The Simplicity of The Twelve Steps- Step Nine (Justice)
On page 83 of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it reads:
“Good judgment, a careful sense of timing, courage, and prudence— these are the qualities we shall need when we take Step Nine.”
It seems they are cautioning us to bear in mind that this is a step whose process must be attended to cautiously as this is really the first time we are welcoming the outside world into our process. Up until now, any step with which we were to employ half-measures probably stood to hurt no one beyond us. But with Step Nine, if we are impulsive or reckless, we run the risk of damaging others. And clearly, this would be the opposite of the task at hand. Consequently, the book does a marvelous job specifically delineating not just how to make amends; but how to make a proper amends.
We are given some introductory information on the task of amends on page 76 about halfway through the third paragraph:
“Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.”
After a quick check-in to make sure that we, in fact, had become willing to make all of the amends on our eighth step list, they call to our attention the verbal agreement we willingly entered into back on page 58. It would seem that the book’s authors correctly understood that the doorstep of the amends process is a point at which many an alcoholic takes great pause. They clearly believed that this would be an appropriate time to call the prospect’s attention back to the two questions they were asked prior to Step Three, in regard to their preparedness for the step work. At that point, they had apparently decided that they wanted what we had and that they were willing to go to any lengths to get it. When first posed with those questions, many of us were benefitted with the glorious gift of desperation, leading us to pledge commitment without needing a firm understanding of what “any lengths” might look like. Often times, this is the point at which we find out.
Correspondingly, it is not surprising that this is the point at which they choose to overtly reveal to us the underlying purpose of this whole process:
“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”
It is critical to understand that our real purpose is not to cease using drugs and alcohol; it is not to feel better or happy; it is not even to work the steps; it is to be of maximum service to God and our fellows. We need to put down the substances to properly work the steps; and we work the steps to achieve our real purpose. This is the reason that the steps conclude with the words, “Practice these principles in all your affairs.” That’s what it’s about. This, of course, does not need to be any individual’s real purpose; but it is, unequivocally, our real purpose. And our pioneers are letting us know that, daunting as this amends mission may seem, without it, our real purpose could never be achieved.
With the basic framework explained, the book now breaks down for us five different kinds of amends we may find ourselves facing:
First, in the first full paragraph on page 77, we get some information on the amends made to people we don’t like:
“The question of how to approach the man we hated will arise. It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find it much more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.”
It is quite useful to let the prospect know that these “more difficult” amends will actually carry more spiritual weight and bring him closer to God than the supposed “easy ones.” Additionally, it is worth noting that the book, throughout the breakdown of this step, offers a variety of terms such as ‘regret,’ ‘remorse,’ ‘ill feeling,’ as possible alternatives to the use of the term, “I’m sorry.” While the word ‘sorry’ does show up a few times in this step, they are generally referring more to feeling sorry than to saying ‘sorry.’ In fact, the only time they even infer that using the term might be useful is with one’s creditors, and it seems that this is mostly driven by an understanding that with bullying shylocks or nameless, faceless corporations- a little groveling might be necessary. Beyond that, self-love and self-forgiveness is often bolstered by the realization that all these things we did occurred as a result of an illness. Therefore we are not responsible for them; but we must be accountable. With this in mind, a statement like, “I regret my behavior” is generally more in keeping with our message than “I’m sorry.”
Second, we told more about an amend to someone person who has also done something to us which we understand to have been harmful:
“Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own. If our manner is calm, frank, and open, we will be gratified with the result.”
There is no ambiguity on this point. Regardless of the actions of the other person, even if we believe their harm to us to be far worse than the damage we did them; we are not to mention one word about their behavior.
The chapter then addresses financial amends, letting us know that there is generally much more hope around this subject than many of us might suspect:
“Most alcoholics owe money. We do not dodge our creditors. Telling them what we are trying to do, we make no bones about our drinking; they usually know it anyway, whether we think so or not. Nor are we afraid of disclosing our alcoholism on the theory it may cause financial harm. Approached in this way, the most ruthless creditor will sometimes surprise us. Arranging the best deal we can we let these people know we are sorry. Our drinking has made us slow to pay. We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face them.”
And then they address criminal amends, reminding us that courage and thoroughness are the watchwords for a successful and lasting recovery:
“Perhaps we have committed a criminal offense which might land us in jail if it were known to the authorities. We may be short in our accounts and unable to make good. We have already admitted this in confidence to another person, but we are sure we would be imprisoned or lose our job if it were known. Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles which we find guiding. Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.”
Lastly, on page 83, the book addresses the part of the step which speaks to hedging on direct amends when it might cause further harm:
“There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don’t worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right them if we could. Some people cannot be seen – we send them an honest letter. And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases. But we don’t delay if it can be avoided.”
This can be a tricky area, as many alcoholics look to use it as a loophole, proclaiming, “Well, any amend I make could hurt someone so maybe I shouldn’t make any of them.” What we look to distinguish here, with the help of our higher power, is the difference between hurt and harm. As an example, if you had stolen some money from your buddy but he doesn’t know about it, telling him the truth might hurt his feelings some- but it will not harm him (especially if you pay him back). On the hand, if you slept with your buddy’s wife and he doesn’t know about it, and upon your ninth step the marriage is still active and they have children, you’d want to avoid possibly contributing to the undoing of a whole nuclear family system in an effort to feel better. Additionally, these sorts of amends can also be made- though generally they are best handled indirectly.
The ideal way to make every amend is face to face, and we must have the willingness to do just that. With that said, not every amend can be made face to face and some of them are not best handled in that fashion. There are phone amends, letter amends, living amends, gravesite amends. The surest route for each amend ought to be considered with forethought and caution. This is why we have God and a person taking us through the steps.
Finally, we must remember that if we judge the success of our amends based on how they are received, we have lost before we’ve begun. The manner in which the people on our list respond to our amends is, quite frankly, none of our business. Their reactions have all to do with their own willingness and capacity to forgive, and that is something we are powerless over.
Once we have made our first couple of amends, our spiritual awakening occurs. We are then to proceed straight into the maintenance and growth work set forth in Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve.