Tools for Living

Responsibility and the 9th Step

Step 9:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.” ~Goethe


In the 6th Step we committed ourselves  to taking responsibility for our behavior. Now it’s time for us to act on that commitment by admitting our wrongs, repaying our debts, repairing damage we’ve caused, and doing our best to heal our injured relationships with others.

The 9th Step is not about saying we’re sorry, although sometimes an apology plays an important part in the process. It’s about making amends, which means that we do our best to mend whatever our past behavior has damaged. We fix what we’ve broken or make restitution or do whatever else might be necessary. Mere apologies seldom suffice to set things right or to clear a guilty conscience — and especially not if they’re insincere. In fact, words alone may make things worse, not better.

How do we know when our apologies are sincere? When they’re backed up by action, either concrete action to make restitution where possible — such as repayment of debts — or by honest admission of our own wrongdoing, together with the changed behavior that shows we really understand our fault, regret its harmful consequences to others, and are determined not to repeat it.

The easiest amends to make usually turn out to be the ones many of us dread the most at first: financial amends. These amends often require little more than acknowledging our debt and repaying it — although in some cases the financial wreckage of our lives means that we must pay in small installments over a considerable length of time. So instead of despairing over the magnitude of our debts, we just do what we can right now and start cutting them down to size. Most of us find that our creditors are happy to work with us when they see that we’re sincere about making good on our obligations.

On the other hand, mending relationships damaged by wounded feelings and betrayed trust can be much more difficult, sometimes even impossible. We must bear in mind that our real purpose is to promote healing as much as possible, and not simply to soothe our own guilt with half-hearted efforts. It’s especially important that we complete Step 8 before setting out to mend any painful personal wounds — otherwise, our own unresolved resentment is likely to poison whatever chance there might be for reconciliation and real healing. Fortunately, the cases that look impossible at first usually seem easier as we gain more experience by making less difficult amends first.

Sometimes direct amends are unwise or impossible, either because others might be affected unfairly or because the injured party is no longer alive or cannot be found. In such cases the advice of others with plenty of Step 9 experience can prove especially helpful, for there is no need to reinvent the wheel when others have already found ways to deal responsibly with nearly any situation imaginable. Some form of indirect amends, such as a charitable donation or some kind of service, coupled with the “living amends” of our changed behavior, will usually do the trick in such cases.

And bear in mind — especially during the first few years of recovery — that virtually all amends should be undertaken only with the advice and guidance of a sponsor experienced in living all twelve steps. This can spare us and others the unnecessary anguish of well-intentioned but ill-considered attempts at reconciliation that only open old wounds instead of healing them.

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Have I reviewed the list of persons I made in my 4th and 8th Steps?

Are there any persons on that list to whom I don’t owe amends, or to whom direct amends cannot be made without harming them or others? Have I discussed this with my sponsor to be sure than I’m not just trying to avoid making difficult amends?

Are there any persons not on that list that I should make amends to? And have I discussed this with my sponsor?

Do I understand the difference between making amends and saying I’m sorry?

If there are any amends I am not yet willing to make, have I discussed the situation and my feelings with my sponsor? And am I sure that I have completed work on Step 8 first?

Have I discussed all direct amends with my sponsor (or other trusted and knowledgeable advisor) and determined precisely what mistakes or wrongdoing I am trying to set right in each case? And what form the amends to each person should take?

Have I prayed and written about each amends so that I am prepared to say and do precisely what needs to be said and done? . . . and to avoid putting my foot in my mouth and making things worse instead of better?

In cases where direct amends are not possible, have I determined appropriate indirect amends that can be made?

After making each amends, have I reviewed what happened with my sponsor and am I sure that my conscience is clear?

And am I fully committed to the behavior changes necessary to make living amends to my family and others affected by my past behavior?

What am I doing to be sure that the behavior changes are appropriate, and to monitor my own progress in making them?

Links to more information about Responsibility and the 9th Step:

“Making Amends Is More Than an Apology”, from Hazelden

Mel B. on the 9th Step, from on Step Nine.

Peel the Onion’s “Ninth Step Guide”

12Step. org on Step 9

“Taking Step 9,” from the Big Book Bunch

Marijuana Anonymous forum, Step 9 on Step Nine

Ernie Larsen on Step IX

Step Nine from

“Step 9—Facing Them, Freeing Me,” from forum

ACOA Recovery on Personal Responsibility

And the NA Way of Life, also on Personal Responsibility



Recommended Books:

Beverly Engel, The Power of Apology: Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships
Beverly Engel writes about practicing the art of authentic apology, which includes not only expressing regret, but also taking responsibility and remedying the wrong.

Terence Gorski, Understanding the Twelve Steps: An Interpretation and Guide for Recovering People        A practical, straightforward guide to understanding and practicing the 12 Steps, written by an alcohol and drug abuse counselor with many years of experience in the field.

Darren Littlejohn, The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction
A guide to practicing the 12 Steps from a Buddhist perspective.

The Twelve Steps, A Spiritual Journey: A Working Guide for Healing Damaged Emotions
A guide and workbook to all 12 Steps, based on Biblical teachings and written especially for Christians seeking to understand the principles of the Steps in relation to their religious beliefs and practices.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions    The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book” explaining each of the Steps—and the Traditions—in greater detail.