Willing To Make Amends - Step 8
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Step eight in 12 step programs, AA, NA, Alanon and over one hundred others, says, "We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all."
"Harmed? Who have I harmed? Not me. I have never done anything to anyone, well, never physically hurt anybody. I don't hit, push, bite or fight. And I never do anything mean; well, except when they do it first. I don't shout or name-call; well, not usually, except maybe that time...but I was angry, so it doesn't count; besides he deserved it. Well, yes, I had a glass or two of wine when he made me so mad I... but that had nothing to do with it. Alcohol never affects me and I'm always in complete control. It's entirely his fault."
Sound like it might apply, at least a little, to you, echoing your thoughts? Sometimes we are unaware of the harm we do and it is not until later, perhaps at a more selfless time, that we understand how deeply what we do affects others. We human beings are very good at justification, retaliation and denial.
Is there any chance you have ever done anything unkind, maybe even harmful to family? Parents, siblings, spouse, children? Few normal human beings could honestly respond in the negative. How about extended family? Friends? Coworkers, neighbors, strangers, anyone else? Ever behave rudely in traffic, in line in a store or anywhere else you are somewhat anonymous?
Could you be one of the many people who put on a façade for the public? Are you not only dressed perfectly, every hair in place when you are away from home, but also pretending, wearing the, "I am perfect and so is all in my life" mask? Do you save your biting comments, negativity, and controlling, passive-aggressive and vicious side for family? Would you treat your loved ones the same way if your neighbor, coworkers or friends were watching? Would you change anything about the tone of voice, the level of compassion or attitude if your neighbors or parents of your children's friends were listening? Rethink how you treat those closest to you, as they are the ones we usually hurt the most.
Of course, there are outright harms to consider: theft, cheating, dishonesty, and so on. Even if it is the fault of a cashier, accepting more change than you are due is dishonest, comparable to stealing. Small lies are still lies. Do you justify this type of behavior?
Little omissions can also be damaging: not acknowledging someone's existence, either in person or by not returning a call, snubs and rejections of any kind. All of this behavior harms the person committing the act (you) as well as the victim, but you, of course, have a rationalization for everything you do.
If you should decide that there is a chance you have done something that hurt another human being, and you are willing to 'fess up, deal with it and change yourself, then you are ready for this step. If you persist in believing you have never hurt anyone, go back to and through steps one through seven, special emphasis on step four. The cool thing is that the word, "amend" means "make changes, corrections, or improvements." Since no human being can see himself clearly, this, like all the steps, requires coaching from someone who has done this and the preceding steps. Such a person, called a sponsor or mentor, can be found in twelve step meetings of any kind and often among professionals such as therapists, counselors, recovery coaches and consultants. Find someone who has done this step and with whom you are willing and able to work; make your list. There is no point in postponing this step; harm that was done remains until dealt with. Please note that step eight says, "...became willing." It does not say that we actually MADE the amend, just that we became willing. Specifics on how, when and where to actually make the amend comes in step nine.
Dr. Dawn's book, Mission Possible, A Missionary Doctor's Journey of Healing, is available for $15 on Amazon.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver email@example.com.