Part 1 – Step 9: Amends & Forgiveness

Step Nine is often thought of as a chilling and challenging step that people want to avoid, just like Step Four. Yet, moving through this step can provide another level of relief and spiritual growth that keeps us in recovery.

As with Step Four, the sooner we move through this step, the sooner we experience the relief. In fact, it is in the middle of Step Nine that the Big Book reveals the promises that we will receive (on page 83)!

Step Nine is often feels difficult for a few reasons:

  1. We are afraid that we won’t be forgiven for what we have done and will end up feeling humiliated.
  2. We know that the other person has done so much more harm to us and that they will use the apology we give for our part as a way to continue to beat us up emotionally.
  3. There may be additional consequences for apologizing, such as financial restitution or jail.

All I can say about this is that any of these are possible. Yet, if we have worked the rest of the steps to the best of our ability and remember that we must make amends to right the wrongs we have done to keep from picking up our drug, we know that we can handle whatever happens. Doing the right thing for the right reasons may not always turn out as we hope. But spiritual growth is not always easy. And which is really worse – risking a return to our old way of living or facing reality (life on life’s terms)?

I have never found anyone who regretted doing a thorough Ninth Step. And my experience has been that my amends have always been accepted and much healing has occurred even if it wasn’t easy to do.

An Example of a Powerful Amends

My relationship with my father was always so difficult. He never really liked me and caused me great suffering and harm, yet he had also provided for me generously growing up and there was a side to him that I loved. Over a decade ago, I did a thorough inventory where I took responsibility for my part in the harms. I finally saw that I had been selfish and irresponsible in many ways. I made an honest amends to him, focusing only on my part. And it completely changed our relationship.

My father died last year. While I am still going through some resentment feelings since his death, I can honestly say that I was able to have the best possible relationship with him for those ten years because of the amends I made back then.

He refused to even speak to my brother for over two decades. And my brother chose to handle it differently and now bears the consequences of his choices. It was important to me that I have a relationship with this difficult man who was my father. And vital to my recovery that I humble myself as I did to make amends for my part of our problems. This doesn’t in any way excuse his behavior. It just cleans up my side of the street. And gave me the ability to feel more compassion and love for him by releasing my denial that I had any fault at all.

How to Apologize

I don’t remember where I heard this, perhaps at the Joe and Charlie workshop when they got to Step Nine. But I learned that it is not enough to say you are sorry. It is also key to say you were wrong. For instance, there is a big difference in saying, “I am sorry that you felt hurt.” and “I was wrong to say that.” It may seem subtle, but Step Nine is about making amends for the wrongs we have done to others, forgetting about their part in it.

Saying “I’m sorry” is simply different from saying, “I was wrong.” You can be sorry and still feel you are right. But when you say you were wrong, you truly acknowledge your part.

Abusing Step Nine

I have actually seen people use Step Nine as an excuse for continuing self-justification by cloaking it in an apology of sorts, while continuing to blame the other person! In fact, I have been the victim of this type of behavior and know others who have as well.

Sometimes, if we have held on to resentment at the other person it is really challenging not to add that “but” onto our amends. I urge you to bite your tongue if the word “but” tries to burst out of your mouth when you are making a Ninth Step amends!

A Challenging Amends

Many years ago, I made an amends to my ex-husband. He had wronged me and our son in significant ways and continued to do so. Yet, I found some responsibility in my own actions and needed to make amends for my part.

As I made my amends, he really hammered it in, clearly relishing the moment. It was the hardest amends of all because I wanted so badly to whack him with what HE had done and continued to do, especially as he self-righteously added his two cents. But I struggled to keep my focus on my side of the street, reminding myself that I was there for MY healing, not his.

While it was hard not to “BUT” him (or kick him in the butt), afterwards, I felt clean about my side of the relationship and relieved that it was over. Trust me, it is not worth it to ruin all the work you have done to get to Step Nine by allowing your disease to draw you back into blame at this crucial moment.

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