The 8th step seems to be overlooked by many people in recovery. Out of all the steps, this one has the least information written about it in the Big Book. In fact, the entirety of the information the Big Book gives us about step 8 is contained in the following paragraph:
“Let’s look at Steps Eight and Nine. We have a list of all persons we have harmed and to whom we are willing to make amends. We made it when we took inventory. We subjected ourselves to a drastic self-appraisal. Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which 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.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76)
FUN FACT: Step 8 is the only step in the Big Book that doesn’t have at least a whole paragraph devoted to it.
When reading the above paragraph, three things become apparent:
If we already has the list and we already have the willingness, then what purpose does step 8 actually serve?
Often 12 step fellowships will encourage members at the 8th step to divide their harms list into three categories: right now, someday, and never. Once the list as been segmented in this way, the member is encouraged to begin making amends to the people on the “right now” list.
There is a problem with this: it isn’t what the steps instructs us to do. Step 8 specifically indicates that we are willing to make amends to everybody on our list. Assuming we are taking the steps in order, there’s no way to begin making amends to anybody until willingness to make amends to everybody has been established.
In response to this, some people have pointed out that it is better to begin making some amends than to make no amends. While it is generally better to take some action rather than no action, when it comes to amends this line of thinking can be problematic.
Remember, if we’ve worked the steps in order then we have invited God into the process by this point. So ultimately any amends we make are going to be directed by Him, not just how they are done, but when and where as well.
So what happens when, during the course of making amends to people on the “right now” list, we run into somebody on our “never” list? Our program is at risk of coming to a grinding halt.
A true step 8 allows us to avoid this potentially crippling experience.
A popular joke in recovery about amends is something along the lines of: “I may as well just pick up a phone book and start calling everybody in it to apologize.”
With step 8 we have the ability to have our harms list in front of us and to know that, God willing, we can eventually cross every name off the list.
I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.