A Study of Step 8

The 12 Steps of A.A. and Al-Anon

Chairs in a circle
Willing to Make Amends?. © Getty Images

Making a list of those harmed before coming into recovery may sound simple. It's becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part.

Step 8
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

For the Alcoholics Anonymous member, the list usually begins with friends and family that have harmed by a long and tumultuous drinking career. But as recovery continues - and the fog begins to lift - many others are usually added to the list as the process continues.

Like taking most of the 12 steps, this one is not necessarily a one-time event. It is a process that continues to unfold as more is revealed.

Many Al-Anon members, however, are sometimes surprised to learn that the first person on their list is the alcoholic! As they begin to put the focus on themselves in the Al-Anon program and do their own inventory, many discover they owe amends to the alcoholic in their lives if for no other reason, blaming him/her for all the family's problems.

Making the list is one thing. Become willing to actually make amends to those harmed is another. It can be a very humbling, but growing experience, to actually admit wrong-doing, especially to the person harmed. But the process can relieve those trying to recover from so much guilt!

Here are the experiences of some visitors to this site who have worked the 12 steps:

Step 8: Becoming Willing

Step 8 is simply a "list" of people we have harmed. I was told that if I had done my 4th step inventory, that much of this list had been covered.

The second part of the 8th step is to become "willing" to make the amends necessary. I didn't actually have to "do" anything in the way of amends just yet. This perspective relieved a little of the fear I had regarding making the list. I was advised to ask my higher power to guide me through this step as I had all the others.

My sponsor asked me to look at my behavior whether drinking or not. Was I kind, tolerant and considerate of others, or was I mean spirited, impatient and selfish? What were my motives when dealing with family members, friends, co-workers etc. Was I hell-bent on getting only what I wanted and not concerned with what was "right"? Oh, and let's not forget the self-pity that I poured out on those from whom I was sure to extract sympathy.

Upon looking at the 8th step in this light, the list grew by leaps and bounds. I now not only had a list of those whom I had resentments but a list that included those I may have given resentments and caused harm. Promises made but not kept. Telling that "homeless" (surely lazy, drug-addicted alcoholic) to "GET A JOB"! There is no way of knowing exactly how many people I hurt through my insensitivity.

Some of these amends would be direct. Humbling but not impossible. Others through changing my attitude and behavior by not perpetrating the old sick self-serving behavior on friends, family or strangers.

If I work this step to the best of my ability, the promise of living a life free of isolation from my fellow man and God will come to be. My sobriety is "the" priority! I must be willing to go to any length to get it. So far it's working, so I think I'll just keep coming back!


Step 8: Step Toward Maturity

Making a list of the persons I have harmed is difficult because I would have to admit to being wrong. It's hard for me to be wrong because I have had to work miracles, endure all things and pull things together for so long.

Making a list will help me to examine my behavior and take away the excuses. Just as I have maybe been able to point out all the inappropriate behaviors of others, I have to face my own. That's a great step toward maturity.


Step 8: Letting Go of Hurts

Step 8 forms the base for all future relationships. If we can let go of our previous hurts to others, we can begin a new facet of sobriety. As in the 4th step, the relief is enormous. We need to address omissions as well as the obvious. For me, that was the most difficult part.


Who Did I Harm?

Who did I harm? Well, step 4 gave me guidelines as to who and how, and why, and I began step 4 with specific individuals who I directly harmed as a consequence of my drinking.

Then as I progressed in this program, I re-read step 8 and discovered it said: "all people we had harmed". That meant people I had harmed both during and prior to my drinking and drugging.

Then, as I progressed further, and discovered that laws of physics apply to human emotion too, I realized that I had harmed many more than I believed at first.

Consider the doorman who I shouted at for his insufferable incompetence. He took my rebuke to heart, took it home with him, yelled at his wife and kids, perhaps yelled at the train conductor.

Consider the newsboy who broke my window, and who I gave a dressing down: Perhaps he dropped out of school, or just gave up on self-esteem. Everywhere I went, whatever I did or said, any action has an equivalent reaction.

Suddenly my 8th step list got a lot longer. As it turned out, I had a high profile job for 12 years that caused me to interact with over 2,000,000 people. How many of them did I harm? How many did they harm after crossing my path?

It became painfully obvious that I would never make amends to them all. I could make direct amends to those I directly harmed, but what about the nameless, faceless minions that were out there, and never knew they suffered because of me?

You know what? The answer was already in the steps. This program is about becoming a better person, and improving one's life. It is about living life in an unselfish and compassionate way. It is about giving in order to receive. It is about taking more interest in our fellows. And by practicing these principles in all my affairs, I think I turned out to be a better person than I once was.

So all those minions, all the poor people that I tread upon, all the people that reciprocated my actions towards others, and those others, well, it is my sincere hope that you now need not worry about suffering because of me. And maybe, just maybe, my continued sobriety makes the world a wee bit better place for you to live.


Step 8: Moving Forward

Next to finding a higher power, of which I try and honestly commit to daily, I find this step difficult. Most of my life has been spent with a negative attitude and probably have harmed many along the way with this nature.

The only thing I can do now is, not look to the past, but move forward and live by my newfound example of a trying positive attitude, look at the negative and try and find something good in what I have always found bad. It seems to be slowly working for me. I am lucky to have the full support of my family, who are positive people.


Index of 12 Steps and Traditions Study

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