When the boisterous child is confronted after knocking the vase off the table, perhaps his most common answer is “I didn't mean to.” The implication is that he did not premeditate the action and that he would have preferred to not have done it. In other words, he is expressing the idea that he is sorry.
However, as the alcoholic in your sponsorship compiles his list of “persons we had harmed” (BB p59) mentioned in Step 8, the situation quickly becomes a little more complicated. A good place to start is with the question of “How, exactly, was this harm done?” The answers, although in no way providing anything similar to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to the new member, will provide a beneficial guide for understanding the matters which are placed on the list.
Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” (BB p59)
The "list" idea, of course, comes from the strong suggestion made in the Big Book's discussion of Step 4's inventory, "In dealing with resentments, we set them down on paper." (BB p64) We have already mentioned that one of the three tools of our spiritual malady is confusion. The idea of writing the details of Step 8's targeted behavior down on paper is to eliminate the opportunity for exploiting any confusion about what's on the list, not on the list, and so on. The central matter at hand is too important to risk being distracted by a “dust storm” of “maybe, maybe not” type confusion arising from an alcoholic run-around.
Once that matter is in hand, his list can be discussed in sponsorship in a manner consistent with the AA program's insistence on frankness and honesty. This means that the two of you will have to consider each element on his list, arriving at conclusions about each entry which can be agreed on with confidence. The sponsee must be confident that Step 8's work is objectively defined by the final decision regarding his amends.
His being willing1 to make the amends arising from the contents of Step 8's list will be much more likely when he has confidence that he has included everything that is essential and discarded other matters which are not. The progress he has already made in his previous step work has either prepared him for this next work or it has not. If it hasn't, re-visiting Step 7 may be a good investment of sponsorship time.2 Always remember the “breathtaking” nature of making firm plans to take one's spiritual progress “on the road.” Although Step 8 and 9 represent a much more public approach to his recovery, one which may seem drastic to him, we can reassure him about both their necessity and their great promise based on our own experiences.
Returning to the theme of our three perceptions of the results of the disease of alcoholism, that is, behavior, psychology and spirit, we can look at the items on his Step 8 list in this light. Such a frame of reference can even further increase the clarity of what might have otherwise seemed to be different, confusing features of what he has placed on the list -- and in his past.
We will separate the contents of the list into three convenient groups.
- Injuries caused by being a drunk,
- injuries caused by having untreated alcoholism, and,
- injuries which he must have caused based on his terrible feelings afterwards.
Naturally, all three types flow together in the larger, consolidated idea about our disease, but imposing such divisions can make the respective starting points of your discussion of each item more clear. Everything he has presented here must emerge into the “light of day.”3
Group 1: Injuries caused by being a drunk
The two most common and most grave entries in this group will very often be matters of physical violence and everything having to do with matters such as drunk driving, regardless of the outcome. However, there are many more possibilities which enjoy a “full membership” in this part of his list. Further, although Group 1 “injuries” are certain to necessarily involve actions with such direct physical qualities, we alcoholics seem very adept at accomplishing some such things with just our mouths alone! We will separate those less tangible harms into the following group.
Of course the difficulty we face here is partially based, once again, on those around us having a non-alcoholic view of our actions. When they observed – or suffered – this type of behavior on our part while we were drunk, they measured us by their non-alcoholic standards. In their minds, they asked themselves something akin to “Why is he doing that? I can't imagine myself doing such a thing, so why did he do it? Did he do this just because he was drunk? I don't seem to do anything like that when I'm drunk.”4
Here, the new man might be reminded of the frequently cited AA idea: “I didn't get into trouble every time I drank, but every time I got into trouble, I was drinking.” It seems clear that “being drunk” for us alcoholics very often meant something rather different from “being drunk” for the non-alcoholic. At least it seems that “being drunk” for us led to quite different kinds of consequences – in the context of Step 8, much more serious consequences!
Further, we have to wonder whether those differences can really be explained simply by the fact that we might have been significantly more drunk – that is, had more to drink – than such non-alcoholic observers comparing our actions to their own. The same questionable line of reasoning can be applied to the idea that we were simply drunk more often or more of the time. Most thoughtful AA's suspect that there may have been more at play in such affairs than simply the amount of liquor we had consumed, how often we drank that quantity or how much of the time we were drunk. Such a possibility becomes very much a relevant factor as we consider this group of injuries on the new man's Step 8 list.
In fact, in a way fundamentally different than the behavior of the drunk non-alcoholic, we seemed quite inclined to “go the extra mile” in our alcoholic drinking as we seemed to be chasing down those consequences. Unlike the drunk non-alcoholic, who may have simply “wandered into getting drunk” or even setting “getting drunk” as the goal of his actions, we seemed to have taken the task much further. Of course, on these occasions “getting drunk” was very squarely on our agenda, but we didn't seem to ever stop there! In this sense, Step 8's list of how we harmed others may have certainly “set the stage” by our being drunk, but our actions seem to have an even deeper, more sinister motivation to them.5
Letting ourselves “off the hook” with an explanation of such harmful action as being simply being the result of “impaired judgement” or “not paying attention” because we were drunk is a little too suspiciously opportunistic. If such an excuse really made sense, the non-alcoholics would have created the same amount of damaging chaos we did while they were drunk. They usually didn't. We usually did!
So, as we discuss this group of inflicted harms on the new member's list, there can't really be much cover behind the idea that such actions were nothing more than drunken clumsiness or momentary instances of drunken thoughtlessness. Behind every one of these we find dangerous evidence of alcoholic thinking. The destruction resulting from a serious episode of drunk driving or the injuries of a vicious parking lot fight outside a bar represent much more than a mere drunken lapse of judgement or attention. Injuries caused in instances such as these, clearly, are the products of sick, alcoholic thinking when it was unleashed in a moment of drunken rage, lubricated by enough liquor.
However, if the sponsorship discussion of this section of Step 8's list ends with only the results of such behaviour, that is, the consequences or outcomes of it, while overlooking the alcoholic causes of it, the most important part of its transformative possibilities is in danger of being missed altogether.
The contents of this group in Step 8's list tend to be those with unavoidably tangible, physical consequences. Maybe the new man took a poke at his reluctant girlfriend, threw her television off the balcony or abused his baby for incessantly crying, and so on. There is no particular limit to the possible variety of such injuries. In most cases, not too many accounts of harm of this nature are stricken from the list before it advances into Step 9.
Their inclusion in Step 8 is rarely questioned.
Group 2: Injuries caused by untreated alcoholism
Once the “walking wounded” have been collected in the first group of “harms done other people,” the new man's list must move on to more subtle, but equally serious, injuries. Granted, any injury on his list could, theoretically, make the conceptual journey from Group 1 to Group 2 or vice versa when considered carefully enough, but segregating them in this way may shed light on a more complete view of the consequences of the alcoholic spiritual malady.
An identical admonition to inventory's “fearless and thorough”6 is completely suitable for Step 8's list. The goal is to completely reveal the unsuccessful parts of alcoholism once and for all. There is nothing to be gained by omitting something important from the new man's alcoholic history.
If the first group can be characterized as “emergency room” or “drunk tank” style injuries, those in the second group can be thought of as injuries resulting in intimate conferences with priests or psychiatrists. When the motivations of our spiritual malady become material, we have been motivated to hurt peoples' feelings, discourage those who care about us and disgust many others who simply “didn't deserve it.” Stealing, wrecking and violence belong in the first group. The second group will include everything from mean spirited gossip, hateful comments or selfishly exaggerating to incite others to, finally, all sorts of outright lying – both to protect ourselves and to damage others in acts triggered by alcoholic fear or revenge.
Such acts represent “social injuries,”7 that is, injuries which can be defined as striking out to attack others no matter what excuse or reason might be given. Unlike those in Group 1, this type of injury, although gravely damaging, could not usually be presented as a complaint in a court of law. However, it is important for the new man to fully realize that such actions are just as complicit as their Group 1 predecessors in thoroughly wrecking the alcoholic's life – not only with respect to those he harmed, but also with respect to his own, sober, honest view of himself.
Fear, especially fear of humiliation, has placed many of us in situations where the only action which seemed to make sense at the time resulted in the injuries on the list. The new member's work on Steps 8 and 9 has as its goal a new, much more successful idea of “what makes sense.” And, by “successful,” we mean both with rectifying the harm done to others and with gaining a new respect for oneself.
We can describe the acts which resulted in Group 2's list as products of untreated alcoholism, but we know that, suspiciously often, there was not really even any actual drinking involved. Maybe not even the night before! Realizing this important point leads us all to the chilling conclusion that many of the elements on the Step 8 list arose specifically from alcoholic thinking plagued by the constant influence of the spiritual malady.
Group 3: Injuries which he must have caused based on his terrible feelings afterwards
Groups 1 and 2 share the common thread of involving victims. The injuries listed in the final list, Group 3, seem to largely exist in the absence of victims. His horror from these acts stems from just that idea! Perhaps, in this part of the Step 8 list we find harmful acts which, when accompanied by a sufficiently long, alcoholic justification, actually seem to be acceptable or justifiable. However, the fact that the new man has placed these encounters on his Step 8 list suggests that he still suffers from their – in his mind – unjustifiable nature.
To put it bluntly, he can no longer find refuge in the excuses he has previously used to excuse his behavior in these matters, even when “everyone who saw what happened and, possibly, even the poor soul who found himself on the receiving end might be convinced that no “harm” had actually been done.
Exceptions which might arise from this category of injuries may be just as important as the instances which remain once the exceptions are eliminated. The sponsor has his work cut out as he assists the new member in separating Step 8's list into categories.
Alcoholics love to control things, and selecting what will be a part of Group 3 Injuries and what will be excluded is no exception. Not infrequently, the new man's alcoholism might begin to insist that injuries such as the ones in Group 3 have, actually, never been inflicted. However, common sense -- and the detachment of a sponsor from the immediacy of the facts -- suggests two cases where "control issues" can cause trouble.
In the first case, alcoholic "control" may demand that an injury was caused when the proposed "victim" of that injury doesn't see it that way at all. In the second case, alcoholic "control" spurs a literal, and destructive, festival of mea culpa where the entirety of real injuries is not considered to be damaging enough and more, less substantial or even imaginary injuries must be added to the list to make it sufficiently painful.
This last dangerous inclination is little more than another slip from reality just as grave as purposefully underestimating the seriousness of injuries might be in the opposing case. Both instances can be a convenient foundation for a new hopelessness which can lead to the idea that Steps 8 and 9 can't actually be accomplished after all, and that can become an excuse for more drinking.
In these cases, the “trail of evidence” both begins and ends in his own thoughts about himself. There are many other examples of “justified speech,” where even the person at whom the comments were directed has been convinced that he deserved such treatment. There are “acts of reciprocity” where the new man's injuries at the hands of others seemed to justify a vicious character assassination in return.
It matters little whether the other participants in these matters feel “unfairly” injured or not. If the new man feels that he has caused them harm, even harm somehow made justifiable, onto the list they go! His inner feelings about these things are more than enough to qualify their addition to the Step 8 list.
The Other Side of Step 8's List – Removing Names and Causes
Before the new man's list moves ahead to Step 9's amends, he may have a very serious need for the detached judgement of a sincere, involved sponsor. Some AA's don't seem to be satisfied with anything even close to a reasonable and effective list of amends. Instead, they suspect that nothing less that a literal “Roman spectacle” of vast contrition will suffice to get this part of their step work done in a convincing way which will deliver the necessary transformation. If this is the case with your new member, some items on his list may need to be explained and removed before he moves ahead.
After all, isn't self-seeking (BB p62) one the alcoholic coping skills noted in Chapter Five? We have already defined this manifestation of self as his attempt to assist others as they come to conclusions about himself -- the alcoholic. If the new man is exaggerating his abilities to inflict harm on others in an attempt to aggrandize himself, the sponsor should quickly intervene. Such a point of view suggests that the new man is still relying on his imaginary, alcoholic ability to control what others think of him, in this case by attempting to impress his sponsor with his “power” to harm others. Of course, Step 8 is a great place for such habits to end. Permanently.
A slightly different case may arise from the new member who has become convinced that absolutely every action he has ever taken has resulted in some kind of harm to others. The key here is the idea of “absolutely.” If every action he has ever taken has resulted in harm, he may have slithered back under cover of the “hopelessness” idea, that is, he may be trying to convince himself –- and his sponsor -- that he has been so damaged by his alcoholism that he is now pure evil.
The idea of a continuum of actual possibilities may come to play an important role with a sponsee like this. His spiritual malady has compelled him to adopt the idea that his “harm doing” proclivities have become so prevalent in his character that he is helpless to resist them. His sponsor may need to reassure the new man about the idea that, although he may not be able to perfectly and completely eliminate such impulses, he is expected to energetically resist them whenever possible! At least as many of them as possible, and that means “possible without any excuses...” – while he builds the spiritual strength to constantly improve.
There seems to be yet another possible reason for the “removal” of harms included on the new man's Step 8 list. Although perhaps a rare exclusion from the collection of Step 8 “harms,” there remains, at least theoretically, a possible injury which belongs to none of the three groups and might be explained in some way other than alcoholic thinking, spiritual malady or alcoholic behavior. Such matters, when considered this way, represent essentially non-alcoholic acts which caused injury, that is, acts which would have still occurred even if the new man had never become an alcoholic.
For the sponsor there is little reason to waste much time on these possible exclusions. They can be removed or left. Little harm will result from their being treated with the same approach as any of the others. This point is included here only because this situation has arisen in sponsorship experience.
Screw-ups fit quite comfortably in his continuum of possible outcomes for such a spiritual effort, but excuses don't. He already knows that there will be successes and disappointments in his journey to recovery. The one factor which is not allowed is a return to alcoholic hopelessness. That one is a dangerous setback, indeed. Step 8 is a great place to tell him again! His reasonable expectation of a temporarily incomplete and imperfect, but improving, recovery, one marked by both successes and failures, is entirely workable. One marked by his descent into alcoholic frustration with its imperfection when that leads to hopelessness may, very well, not be workable
In any event, the new man's judgement of himself and his prospects for recovery may have been fairly well “hammered” by his transit through his most recent step work. The sponsor's role is to keep things on the new man's Step 8 list “the right size,” that is, no tougher than they need to be but also not any less tough, either. As he advances toward his amends in Step 9, he should be convinced that such a drastic action produces the results he seeks. It will.
Different Images of Step 8
Unlike the relatively stable environment of many of the AA's represented in the Big Book (BB p76 –p83), many new members have arrived at AA only after traveling a bit – what many of our members refer to as a “geographic.” Not surprisingly, much of this travel has been undertaken to avoid the consequences of alcoholic drinking, thinking and behavior.
One unavoidable result of this mobile behavior is leaving a “wake” of alcoholic wreckage literally all over the place. For this reason, the completeness of the new man's Step 8 list offers an invitation for him to thoroughly account – to the great benefit of his step work, although not necessarily his active amends – for his sincere observations of this part of his history.
If he blew his stack at a ticket counter in the Duluth bus station six years ago, the fact that he recalls the matter makes it a good addition to his list. However, will it mean a three day trip back to Duluth to direct his amends to someone who, most likely, will no longer even be there? After all, Step 8 says, pointedly, “... and became willing to make amends to them all.” (BB p59) There will be many instances where a sponsor's sincere judgement on such matters will be necessary to keep the new man's step work on track.
One Source of the Names on the List: Absolutist Thinking
Although our Big Book describes the feelings alcoholics experience in great detail, blistering resentments, silent, unnamed terror, anger, the desolation of having been betrayed and that awful alcoholic loneliness – along with many others, we have to assume that even these are symptoms of a deeper problem. As mentioned earlier, having the dark outlook of the alcoholic's spiritual malady, the deceptive parts of what we see as “simply trying to survive” lead us to a preposterous state of crazy selfishness. Such an obstacle to normal thinking, although characterized as “selfishness,” inspires the untreated alcoholic to even more fundamental “absolutist thinking” and its predictable consequences.8
Of course, the amends steps deal very squarely with the idea of making right the harm done by previous alcoholic behavior and thinking. However, much as was the case with Step 4's “fearless and thorough” (BB p59) approach to inventory, the list of proposed amends being prepared in Step 8's work can reveal some valuable items all by itself. This means that we can make some useful conclusions about just whom the new man has included on his list.
Who are these people? What was his relationship with them? Where and how did things turn into “harms?” How did these people wind up on his list?
A very valuable direction for sponsorship during his Step 8 work will, of course, return to the enduring theme of the spiritual malady. In this case, the focus will be on the crippling absolutism which seems to inevitably result from having such a twisted outlook on the world and the people around us. This side of alcoholic absolutism – already addressed in the idea of accepting the continuum of possible outcomes as a feature of spiritual progress – can now be re-examined with respect the its impact on friendships, expectations and discouragements, especially in this new, Step 8 forum of observing his “harms” in as frank and constructive manner as possible.
A common handicap to an alcoholic in recovery is founded on this continuing aspect of the same spiritual malady which caused so much trouble. After all, in most cases the “harms” on Step 8's list were not inflicted on strangers. The “harms” developed during – and after – friendships and acquaintances which seemed to be no more than effortless socializing to all of his non-alcoholic friends.
In much the same manner as that described in the Doctor's Opinion's discussion of alcoholic drinking “... drinks which they see others taking with impunity.” (BB pxxix), the new man might see the difficulties in his own efforts at making important, lasting friendships. He saw others (non-alcoholics) making such friendships effortlessly, and he saw such friendships – regardless of how they may have turned out in the end – starting and ending without much “harm” being done. Why weren't his friendships the same? Just as was the case with his drinking, perhaps he continued to attempt these friendships in a manner which seemed to be the same as that of his non-alcoholic friends, but which consistently produced different, less satisfying results. In many cases, enough experiences of this nature may have gradually led him to a state of crushing alcoholic isolation.9
Of course the difference between the “friendship results” of the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic can be largely explained by looking closely at the effects of the spiritual malady on the thoughts of the man with untreated alcoholism. The idea is to change the results by the transformation of thought, feeling and action made possible by spiritual progress, that is, by applying the step work which is the foundation of AA's program of recovery. However, simply wishing to make changes such as these probably won't amount to much unless the effort is accompanied by a thorough understanding of what the problem was in the first place and an idea of the new destination to which one strives.
Step 8's list is yet another place where, with the help of a good sponsor, both this problem and AA's suggestion for the way forward can be revealed in a very useful way.
Although a continuous observation and concentration of the negatives the new man may regret in his past is central, some idea of what may be in his future – however incomplete or inaccurate – is equally worthy. His relationships provide a clear picture of the features he wishes to change about himself, and, as such, they can also provide him a vision of what he wishes to become. A central theme which can address the new man's relationship problems will be changing the old “absolutist” approach alcoholics are prone to take and the inevitable consequences of holding that outlook.
Many of his previous acquaintances, especially those in the second and third groups of “harms" noted above, appearing in his Step 8 list will be the results of this part of his spiritual malady. Spiritual progress in this respect will be a new outlook which reflects the continuum of such possibilities.
The untreated alcoholic's view that the people of the world are threatening rarely provides friend relationships which are “partly threatening,” “more or less threatening,” or even, “a little threatening.” In the depths of alcoholic drinking, all these people become simply “threatening.” We are famous for creating our very own horror movies from even the slightest possible uncertainty about relationships.
We like things “under control,” in fact, our incessant demand for a suffocating control over everything seems to become one of our most destructive habits during our alcoholic drinking. These acquaintances who “strayed out of control,” when exaggerated by absolutist style alcoholic thinking, become dangerous, unpredictable “monsters.”
Likewise, at the other end of the spectrum, alcoholics desperately seeking such control can “decide” that certain acquaintances are entirely “non-threatening.” In fact, thanks to the influence of our dark, absolutist outlook, these folks simply must be “entirely non-threatening!” Here, the “perfection” leg of the disease's three legs manifests itself. When we do this, we elevate such unsuspecting people to literal “sainthood,” an act which -- for the untreated alcoholic -- remains far too similar to yet another tantrum.
Once that step has been taken, we find ourselves remarkably unable to respond reasonably when we are even slightly disappointed with the behavior of our freshly made, personal saint. These feelings appear to be, for example, betrayal, unfairness, insults, cheating and so on. Such encounters, once again, seem to quickly advance beyond our alcoholic control in a very unsettling, fearful, hopeless way. This is a valuable comparison between the more or less normal, human nature of others and our own alcoholic nature. The new member's response to such developments may cast the other “participant” as half victim and half-perpetrator – an invitation to another leg of the disease's three legs: confusion.
Alcoholics know very well the warm reception such matters receive when they are presented for psychological treatment. It seems like what's needed amounts to nothing more than a few “better thoughts,” a challenge well within the province of a modern psychologist. However, more experienced AA's suspect that even the most effective psychological approach will offer only temporary relief.
Determined alcoholics who have worked the steps and recovered are convinced that what is seen here is actually the “tip of the ice berg” of the disease of alcoholism's spiritual malady. It is a spiritual malady with a spiritual solution. For the alcoholic, even the most sincere efforts at the psychological approach will, sooner or later, fall flat. The names on his Step 8 list are there because of alcoholism.10 The disease is at the root of our “twisted relations. The consequences are evidence of the fact that the previous, alcoholic approach was dismally unsuccessful.
The new man must fully understand this important difference. If he were a non-alcoholic facing such life situations, maybe the psychologist would be a good idea, but for the alcoholic, we know that those life situations are consequences not causes! As the new man works Step 8, the pieces come together. Part of the list emerges from the external world. The rest deals with what it feels like from the inside to desperately and blindly repeat the same approach over and over on our way to our first meeting.
When the alcoholic ends up with what he perceives to be such a case of unfairness, frustration or loneliness as his imagined control of other people in his life falters, his reaction can lead to harmful – or harm causing – consequences, thus adding names to his Step 8 list. Part of recovering spiritually will be a new idea that the people in the new man's life can occupy many, various -- and highly realistic -- places in the continuum between “sainthood” and “monster.”
The preparation of Step 8's list provides a great place to introduce the idea that the new man is actually responsible for placing his acquaintances in an appropriate position between “saint” and “monster.” This is a very definite change – spiritual work – the new man can begin at once. Also, he need not be trapped by his conclusions about people in a paralyzing “lockstep.” His decision to place people in various levels of intimacy, trust, admiration or caution can be adjusted at any time when more information about them becomes available.
This structure of friendship calls for a more realistic appraisal than his old pattern which, thanks to that old dark outlook and dreadful absolutism, simply distributed the people he met into the two extreme possibilities. In fact, at the disastrous nadir of our alcoholism, we rarely even considered the prospects of such a more reasonable approach. This sponsorship suggestion can go a long way toward helping the new man develop better working relationships in his new, sober life. He must begin to realistically identify the people in his life in all the variation we know exists there – girlfriends, plumbers, policemen, bosses, neighbors, fellow AA members, his sponsor -- there is a correct place for everyone. Every such assignment is subject to update and adjustment, but we must begin to make a future sense out of what – and whom – in on his list.
Legal Matters on the Step 8 List
Almost all experienced sponsors can relate to encounters where some part of the new man's Step 8 list includes an unquestionably legal or judicial side. It may be a criminal matter where an actual theft or fraud was involved.11 Many new members to AA have serious problems with probation or parole matters, revoked driver licenses and unfilled obligations for drug testing. Even more commonly, it may involve unpaid child support, debts, alimony or serious breeches of contracts he was unable or unwilling to perform.12
Of course matters such as these will present a challenge to the sponsor. However, the wisdom of dividing the entire matter of amends between two steps (Steps 8 and 9 as opposed to making it all one step) comes to the forefront. There may very well be amends which, if made in Step 9, will materially impact your sponsee's life. Such matters should be managed, but never permanently neglected or avoided. It might be the case, for example, that the potential disruption of a jail sentence can be lessened by completing some or all of the twelve steps before he surrenders himself.
On the other hand, most AA's actually benefit from “taking care” of these obligations. In some cases, judges and other judicial authorities may be favorably impressed by the new man's determination to get and stay sober along with his honest readiness to clear the air.
But what is the role of the sponsor in such matters? He is not an officer of a court and his personal views about “law and order” must be set aside in favor of the higher priority of the spiritual development of his sponsee. As far as the judicial system is concerned, people who have been convicted of something need to answer to their sentence, but with respect to spiritual progress, the sponsor knows that the new man's inner thoughts about this can make it either something valuable to his spiritual growth or simply a grudgingly accepted punishment which he must endure.
Alcoholics seem to be great at enduring things but sometimes hesitant in growing beyond them. The sponsor is determined to assist the new member in becoming a person who can benefit from facing his obligations. The actual decision to face such matters must, of course, be made by the new man. The sponsor's side will be in making every effort to assist the new member's development to a point where he can benefit spiritually from such brave and trusting action.
The consideration of incarceration as a form of making amends may be quite beneficial, but when that sentence is regarded only as the “price of getting caught,” much less may be accomplished. To equate settling that outstanding warrant or sentence with the AA idea of making amends is an idea he must thoroughly understand. Further, whatever crime has precipitated this situation probably has an actual victim somewhere along the line. He must not be confused by the idea that his jail time is an amends to that victim. It is, instead, to be considered the intervention of a third party – in this case the judicial system – between the tangible harm he has caused and his personal freedom. Even when he has squared things with the court, the victim of his action still needs to be seriously considered as an addition to his Step 8 list.
One interesting candidate for the Step 8 list can arise from the bill for treatment. Here, the dominant factor is whether or not the new member agreed to pay for alcohol treatment. The far less important consideration is whether or not it was successful. Many times employers or family members arrange for the treatment of an alcoholic in which case those parties have acted independently to accept the financial burden. When treatment "failed to deliver" the results these benefactors had hoped for, the alcoholic may conclude that it was his failure to get sober, and consequently, his responsibility to repay the costs.
Such a debt should be considered in the same manner as other debts. If the sponsee agreed to pay for the service, the debt remains one that he must settle. If others signed the payment contract, again, regardless of the outcome, the bill remains their liability. There is little to be gained by introducing such a "theoretical" financial burden into the shaky economy of a newly sober AA.
The division between “making a list” in Step 8 and “making amends” in Step 9 offers a window of time during which the new man can come to a much more spiritual understanding of what he must do. On one side of the coin, many AA's may attempt to turn this “reconfiguration” process into an alcoholic run-around with the aim of avoiding their responsibilities. On the other side, the sponsor can be determined to do what he can to assist the new man's spiritual preparation to a state where the experience can be quite helpful to his recovery -- a state where making amends becomes absolutely necessary in the new man's thoughts about himself. The new man's path through such difficulties will reflect the completeness of all of his step work, not just his progress in Step 8.
A Final, Philosophical Note on Step 8
All along the way as he advanced in his step work, the AA program emphasized the value of honest self-observation. Much of the new man's history, when viewed in this bright, spiritual light, has become unavoidably grounded in his thoughts about himself. If this has taken place in a way consistent with AA principles, he now enjoys the prospect of a great transformation which heralds a even brighter future.
Yes, Chapter Three warns us about expecting such observations alone to make the life-saving changes we need. “But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.” (BB p39) However, by the time the new man has undertaken Step 8, we also have to conclude that the ability to stop drinking will absolutely require the self-knowledge he has gained by working the steps which have led him to Step 8. The great spiritual break he has been seeking would become far too vacuous and theoretical if it were not “backed up” by a very specific acknowledgement and acceptance of the causes of his difficulties, that is, “backed up” by a very robust understanding all the implications of his disease of alcoholism.
After looking over his Step 8 list, he often confronts a rather philosophical question, one which his sponsor may need to address. It may seem to be little more than an intellectual “parlor game,” but it can also represent an important “landmark” in his spiritual progress.
An alcoholic clearly has both an external history filled with alcoholic behavior and thoughts, but also an even more important inner history. After all, even when all the external consequences of his alcoholism are set aside, there remains the fact that none of this felt good from his inside view either. It is very much a valid topic during his step work. On one side, he is defined by what he does. On the other side, he is defined by what he is. The spiritual journey of the AA recovery program will certainly address what he does, but it will also strive to develop what he is.
Since we are very involved in his alcoholic history at Step 8, we can adjust this idea by considering it in three different “time zones,” his alcoholic past, his present state while doing step work and his future state as a recovered alcoholic. The question, then, also becomes three different parts.
In the past, was he defined by what he did or what he was?
Is he presently defined by what he is doing now or what he is now?
Will he, in his sober future, be defined by his actions or his inner thoughts (spirit)?
In each case, it is clear that his actions follow his spiritual state at the moment. The items of his Step 8 list, when viewed this way, actually represent things that he has done which, although somehow they seemed justified at the moment, are no longer things he would consider doing. His inner spirit has changed and will remain changed, and his actions will reflect that. So will his personal comfort with himself.13
However, his past remains a very concrete part of his alcoholic history. Most of us have suffered the unsettling acceptance that our inner selves (spirit) during that time of alcoholic drinking were accurately defined by what all we did under the dark influence of our spiritual malady. Now, after some step work and the clarity which comes with a period of sobriety, we have to conclude that we were doing things which we didn't want to do!
We don't want to be the person who had done those things, then simply accepted the inner self (spirit) which such actions imply. We rely, perhaps more than we like to think, on the idea that our inner selves really are defined – for us – by our external actions. Happily, a final answer to such a complicated question is not required for our spiritual progress, but at Step 8 the new member is faced with a future where he wants his inner and his outer self to coincide (in a serene way).
The philosophical point of Step 8's work is brought home by the idea that all that history must become incorporated into the present – and future – inner self of the new member. His path forward depends on taking whatever action will be needed to reconcile his history with his future. It must be the new, Step 8 man who makes the list and, later, makes the amends. The old man (untreated alcoholic) has already had his disastrous “chance at the wheel.” It will be the recovered alcoholic who will make Step 8's list, make Step 9's amends and who will receive the spiritual horsepower which always results from this amazing cleansing and reconciling process.
A New Look at Making Amends
The AA program's style of amend-making is much more than simply the rosy faced lad being frog marched in to make a stuttering apology to Aunt Martha.
We can extend the short, philosophical comment ending the discussion of Step 8 to the beginning of Step 9. At any given moment, an alcoholic is a product of both what he is and what he does. His alcoholic history is clearly based on what he has done in his past, but his thoughts about that history, revealed during his step work, suggest that parts of it, perhaps the most troubling parts of it, represent things he did -- but did not want to do.
At least, the sober alcoholic entering the work of Step 9 wouldn't have wanted to do those things. This is a mark of his continuing progress in recovery, and his sponsor must be certain that his sponsee is reassured by this fact. What the new man wants to do now that he is in recovery varies greatly from what he wanted to do during the creation of his alcoholic history. Both his actions and his wants have changed.
Still, the history remains a fact. His momentary, present life will continue to be a product of both his history and his progress. Amends fall directly into this same theme except in a far more positive way. He will make amends, and the making of them will then fall into his alcoholic history, becoming both a part of what he was, what he has done and what he is now. There is a subtle but important difference between thinking of making amends as an effort to change his future compared to taking action to change his immediate present.
AA's spiritual progress will always occur in this present moment. Comfort derived from spiritual progress already accomplished and any indulgent convenience derived from spiritual progress planned for the future both have far too much suspiciously in common with “resting on our laurels...”14 Unavoidably, making amends will have much to do with his past and his future, but perhaps even more importantly, making amends are a very material part his spiritual present, too.
Remember, making amends is yet another chapter in the new man's continuing alcoholic history. He is not dead, he is still an alcoholic, and he is still creating his history. Step 9 will definitely be a new chapter which describes a new story, but it will all become another part of his alcoholic history. As such, he will someday share this experience with another new, frightened, reluctant AA who, facing his own amends, is preparing yet another chapter to his alcoholic history. The events arising from that future meeting will exist in two places -- both "this" past and "that" future.
Hope will fight its way into the light. Thanks to AA's program of recovery and our wonderful tradition of sincere, personal sponsorship, hope arises to become its own tradition. Enough philosophy, now on to the “moving parts” of making amends, Step 9.