This daylog is eighth of a series chronicling my path through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. I’ve been recording my personal journey because it helps me to clarify my thinking to write it all down. This entry marks Step 8.

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I imagine that if you’re reading this and you’re not terribly familiar with 12-Step programs, it might not be clear to you what family or friends of an alcoholic might have to make amends for. People in AA, NA,--those with chemical addictions which have lead them to injure others—sure, they probably have done things in their past for which amends are warranted. But what about the loved ones of the addict?

Many people, when they show up at Al-Anon, want to be told how to fix the alcoholic—what they can do to control the person who they think is causing them grief. What they learn is that Al-Anon asks each person to keep the focus on him- or herself, to examine his or her part in the family/ relationship dynamic, and do what can be done to change his or her attitudes and actions for the better. To me, Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps represent a path to a better way of life. The Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature (CAL) describes how alcoholism is a family disease, a disease of relationships, where “our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions, and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it.”1 It’s tempting to dwell on what has been done to me, to wait smugly for the amends I feel I have coming to me, but that’s not really helpful or healthy in terms of my personal growth. Resentment, it has been said, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. By examining my own part in dysfunctional relationships and becoming willing to do what I can to make things better, I can clear my conscience, get rid of guilt over past actions, and move forward, mindful of a healthier way of living.

Two years ago, when I was new to the program, my sponsor talked to me about the concept of beginner's mind: the interest, enthusiasm, and motivation expressed by someone just starting out in a new endeavor. Back then, when things were particularly unsettled at home, I had a lot of incentive to “work the program”, to do what I could to better my living conditions. It is part of my own human nature that, now that things have improved and my life and relationships are in a better place, rather than being encouraged by the changes and eager to keep pressing ahead, I start slacking off. Especially since Steps Eight and Nine (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others) seem particularly daunting to me.

Oy. The mere thought of making a list, having to think about people I have harmed, knowing that in doing so I’m putting myself that much closer to Step 9—having to make the amends--is enough to cause some major procrastination. I’ve been giving myself time, willing to accept the idea that I’m working through this program at my own pace, confident that eventually I’ll get to it.

In Al-Anon you hear about the three A's--Awareness, Acceptance, Action. First one becomes aware of the reality of a situation, then later comes acceptance without denial; still later comes the desire to act, to move toward change. Look before you leap and all that. Step Eight is primarily a step concerned with the first two A's--the action comes in Step Nine. The funny thing is, back when I wrote out Step Four, I wrote a list of people whom I had hurt or wronged. The list that follows is pretty much that same list, but it took more than a year for me to get to the point where I wanted to work on Step Eight.

Let’s talk about amends for a moment, shall we? It does not necessarily mean an apology. Webster 1913 defines amends as “Compensation for a loss or injury; recompense; reparation.” fugitive247 does a great job of explicating Step 9 elsewhere on this site. What it breaks down to is this: I’m supposed to focus on what I did, even if the other person was somehow at fault. I can make indirect amends by writing a letter but not sending it, making an anonymous charitable donation, or doing volunteer work. Perhaps I just need to change my behavior from this point forward, and/or stay away from those I have harmed, working to not make the same mistakes in the future. Part of what I’m doing is looking for harmful or unhealthy trends, and working toward correcting them. It helps to remember that these steps are designed to propel me forward, into healthier living, since writing my list spins me backward to family and childhood dramas.

The list

The literature suggests, and they tell you in meetings, that the person making the list needs to include him or herself on it. Over the years I may not have taken the best care of myself, might have put myself in harmful situations or not removed myself from them, and therefore I owe myself amends. So, okay, I’ll start there; me. (The very fact that it takes me so long to do something that I know is good for me probably qualifies me for my list.) I'll try to do better in the future.

This is a pretty public forum for a private exercise, so forgive me if I don’t list the whys and wherefores that go along with each person’s inclusion on my list. Trust me; they’re there for a reason.

Continuing the list:

  • Mom and Dad. It’s interesting, when I thought about this in some detail, I realized the times that I have hurt or upset my father the most are times I put myself in danger, acting in ways that were potentially harmful to me.
  • My sister. I don't want to talk about it.
  • My brother. I find myself wishing we were closer. I don't think I've done much that harmed him, but it would be nice to be a bigger part of each other's lives.
  • Significant others, past and present. I know who they are, and what should be said. I was too demanding, ungracious, emotionally needy. Etc. My first sponsor said that in making amends to her ex-husband, she did not list specific wrongs, but rather wrote him a note apologizing for not having been able, at that time, to be a mature participant in a loving relationship (or words to that effect). I think back now on some of the things I demanded, ways that I behaved, and cringe. But hopefully I can learn from them, and move on.
  • A close friend from college : I was intolerant about his religion, too persistent for answers he didn’t have yet; too blunt. Too ready to be bold, shocking, wrapped up in my own life, in ways that trampled his feelings. I embarrassed him. I’m very grateful that he’s still in my life, and need to make sure he knows that.
  • A few short-lived romantic interests : I was interested in too much intimacy, too fast, and then just avoided them when I later changed my mind. Very immature.
  • Bosses (authority figures; could include professors) :Lack of respect; poorly phrased (and public) objections; not enough tact.
  • Students. I have been, on occasion, impatient or sarcastic, used an angry tone when it was not them I was angry at; acted unfairly. There have been times that I’ve been too wrapped in my own concerns to give all I should.

The literature suggests that we divide our list into three categories--"amends we are willing to make, those we may possibly make, and those we cannot imagine ourselves ever making." I am relying heavily right now on the idea of changed behaviors as a form of amends, because (for the most part) the act of talking to these people about my past transgressions scares the shit out of me. The literature continues " time and healing progress, most of us find ourselves gradually becoming willing to make even those inconceivable amends, because we learn that we owe it to ourselves to do so. As with the rest of recovery, becoming willing to make amends is a process that takes time."2

This is scary stuff. I found the next quote particularly helpful:

"We ask for courage and remember that we do not really need to like or want to do something in order to be willing to do it. Willingness is all that is asked of us. With willingness and a desire for increased recovery in our lives, we turn to our Higher Power to help us move on to Step Nine." 3

So I'm praying for courage and willingness, and trusting that they will come in due time.

1 from the Al-Anon/Alateen Suggested Welcome, read at the beginning of meetings. Reprinted from the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual. 2How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1995, page 59. 3Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1997, page 84.

Related musings: step one | step two | step three step four | step five | step six step seven