On the Mend and Making Amends: The Step Nine Struggle

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Making amends can be incredibly difficult and uncomfortable. How do we navigate potentially opening old wounds with old friends and family members? For many, this step can seem counterintuitive to growth in recovery. However, it is a necessary part of the process of working the steps. Step Nine allows us to let go of our past transgressions while also working to mend old relationships and provide closure for ourselves and the people we harmed while in active addiction.

Breaking Down Step Nine

According to the Big Book, Step Nine is defined as the following “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” So, we’ve made our list, checked it twice, and now we need to make amends with those that we can. This step is particularly distressing for many people. Reliving our past harms might give rise to harsh situations and the potential for even harsher words. Many people find that Step Nine often triggers such intense episodes that relapse becomes an overwhelming concern. Motivational speaker and addict Jason Wahler writes, “many recovering individuals have relapsed when they allowed their fears to keep them from doing Step Nine. Dr. Bob, one of our founders, could not stay sober until he went around town and made amends to all those he had hurt.”

So, while Step Nine may be the hardest step for many people, it is still one that must be completed. In doing so, we shore up all those anchors that we left behind while we were in active addiction.

The “Three R’s” of Step Nine

Making amends requires us to be active in recovery through our motives and mindset. In order to forgive ourselves completely and grow in our recovery, we must do more than just abstain from drugs and/or alcohol.

Step Nine can be broken down into the three R’s of making amends: restoration, resolution, and restitution.

When we think about restoration in Step Nine, it is important to remember that we are talking about restoring who we are as people. Step Nine is not just about making amends to others; it is also about making amends to ourselves. We are working to restore our reputations and relationships in order to build a long-lasting recovery. This requires a certain amount of self-love and patience.

Resolutions require us to solve problems that may have been festering while we were in active addiction. These can come in the form of internal struggles as well as external struggles with others. Searching for solutions to past problems requires patience with yourself!

Restitution requires us to make our transgressions whole either in the literal, tangible sense (returning a stolen item, for example) or in the abstract. These three components require self-love, patience, and an understanding that, while all of these tasks may seem difficult, they are necessary for long-lasting recovery. Facing these difficult interactions head-on can be distressing for many people, especially if they haven’t considered their transgressions in a long time.

Present Recovery in Past Regrets

Drudging up problems and transgressions that we may feel have been long forgotten or have faded with the passage of time can be extremely difficult. Over the course of our work through the 12 steps, we do a lot of self-restoration, self-care, and put in a lot of effort to better understand ourselves in general. Step Nine requires us to externalize these lessons in forgiveness and patience and offer the rewards we have reaped from our personal growth as gifts to those we may have wronged. Step Nine is not an exercise in narcissistic hubris or ego, and we mustn’t think of this process as such. It is a necessary exercise in recovery, humility, and forgiveness.

As addicts, our past lives are likely full of regrets, mistakes, and transgressions. Righting the wrongs that we can manage is a fundamental part of our present and future recovery, even if it requires digging into the past. The struggles with Step Nine are universal. This is why we stay in meetings and work to establish an understanding of this step with our fellow addicts.

Harm Reduction and Forgiveness 

Knowing when to make amends and who to make them to can be a herculean task in and of itself. For example, if the person you are making amends to doesn’t even know about your past misdeeds, and informing them of these transgressions would cause them more harm, it may be best to go down your list to the next person. Our amends must be handled on an individual basis; there is no one size fits all approach to making amends.

For many people in recovery, Step Nine is the most difficult of the 12 steps. We may feel like we are doing more harm than good by stirring up the past. As we make our lists, the anxiety and dread may cause us to relapse or lash out in other ways. Building long-lasting recovery is taxing to many of us, but we are capable of it and so much more! At Jaywalker Lodge, we specialize in helping men who have struggled to achieve long-lasting recovery find sobriety. Our four-phase program combines group therapy, inpatient stays, outpatient aftercare, and individualized care that all combine to make a plan that allows men to get sober and stay sober. Recovery is a lifelong struggle, and we at Jaywalker Lodge are here to ease some of that suffering. If you or someone you know is struggling with their recovery, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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