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Step 9: Skillful Amends

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 3

Step 9: Skillful Amends
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. —Step 9 of the Twelve Steps

Here is where the rubber meets the road. The Big Book says, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” [1] By being honest about his or her failings, the alcoholic sees how many people, relationships, hearts, promises, and maybe even laws have been broken in the course of his or her addiction. It takes great discernment and wisdom to try to make things right. Utterly aware of the addict’s powerlessness to “fix” things, A.A. suggests “some general principles. . . . We ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be.” [2] The Twelve Steps program recognizes that “at the moment, we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” [3]

Because those in the program are trying to “always [be] considerate of others,” [4] Step 9 says they are to make amends to people “except when to do so would injure them or others.” If not done skillfully, an apology can actually make the problem and the hurt worse. We have a myth of “total disclosure” in our culture that is not always fair or even helpful. Just because something is factually true does not mean everyone can handle it, needs to know it immediately, or even has a right to the information. You must pray about and discern what the other needs to hear and also has the right to hear. What people want to hear in gossipy detail has now been fed by our media-saturated society, and our wanting to know seems to have become our supposed right to know. Gossip is not a right but a major obstacle to human love and spiritual wisdom. Paul lists it equally with the much more grievous “hot sins” (Romans 1:29-31), and yet most of us gossip rather easily, with so many sad and unfair results. If only we could keep what is shared to ourselves—for the sake of love—then perhaps full disclosure could be a virtue.

The ninth step is about two things: making amends and keeping us from wounding one another further. Too much earnest zeal here, “spilling the beans” on everybody’s lap, will usually create a whole new set of problems. Many people simply do not have the proper filters to know how to process ideas or information. Once it is said, somehow it has the authority of “fact.” [5]

Gateway to Silence:
One day at a time

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 77. (A Simple Program is a gender-neutral translation of the original Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

[2] Ibid., 73.

[3] Ibid., 71.

[4] Ibid., 69.

[5] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 78-80.

La soupe (The soup, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902–03, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.