to the Big Book, cofounder Doctor Bob was the first
AA member to have a slip. Coming off a roaring bender,
he saw that he would have to face his problems squarely:
"One morning he took the bull by the horns and set out
to tell those he feared what his trouble had been. Stepping
into his car, he made the rounds of people he had hurt.
He trembled as he went about, for this might mean ruin,
particularly to a person in his line of business."
from bringing ruin. Doctor Bob's bold action marked
a new beginning, bringing great personal happiness and
opportunities for service in the fifteen years remaining
to him. He was, as the Grapevine noted after his death,
a person who had truly become reconciled with his fellowman.
Bob also showed how the Ninth Step should be handled.
He was a physician and often had to face hard decisions
in his own work with patients, sometimes advising them
of their need for risky, painful surgery. He knew that
it was useless to put such matters off or try to avoid
them altogether, so he faced the self-surgery of amends-making
with acceptance and determination to do the job thoroughly.
result? As the account in the Big Book continues: "At
midnight he came home exhausted, but very happy. He
has not had a drink since. He now means a great deal
to his community, and the major liabilities of thirty
years of hard drinking have been repaired in four."
payoffs for this AA co-founder in taking the Ninth Step
were sobriety and happiness, and the experience of other
AA members generally has been along the same line: If
we want to enjoy sobriety with happiness, we
ought to clear up the past. While it is undoubtedly
true that some people manage to avoid drinking without
making amends, it is unlikely that many attain real
happiness until they do so. And without happiness, who
lives well in the present or faces the future with hope?
Doctor Bob's ease, most of his initial amends-making
seemed to involve contacting people in person and extending
apologies or offers to remedy certain problems. We do
not know the nature of his wrongs, or whether his efforts
were received graciously by everyone he visited. It
is also possible that in some cases a mere verbal apology
could not have repaired all the damage. The important
thing is that he made amends directly and pushed aside
fear and pride to get the job done. When it was finished,
he had a feeling of great relief, as if a great burden
had been removed.
is the key word in this Step. There are times, I'm afraid,
when many of us are hopeful that indirect amends
will suffice, sparing us the pain and supposed humiliation
of approaching people in person and telling them of
our wrongs. This is evasion and will never give us a
true sense of breaking with the wrongdoings of the past.
It indicates that we are still trying to defend something
that isn't worth defending, hanging on to conduct that
we ought to abandon. And the usual reasons for sidestepping
direct amends arc pride and fear.
questions arise: "What harmful actions should I have
in mind when I take the Ninth Step? Which persons should
I approach?" We should include here--if we have completed
the Eighth Step--any action where we were wrong even
in part and any persons who were harmed by this action.
this include bartenders whom we may have insulted? Many
AA members point out that bartenders and tavern owners
are well paid to accept insults, and therefore no amends-making
is required. Actually, a brief apology should be extended
in most of these cases, as a matter of courtesy. But
barroom insults, as a rule, do not cause lasting harm.
"Harmed," as it is used in the Eighth Step and implied
in the Ninth, means: caused other persons to suffer
physical injury, emotional pain, financial loss, or
other damage through actions or neglect on our part.
money is so important to many of us, financial harm
should head the list. Making amends ought to include
paying debts or visiting creditors whom we have been
avoiding. But it is not enough to visit a creditor with
only an apology and a promise to pay; these must be
followed up with actual cash payments as soon as possible.
Only in this way are we showing sincerity of purpose
and true financial responsibility.
more difficult problem faces the person who has been
guilty of undetected crime, such as embezzlement or
pilfering. Direct amends in a case like this could bring
injury, such as disgrace and impoverishment to his family.
The problem should be handled through prayer and meditation,
along with personal discussion with a trusted friend.
Perhaps a way of making amends in an indirect
manner--suitable, for once, in this situation--will
appear. Fortunately, the member has an excellent way
of determining whether the method is the correct one
for his needs. It is this: If the action removes his
own sense of shame and guilt, giving him a feeling of
peace and relief, it has probably been the correct one.
would hardly know how to begin advising the person whose
actions resulted in more serious crimes--for example,
an individual who caused a death through a still-unsolved
hit-and-run accident. I think it is doubtful, however,
that any lasting peace or self-forgiveness could ever
come about without some kind of open admission.
have heard much discussion about the clause "except
when to do so would injure them or others." It seems
plain to me that an obvious case would he the husband
who cheated on his wife, but would hurt her a second
time by telling her of his escapades. There are probably
other occasions when a frank disclosure would turn out
to be more harmful than helpful. The AA principle to
follow would always be in the direction of being hard
and uncompromising in dealing with ourselves, but considerate
and discreet where others are involved. There is a great
deal of common sense in the AA program, despite the
fact that we often seem to be swimming against the title
of general behavior in our principles and actions. We
do not, merely for the sake of an obscure principle,
always tell the whole truth at all costs. And the Ninth
Step seems to make that plain.
we can make up for the limitation through a more subtle
method of making amends, one that seems to be accepted
by a large number of AA members. This is the method
of making amends by living in the right way and meeting
one's own obligations and responsibilities. Quite often,
this can be more important to certain people than any
amount of personal apologies or expressions of regret.
Such amends are actually direct, because they have a
direct effect on the lives of others.
friend of mine, for example, neglected his family for
the first few years of his marriage. It was too late
to save his marriage by the time he arrived in AA, but
it was not too late to give his children as much assistance
as possible at critical stages in their lives. What
could he more direct than this?
friend was in trouble with the law repeatedly, spending
almost sixteen years in prison. But his parents had
the joy of seeing him recover before they passed on,
and their joy erased much of the pain and disgrace he
had once brought them. And if his defiant course once
placed a burden on society, he has more than made direct
amends to society as well, through his work in helping
others who have been similarly defiant.
there is always the thought of what might have been
if only we had not neglected a responsibility or failed
to take advantage of an opportunity. In more than a
few cases, alcoholics ought to make amends to themselves,
for they were the chief victims of their own harmful
thoughts and actions. Even here, direct amends are often
possible. I feel strongly that my own night-school education
over the past few years, leading to a high-school diploma
and then to graduation from our local community college,
is in this category. If any alcoholic feels that sins
of omission or commission denied him some supposed good
in life, he should ask himself whether it really is
too late to make it up to himself. The only barrier,
in many cases, is not age at all; often, it is only
a mixture of fear and laziness.
taking the Ninth Step in all its various forms, we pay
off any debt we may have to the past. Alcoholics Anonymous
is a program of renewal and rebirth, and we have no
business hanging on to things that are going to mar
today's happiness, If fear is keeping us from making
amends, we should destroy fear long enough to do the
job. If pride is the deterrent, we should rise above
it for the occasion. If laziness is involved, we should
gather all the energy we can find and deliberately order
laziness to stand aside while we do what needs to he
we have paid the great price--taken "the bull by the
horns." as Doctor Bob did--we will find that the action
has opened up a whole new world for us, one that we
could never find on the old basis. And while we make
amends directly to others, the real, lasting benefits
come to us. This should certainly he reason enough for
facing up to the Ninth Step.