Written By: Fiona Stockard
The Big Book Broken Down – Part Seven
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who help each other to recover from alcohol and drug addiction. It was founded in June of 1935, just celebrated its seventy-ninth anniversary, and boasts over two million members.
AA’s central text is the Big Book. With a sponsor and a Big Book, AA members work the twelve steps, and “recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” (title page).
Today, I’ll be breaking down steps eight and nine from the chapter “Into Action”
Step eight is “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Sounds kind of scary, huh?
Steps eight and nine, much like the fourth and fifth steps, have this mystique of fear around them. We make a list of everyone we’ve harmed, go over that list with our sponsor, and make amends. That’s scary stuff for an alcoholic like me, who thrived on avoiding uncomfortable situations and lying to everyone!
We shouldn’t be worried, though. It turns out we already have our eighth step list. See, when we were doing the fourth step, we wrote a list of everyone we’d harmed. That’s our eighth step list right there.
Of course, having this list and working up the courage and willingness to face those people are two very different things! Fear not, dear readers, we just have to pray for willingness. It’ll come. The Big Book promises us that.
Step nine is “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Now that we have the willingness to go out and make amends, how do we actually make them?
Well, the first thing Into Action tells us to remember is – “To some people we need not, and probably should not emphasis the spiritual feature on our first approach” (76).
Sounds good to me! When I was making amends, I was very hesitant to announce I’d found God. After all, I was living a spiritual life, but most people mistake that for a religious life. I didn’t want to make amends and have the person think I’d become some sort of religious monk!
Next, the book lays out one of the most important distinctions of the ninth step. We’re making amends, not simply apologizing. To wit, “[S]he is going to be more interested in a demonstration of good will than in our talk of spiritual discoveries” (77).
I love that! Making amends demands not only words, but action! Later in the chapter, this idea is once again brought up. “A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit the bill at all” (83).
You’re right I was sorry…I was living a pretty sorry life! Amend means to change, to alter. We can’t alter past wrongs with an apology. If I stole my mom’s Rolex, saying I’m sorry isn’t enough. Not even close. I need to get her a new Rolex or at least start giving her money (Rolex’s are expensive!).
To really drive this point home, that our amends consist of action and more action, the chapter contains another wonderful quote. It reads, “Our behavior will convince them more than our words. We must remember that ten or twenty years of drunkenness would make a skeptic out of anyone” (83).
Don’t listen to my mouth, watch my feet. Whatever direction they’re going is the truth, is my truth.
Getting back to how exactly to make amends, Into Action offers some great suggestions. I had to make amends to quite a few people I disliked. They cover that. “It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find it much more beneficial to us…His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own. If our manner is calm, frank, and open, we will be gratified by the result” (77-78).
Yeah, making amends to people I disliked sucked. It was SO necessary though. The feeling of peace and spiritual alignment I left those amends with? It was nothing short of pure freedom and serenity.
What about making amends to someone who doesn’t want to hear us? Into Action has that covered, too. It reads, “In nine cases out of ten the unexpected happens…It should not matter, however, if someone does throw us out of his [or her] office. We have made our demonstration, done our part” (78).
My sponsor made sure to point that out before I started making amends. “Not everyone is going to take your amends well,” she said, “you may get cursed out a few times.”
Dang! You know what though? It doesn’t matter. I made my amends anyway. I cleaned up my side of the street. I cleared away my wreckage of the past. The rest is in God’s hands. If someone doesn’t want to accept my amends, they have the right to refuse it.
The chapter goes on to give specific examples of owing money, domestic problems, having committed crimes, and generally having been an a*shole. The consensus is that we check with God, our sponsor, and other trusted friends before making amends. After all, sometimes we shouldn’t make a direct amends. Sometimes (and I can’t stress this enough, only sometimes), making a direct amends hurts someone more than it helps.
What do we do in cases like that? Simple. We make an indirect amends. That’s when we do some other sort of good deed to make right the past. In my case, in high school, I stole money from a Hispanic classmate. I didn’t know her name or where to find her. So, I donated the amount of money I stole to a Hispanic charity. This was after a lot of discussion with my sponsor and praying, of course!
Step nine in the Big Book ends by listing the ninth step promises. I’d write them out here, but I think they deserve a more thorough examination. Look for that article soon! And look for the next installment of Faith Facts next week!