Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
The pathway toward renewal and personal growth in recovery is a gradual one. The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous provides the framework to slowly but surely attain this new mindset. Arriving at Step 8 relies on having completed the previous steps, which allows us to make a thorough list of the people we have harmed.
Step 4 had launched the process of owning our defects of character, and now Step 8 asks us to make it real by assigning names to that inventory. It can be difficult to personalize those who were victims of our shortcomings, but doing so prepares us for the next step when we will approach them to make our sincere amends. A willingness to be absolutely honest and sincere lies at the very heart of success in the 12 Step program.
Breaking Down Step 8 in Alcoholics Anonymous
During active substance use, most of us managed to damage some of our most precious relationships. Admitting this, accepting our role, and writing down each of their names are steps we now take to bring us closer to healing not only those relationships but ourselves as well.
When embarking on Step 8 it helps to begin with a master list, a list of all the people you have identified as having been adversely affected while you were active in your substance use. Once you have combed through your memory and have compiled the list, it helps to then break down the names into subgroups by prioritizing the order. These subgroups can be people you should immediately make amends to, those you should make amends to later, and those it might be wise to skip altogether.
Why would there be some names on the list that you should not make amends to? The A.A. program makes this clear. If coming forward to make amends to someone may cause them harm, you should pass.
But list-making is not the only element involved in Step 8. Without being willing to make amends to these folks, there is no way to proceed to Step 9, the point at which you will actually make amends. For this reason, Step 8 requires that you become willing to make the amends necessary to continue progressing in the program.
The 12 Step Program and Step 8
As laudable as it is to step up and apologize for past wrongdoings, it is important to be prepared for mixed reactions. While it may be your hope and wish that each person that you reach out to is ready to accept your heartfelt apology, some may not be quite there yet. Be humble, be patient, and allow time in recovery to work in your favor. As they witness your sincere recovery efforts, you will slowly earn back their trust and their forgiveness.
Consider the experience of Ashley Alumni Coordinator, Louis M:
Step 8 was really a two-part deal to me. First of all, I needed to make a list, based on my fourth step, of the people that I owed amends to. Any person or institution that I had wronged, I needed to write them down. Second, I needed to become willing to make amends to them. I needed to ask myself, if while making amends to this person or place, should it not go directly as planned, am I still willing to accept the terms? Sometimes you might not get the results you thought you would get, and you need to be willing to accept that.
As each subsequent step builds upon the last, the benefits of participating in the 12 Step program compound. The steps are designed to ultimately provide newly fertile soil where recovery can take root and blossom.
While A.A.’s 12 Step program is often credited with helping people sustain sobriety, the reasons can be hard to pin down. A study out of the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychology was able to do just that. With 1,700 participants, the Project MATCH study was able to cite how the social support factors that underpin A.A, among other factors, can be protective against relapse. Working the steps, including Step 8, while aided by the fellowship of others, can provide a strong support network and contribute to recovery success.