Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part Two
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part Two

Emotional Sobriety in Steps Eight and Nine

Monday, December 16, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part Two

Emotional Sobriety
Monday, December 16, 2019

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

Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. [1]

Making a list of the persons we have harmed is a reversal of what our ego prefers to do—make lists of what others have done to us. We are only able to do this because of the housecleaning we’ve done in the previous steps. When we’ve experienced higher states of love and transformation, we must go back and rectify earlier wrongs in appropriate ways to support the healing of those we have hurt. God forgives us, but the consequences of our mistakes remain. We must repair what has been broken, or we stay stuck in a wounded world.

Bill Wilson saw the Twelve Steps finally leading to emotional sobriety. Sobriety is not just about no longer drinking. The goal is to become spiritually awakened, to have found some degree of detachment from our own emotions. Our emotions are not bad unless we are attached to them. Emotions are helpful indicators and symptoms of what’s going on, often subconsciously, within us. However, they are primarily “narcissistic reactions.” They’re self-referential because they are actually based in our body, not easily available to conscious control. The body carries all of our shame, guilt, childhood conditioning, and past hurts.

We are all trying to get our programs for happiness met by one another and by things, when only God can really meet our longings for unconditional love and authentic joy.  Otherwise, we are going to be hurt and hurt others in the process. Steps Eight and Nine are about stopping that cycle from our end. Bill Wilson understood that we’ve got to stop depending on other people or outside events to meet our needs. We need to reverse the flow and draw it from the inside out—based on the absolute union between God and the soul—instead of from the outside in. Wilson often said, “It’s better to give than to receive” (see Acts 20:35). The union between God and the soul is the only stable, secure, and sustainable program for happiness.

Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledges that the process is gradual and in relationship with others:

There is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Higher Power show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.

The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to finally live it. [2]

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55.

[2] Ibid., 77.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 73; and

Emotional Sobriety: Rewiring Our Programs for “Happiness” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image credit: La Soupe (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: These were moments when it all made sense and we knew we were good, God was good, it was all good. We were in touch with our true source of power, our spiritual desire, the indwelling Holy Spirit. —Richard Rohr
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.