isn’t always a nerve-wracking, joyless experience. Often, we will feel excited about the prospect of healing a relationship. We may find that we’re happily anticipating the relief of having made an amends. For most of us, however, we will feel fearful about at least some of our amends. We may be afraid that if we make financial amends, we won’t have enough for ourselves. We may be afraid of rejection, retaliation, or something else.

If we’ve never had any experience with the Ninth Step before, we’re really venturing into the unknown. We’re not sure how we’re going to feel immediately before the amends, during the amends, and after the amends. We may feel wildly overconfident at one moment and then, the next moment, feel totally unable to go on with the Ninth Step. This is a time when it’s very important to understand that the ways things feel is not necessarily the way things are. Just because we feel afraid doesn’t mean there’s truly something to fear. On the other hand, feeling excited and happy won’t necessarily reflect the reality of making our amends. It’s best to let go of all our expectations about how our amends will be received.

• What fears do I have about making amends? Am I worried that someone will take revenge or reject me?
• How does the Ninth Step require a new level of surrender to the program?
• What about financial amends? Do I have faith that the God of my understanding will ensure I have what I need even though I am sacrificing to make amends?

No matter how long we’ve been clean or how many times we’ve been through the steps, we’re bound to have some fears and expectations as we begin a new step. This may be especially true if we have previous experience with a step. The Ninth Step, in particular, is likely to produce some ambivalence.

For instance, many of us may find ourselves thinking about our past experiences with making amends at this point. Some have probably been very positive. If we made amends to a loved one who was open to our gesture of conciliation, we probably came away with a wonderful feeling of hope and gratitude. We were hopeful that the relationship would keep on getting better, and we were grateful to be forgiven and have our amends accepted.

Believe it or not, such experiences may work against us in later amends. They can set us up to believe that all our amends should turn out so well, and then be crushed when they don’t. Or we may recognize that such amends aren’t going to be the norm, and dread to the point of delay making amends whose outcome we aren’t sure will be so good. If we find ourselves hung up on projecting how our amends will turn out, we need to re-focus on the purpose of the Ninth Step.

The Ninth Step is meant to give a way to set right the damage we’ve caused in the past. Some of us keep in mind that three primary concepts are associated with making amends: resolution, restoration, and restitution. Resolution implies that to find an answer to the problem, we must lay to rest what was previously plaguing or disturbing us in some way. Restoration means to bring back to its former state something that had been damaged. This can be a relationship or a quality that used to exist in a relationship, such as trust. We can perhaps restore our reputations if they were good at some point in the past. Restitution is very similar to restoration, but in relating it to the Ninth Step, we can think of it as the act of returning something—material or more abstract—to its rightful owner. Our sponsor can help us explore each of these concepts so that we can gain perspective on the nature of making amends and stay focused on what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s only through the process that we realize many of the benefits associated with the Ninth Step. The ones that we may be aware of first are a sense of freedom, or an absence of guilt and shame. It may take some time in recovery or experience with several amends for us to appreciate some of the spiritual rewards of the Ninth Step: a more consistent awareness of the feelings of others and the effect of our behavior on others, a sense of joy that we were able to heal a long-standing hurt, an ability to be more loving and accepting of the people around us.

• What other fears or expectations do I have about my amends?
• Why doesn’t it matter how my amends are received? What does this have to do with the spiritual purpose of the Ninth Step?
• How can I use other addicts, my sponsor, and my Higher Power as sources of strength in this process?

Amends—Direct and Indirect

We in NA tend to think it’s best to make direct, face-to-face amends, and indeed, this step says we should do so wherever possible. But direct amends are not the only way to make amends, and in some cases they may be the worst way.

Before we provide some examples, it is very important to note that these are only examples. This guide is not meant to take the place of a sponsor in going over each amends with a sponsee and working together to decide what’s best.

Some situations are more complicated than they appear at first glance. We may think the solution is obvious, but we should always take the time for further reflection. For instance, there may be a situation where the person or people we’ve harmed are not aware of what we did, and learning what we did might possibly harm them more. We may have some friends, relatives, or an employer who were unaware of our addiction. To tell them might harm them. Our sponsor will help us look at our motives for wanting to tell people about our addiction. Do they need to know? What good purpose will be served by sharing such information? What damage could such information do?

But what if this same situation was complicated by our theft of some money from our friends? And what if someone else was accused of taking the money? Wouldn’t we then need to tell about our addiction, along with admitting the theft and paying the money back? Possibly, but perhaps not. Each of these kinds of situations needs to be taken on an individual basis. Again, our sponsor will help us decide how best to handle each one. In our discussion with our sponsor, if we are open-minded, we’re sure to think about these kinds of situations in ways we haven’t thought about them before. We may see how what we first thought was the obvious method of making amends may not be right after all. It’s very helpful to prepare for this discussion by listing all the circumstances for these difficult amends so that it will be right in front of us when we talk to our sponsor.

• Which names on my Eighth Step list are complicated by circumstances like the ones above? What were the specific circumstances?

A problem that presents difficulty for many of us is that we owe amends that will likely result in us losing our jobs, going to jail, or some other serious consequence. For instance, if we turn ourselves in for a crime we committed, we may indeed go to jail. So what effect would that have on our lives? Would we lose our job? Would that compromise anyone’s security besides our own—say, our family’s? On the other hand, if we are a fugitive from justice, what effect might a sudden arrest have on our lives and our families? It is probably best in such a situation to seek legal counsel and explore our options. No matter what, we need to somehow accept the consequences of our behavior, but we should bear in mind that our families might very well be represented in the part of this step that says, “except when to do so would injure them or others.” We’ll have to evaluate these situations very carefully. With our sponsor’s guidance, we’ll explore how to make amends.

• Do I owe any amends that might have serious consequences if I made them? What are they?

Another circumstance when we wouldn’t be able to make direct amends, although not because of the possibility of further injury, would be when a person to whom we owe amends is dead. This is very common around NA—so much so that our members have developed a variety of creative ways of dealing with such situations. Our members have even managed to make sure that amends of this nature do more than discharge our own sense of shame. Some have made financial donations in the name of the person to whom we owed amends. Some have taken on a task that was something that person cared about. Some have made restitution to the person’s children, who may have their own spot on our Eighth Step list. The ways we might deal with such a situation are only limited by our imagination and level of willingness. We might be surprised at how effective an “indirect” amends can be in situations like this. Many of us strive to make the amends as directly as possible by visiting the person’s grave or other meaningful place and perhaps reading a letter or simply speaking to the person’s memory or spirit. Again, our response to these situations will be determined by the nature of the harm we inflicted, our spiritual beliefs, and, of course, our sponsor’s guidance.

• Do I owe amends to anyone who is dead? What was special about that person that I might be able to use in planning my amends?

We’ve been emphasizing the need to check each and every amends with our sponsor before proceeding. While that’s important, there’s no need for us to become mindless robots, afraid to think for ourselves or act without asking our sponsor about it. Many of our members have had the experience of running into a person from our past whom we had not put on our Eighth Step list, but who might belong there. Sometimes the amends owed are so clear, we would be foolish not to avail ourselves of such a lucky coincidence. Other times, we may run into a person and experience very uncomfortable feelings but not know what’s causing them. If this happens, it’s better to take the relationship through the Fourth and Fifth Step process in order to gain more clarity about it. In any event, we should never consider our Eighth Step list “closed.” Chances are we’ll be adding new names to it throughout our lives.

What about people we can’t find? Should we go ahead and make indirect amends to them, too? Perhaps, although many of our members have had the experience of running across someone we thought we’d never be able to find, usually in a location in which we’d never expect to find them. We can certainly draw the conclusion that a Higher Power is at work when such coincidences happen, but even if not, we certainly shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to make direct amends.
If we can’t find someone on our amends list, we may want to wait. We should continue making every effort to find the person, we should make an effort not to cause the same type of harm to someone else, and we should remain willing. A spirit of willingness can often serve the purpose of the amends when we cannot make the actual amends.

After considering the complications involved in making indirect amends, it may seem as though making direct amends is easy, or at least more straightforward. We did something that hurt someone. We need to apologize and repair the harm. That’s it, right?

Not very often, if ever. As mentioned earlier, the amends process isn’t one that has a distinct beginning and end. We often begin making amends, in one sense, as soon as we get clean. Most of the time we immediately amend some of our behavior. This part of the amends process—the one in which we change ourselves—goes on long after we’ve spoken directly to someone we harmed.
• What behavior do I need to amend?

What about those direct amends, the ones we make when we sit someone down, acknowledge and accept responsibility for the harm we caused, and accept whatever response we get? These are the amends that may strike fear into our hearts. We imagine ourselves sitting before one of the people on our amends list, humbly and sincerely admitting our wrong, then just as humbly and sincerely offering to repair the wrong, only to have the person respond, “It can never be repaired. What you did was too awful,” or, “Forget it. I’ll never forgive you.”

In truth, a situation like the above is exactly what we most fear, because we’re afraid of having our faith in the process destroyed. We’ve taken an incredible risk by allowing ourselves to believe in a Higher Power, in ourselves, in the possibility of recovery. Our worst nightmare is that the damage can’t be repaired, that we’re such horrible people that we can’t be forgiven. It may comfort us to know that many recovering addicts have received a negative reaction from someone they were making amends to, and not only have they not let it get them down, but they’ve received the same spiritual benefits from making the amends as they would have if it had been received with love and forgiveness.

Sometimes, when our attempts at making amends are received so negatively, we do find that we need to take additional steps so that we can feel we’ve attained some resolution. Our Basic Text tells us that “contacting someone who is still hurting from the burn of our misdeeds can be dangerous.” It can also be unproductive, especially in the case of family members and close friends. Contacting people we’ve harmed before they’ve had the chance to cool off may cause them to respond very angrily to us, when after a bit more time they would have reacted quite differently. If we’ve approached such a person too soon, we may want to wait until some time has passed and try again.

Sometimes, however, no matter how well we’ve prepared or how sincere our amends, the person simply won’t accept our amends. If we encounter this situation, we need to realize that there is a point at which our responsibility ends. If someone is determined to nurse a grudge against us for the rest of their lives, it may be that the best we can do is wish the person well and consider the amends made. If we have difficulty coping with feelings that arise in the wake of such an amends, our sponsor will help us find a way of coming to terms with the amends. Perhaps, in certain situations, we may be better off making indirect amends, or it may feel like our amends are more “complete” if we take some other action that restores or repairs a situation. For instance, we’ve tried to make amends to a former employer from whom we stole money. He or she doesn’t want to hear our amends and doesn’t want our money. We may find that we can resolve the situation and make restitution by referring customers to the person’s business or, if it’s possible, somehow anonymously paying back the money we stole.

We need to remember that making amends is part of our personal recovery program. It’s true that we make amends because we owe them, but we also need to recognize the spiritual growth inherent in the process of making amends. First, we recognize and accept the harm we caused. As it says in It Works: How and Why, this “shocks us out of our self-obsession.” Because self-obsession and self-centered fear are the parts of our disease that most strongly affect our spirituality, alleviating and diminishing those parts of our disease will surely cause our recovery to flourish. Second, approaching the person we harmed directly and acknowledging the harm we caused is an enormous step on our spiritual journey no matter how the amends are received. The fact that we went ahead with something that required such a great deal of humility was proof, in fact, that we had attained some measure of humility. Finally, after making our amends, we are left with a sense of freedom. We are no longer burdened with the weight of unfinished business and a sense of shame about the harm we caused. It is gone. Our spirits soar.

• Am I spiritually prepared for making any difficult amends and dealing with the results?
• What have I done to prepare myself?

Forgiveness

The spiritual growth we get from making direct amends often depends on how much we put into our spiritual preparation. We start with getting rid of any beliefs we have that may be causing us to hesitate or might inhibit our ability to approach our amends with humility, acceptance, and faith.

Something that seems to be a problem for many of us is that we often owe amends to people who have also harmed us. This may be a parent or other relative who abused us, a friend who let us down somehow, an employer who didn’t treat us fairly, and so on. We’ve done a lot of work in the previous steps to separate what they did to us from what we did to them. We know exactly what our part in these situations was, and we know why we are making amends. As we prepare to make direct, face-to-face amends, we need to be perfectly clear that we are making amends for our part in these conflicts. We’re not making amends to coerce or manipulate a reciprocal amends. We’re not responsible for cleaning up anything not on our side of the street. Keeping this in mind throughout our amends will help us keep focused on our purpose no matter how our amends are received and whether or not we receive amends in return for harm done to us.

Sometimes, though, the wrong done to us was so extreme that it’s better to postpone making our amends until a later time. For instance, many of us were emotionally, physically, or sexually abused as children by an older relative. Though we had no part in that situation and owe no amends because of it, we may have stolen money or caused physical or property damage to the relative at some other time. So we owe amends for the theft, physical harm, or vandalism. The question that arises in this situation is not whether to make amends, but when and how. It may take a long time before we are ready to make an appropriate amends, and that’s okay. We wait, and we work with our sponsor.

We need to try to forgive the people who have harmed us before we make amends to them. We don’t want to sit down with someone with whom we’re furious and try to make amends. Our attitude will be apparent, no matter how much we try to hide it. Amends are a time when it’s not usually very productive to “act as if.”

There’s a big difference between situations when we were harmed against our will and situations in which our behavior contributed to the way we were treated. For many of our amends, when we’re angry at someone who treated us badly, we need to ask ourselves if anything we did could have caused them to treat us as they did. For instance, we may be enraged at our parents for not trusting us to go out on a weekend—to an NA dance!—but when we think about how many times we lied before about where we were going and always used drugs wherever we went, it may help us see that our parents can’t help treating us with mistrust and that we may have to spend more time earning their trust. Or we may have been selfish and withdrawn with some of our friends day after day, week after week; then, when we needed them and they weren’t available, we became angry and resentful. Reminding ourselves that we engineered much of our own misery may help us forgive those who hurt us.

Another way we may find forgiveness for those who hurt us is by getting out of ourselves and thinking about what other people’s lives are like. Maybe the people who hurt us did so because they had problems that made them less sensitive to the needs of others. Maybe our sponsor didn’t return our phone calls for a week because his youngest child was in jail. Maybe our best friend told us our relationship was unhealthy and we should get out of it—immediately following her own divorce. Maybe our employer didn’t praise our work because he was worried about being able to meet payroll that week. We usually feel petty and small when we find out that a person we resented had some painful problem. Maybe we can be more forgiving and loving if we just assume from the start that most people’s intentions are good and that if someone is unkind to us, it may be because he or she is in a lot of pain and very distracted by it.

First and foremost, preparing ourselves spiritually to make amends requires that we tap into our Higher Power’s strength and love. Contemplating a loving God’s forgiveness of the times when we hurt people will help us approach people with an attitude of love and forgiveness. Using our Higher Power as a sort of protective force will ensure that negative reactions to our amends don’t cause us to lose hope. We can center ourselves by praying and meditating before each amends.

• Do I owe amends to people who have also harmed me?
• Have I forgiven them all? Which ones have I not forgiven yet? Have I tried all of the above ways of generating a spirit of forgiveness? What does my sponsor say about it?

Making Amends

Now we’re ready to make our amends. We’ve discussed each person or institution on our Eighth Step list with our sponsor and made a plan for how we would go about making each amends. We’ve talked to the God of our understanding, and we’ve prayed for the willingness, serenity, courage, and wisdom to go through with our amends.

Now we need to follow through with our amends. We need to continue amending our behavior, and we need to keep whatever commitments we’ve made to the people on our amends list.

This is where it can get difficult. When we first make an amends, we’re usually feeling as if we could float away on a cloud of freedom. We feel a heightened sense of self-respect and the initial euphoria that comes along with the disappearance of a large chunk of remorse. We feel like good people, like we’re on equal footing with the rest of humanity. This feeling is extremely powerful, and if it’s our first time feeling it, it might seem like more than we can handle.

We shouldn’t worry. The feelings won’t be so intense for long, though there will be some permanent change in our feelings about ourselves. After the first glow of making amends fades, we’ll face the truly challenging part of making amends: the follow-through. For instance, a year after we approach a lending institution to which we owe money and promise to pay back a certain amount every month, we may not find it “spiritually inspiring” to hand over a portion of every hard-earned paycheck, especially if we’re going to be making the same payment for several more years. Asking ourselves one simple question should help us continue with our amends: How free do we want to be? To continue with all aspects of our recovery, making amends included, makes our freedom grow day by day.

• Are there amends with which I’m having trouble following through? What am I doing to recommit myself to making these amends?

It is not necessarily a comforting and comfortable process to make amends. The steps aren’t designed to make us happy and comfortable without also making us grow. The fear, the risk, and the feeling of vulnerability that come with making amends may be so uncomfortable for us that the memory keeps us from repeating the behavior that led to us having to make amends. We hear often around NA that “it gets better.” “It” is us—we get better. We become better people. We become less willing to engage in destructive behavior because we are aware of the cost in human misery, both our own and that of those around us. Our self-centeredness is replaced by an awareness of other people and concern about their lives. Where we were indifferent, we begin to care. Where we were selfish, we begin to be selfless. Where we were angry, we begin to be forgiving.

Our love and tolerance also extend to ourselves. We explored some of the issues surrounding making amends to ourselves in Step Eight; now it’s time to recognize how we’ve already begun making amends to ourselves and perhaps make some plans to continue or take on some new things. We began making amends to ourselves for our addiction when we stopped using drugs and started working the steps. Just these two acts will go a long way toward healing the damage we did to our own spirits. We may have to do some other things to heal the damage we did to our bodies and minds. There are many ways we can begin taking care of our physical health, from diet to exercise to medical treatment. Whatever ways we choose will need to fit our personal needs and desires. The damage we did to our minds may be healed in some measure by pursuing knowledge in the future. A return to school, or just learning something new, will help us repair years of mental neglect.

• What are my immediate plans for making amends to myself? Do I have any long-range goals that might also fit as amends to myself? What are they? What can I do to follow through?

Spiritual Principles

In the Ninth Step, we will focus on humility, love, and forgiveness. The humility we’ve gained in this step has resulted from getting a good look at the damage we did to others and accepting responsibility for it. We acknowledge to ourselves, “Yes, this is what I’ve done. I’m responsible for the harm I caused and for making it right.” We may have been led to this awareness by the experience of having someone tearfully tell us how much we hurt them. We may have found ourselves on the receiving end of some hurt we had inflicted on someone else, and been so jarred by such an experience that we were able to see on a deeper level how we hurt people. Then again, it may have been only the process of the previous steps, coupled with the experience of making amends, that led us to experience increased humility.

• Have I accepted responsibility for the harm I caused and for repairing that harm?
• What experiences have I had that led me to see the harm I caused more clearly? How has that contributed to an increase in my humility?

It becomes much easier to practice the spiritual principle of love in Step Nine, though we’ve probably been working on practicing it throughout our recovery. By this time, we’ve eliminated many of the destructive views and feelings we had, making room for love in our lives. As we become filled with love, we find ourselves compelled to share it by nurturing our relationships and building new ones and by selflessly sharing our recovery, our time, our resources, and, above all, ourselves with those in need.

• How am I giving of myself or being of service to others?

As we experience being forgiven, we begin to see the value in extending that to others. This motivates us to practice the spiritual principle of forgiveness as much as possible. Recognizing our own humanness gives us the capacity to forgive others and not be as judgmental as we have been in the past. It becomes second nature for us to give other people the benefit of the doubt. We no longer suspect vile motives and sneaky conspiracies are at play in every situation over which we don’t have full control. We’re aware that we usually mean well, and so extend that belief to others. When someone does harm us, we’re aware that holding resentments only serves to rob us of our own peace and serenity, so we tend to forgive sooner rather than later.

• What are the benefits to me of practicing the principle of forgiveness? What are some situations in which I’ve been able to practice this principle?
• For what have I forgiven myself?

Moving on

Many of us find it helpful to reflect on our amends after making each one. Some of us do this by writing about how it felt to make the amends and what we learned from the experience.

• How did it feel to make this amends? What did I learn from it?

“Freedom” seems to be the word that most clearly describes the essence of Step Nine. It seems to sum up the relief from guilt and shame, the lessening of our obsession with ourselves, and the increased ability to appreciate what’s going on around us as it’s happening. We start being less consumed with ourselves, more able to be fully present in all our relationships. We begin to be able to just be in a roomful of people without trying to control the room or dominate every conversation. We start thinking of our past, specifically our addiction, as a gold mine of experience to share with people we’re trying to help in recovery, instead of as a period of darkness we want to forget about. We stop thinking about our lives in terms of what we don’t have and begin to appreciate the gifts we receive every day. We know that to keep this feeling of freedom, we’ll need to keep applying what we’ve learned in the previous steps. Step Ten gives us the means to do that.