Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” It follows directly after Step 8, where you made a list of all the people you harmed.
Step 9 is one of the most challenging of the 12 Steps — many people quit working the steps just to avoid it — but it often ends up being the most powerful step of all.
The why behind this step is simple: most people suffering from alcoholism have caused harm to the people around them (and themselves).
If they want to stay sober, according to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, they need to make amends for that harm to the best of their ability (except when it would hurt someone else).
This step is about healing the wounds of the past and moving towards a brighter, sober future. Taking responsibility for your actions is a critical part of the new brutally honest way of living you’ve agreed to. Making things right isn’t always possible, but you won’t know until you ask.
Step 9 is an action step that demands courage, humility, and responsibility. It challenges you to confront your past mistakes and face those you’ve hurt. It’s about more than just saying sorry — it’s about demonstrating sincere remorse through your actions.
The Importance of Step 9 in the Recovery Process
Step 9 is a pathway toward healing and growth. You’re able to make peace with your past and move forward toward a healthier future.
Step 9 isn’t the time to seek forgiveness or absolution from others, but that often happens during the process. This can be a cathartic experience. Many people find themselves freed from the guilt and shame that fuels their addiction.
Just as importantly, Step 9 is your chance to rebuild those relationships you’ve damaged. Most people who suffer from addiction find themselves engaging in dishonest behavior that they’re later ashamed of, behavior that ruins their relationships with family and friends.
Most people in your life probably just want you to be happy and have a good life, to treat yourself and others right. They might be very hurt by what you did to them or put them through, but if you acknowledge the harm and express remorse, that can often be enough for their healing to start.
How to Approach Step 9
Approaching step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous requires careful consideration and a sincere commitment to doing the right thing. You and your sponsor should have spent a great deal of time putting together your 8th Step list, with lots of careful consideration for the nuances of each amend.
If you haven’t already, you need to make absolutely sure you’re not going to cause more harm by making amends. Discuss the amends with your sponsor one last time to make sure you’re not missing anything, and talk to others as well who are involved.
For example, if you owe amends to your children, it’s usually better to make amends to their other parent first and then ask them how they feel about the amends to your children.
They might want you to wait until you have a certain amount of sobriety, or they might not want it to happen for years if they feel your children are too young to understand.
Make sure too that you fully understand the harm you’ve caused. It’s crucial to approach each person with empathy and understanding, acknowledging their feelings.
If you think that the harm “wasn’t a big deal” or that you shouldn’t be making amends but feel “forced to” by your sponsor, it might be best to wait on those amends until your attitude changes.
If you are angry or resentful at the people you owe amends to, it might be best to wait until you’re able to speak to them without making things worse. It’s not good to approach someone for an amend only to argue or fight with them.
Be sincere and humble in your approach, and be ready for any reaction. Try not to set any expectations, and be prepared for a range of reactions. Some people may accept your amends, while others may not. That’s not something you get to decide.
You also need to be ready to accept the fact that, for some relationships, an apology isn’t enough — nothing might be enough. Sometimes, what’s done is done, and there’s no fixing it.
You might not be able to get your job back. You might not be able to save your marriage. Your kids might not want to talk to you anymore. Your friends might be done with you.
These are hard situations to go through, but if you try your utmost to make amends, even if you don’t get the outcome you want, you can still rest your head on your pillow at night knowing you did everything you could — the outcomes are up to them.
Common Challenges in Step 9 and How to Overcome Them
One of the biggest challenges in Step 9 is fear — fear of rejection, fear of confrontation, or fear of admitting your past mistakes. To overcome this, remind yourself of why you’re doing this. You’re doing this for your recovery, for your peace of mind, and for your future.
In almost all cases, there’s no real reason to be afraid. Usually, the worst that can happen is that someone can be mean to you.
However, you may owe amends to someone who has the potential to be violent. In these cases, it’s extremely important to work closely with your sponsor and discuss if it’s a good idea to make these amends or not.
In some cases, you might want to avoid the person entirely and block them on all devices and digital platforms. In others, it might make sense to meet in a public place to make the amends. In others, over the phone or via text/email/letter might be best.
Just because you owe amends doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in harm’s way. The same goes for amends you owe to people who are still drinking/using — and even drug dealers.
Any good sponsor will tell you not to make amends to these people unless they decide to get sober and change their lives as well.
These aren’t the only people you might need to strike off your list. People who are mentally unstable or who show signs of the Dark Triad — narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism — should likely be avoided as well.
These people aren’t going to receive your amends in good faith. Rather, they’ll use them as an opportunity to get something from you or cause you or others harm.
If you and your sponsor agree that it’s best to make amends anyway, you might not want to ask them how you can make it right, or you might respond to their unreasonable demands with, “I’ll have to talk to my sponsor about that.”
Another challenge is dealing with negative reactions. Not everyone will be ready to accept your amends, and that’s okay. Remember, this step is about your recovery. If someone rejects your amends, respect their decision and continue on your journey.
Step Confidently Through Step 9
Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous can be frightening, but it can also be a powerful experience. With the right support, you can make your amends and move on with your life.
If you’re going through the 12 Steps and are thinking about getting into a sober living or IOP program to augment your recovery, we can help.
At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping you develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network so that you can achieve long-term sobriety.