“Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Have you ever seen the television sitcom My Name is Earl? In this show, the main character, Earl, decides that he is going to turn his life around. After years of bad behavior, selfishness, and greed, he decides that he is going to be a better person and start putting some good into the world instead. He creates a long list of people that he believes he has harmed over the years with his poor behavior, writes down a corresponding description of how he wronged each person on the list, and seeks each one out to try and make things right with them. Although Earl is not formally working a twelve-step program, the premise of the show does a nice job of capturing the principles of steps eight and nine.
Step nine, perhaps the most well-known step, has to do with the act of making amends. This is the step that much of My Name is Earl depicts on screen. Step eight, however, is essential in setting us up for step nine. If we rush into step nine before thoroughly completing step eight, we put the cart in front of the horse. To complete step eight, we must engage in thoughtful and intentional self-reflection, writing down how our behaviors have harmed others. Without step eight, there is no step nine. Without Earl’s list, there is no show. We must make the list.
People in twelve-step programs often find that step eight can be one of the most challenging steps of the program. In steps one through seven, we are largely focused on ourselves. We reflected on how our lives are currently unmanageable, formed a personal definition of “higher power,” and took a personal moral inventory. We developed an understanding of how our addiction harmed ourselves. However, in step eight, we must begin to look at how our behavior with drugs and alcohol has harmed others.
In making this list, I’m sure there will be certain people that come to mind immediately. Perhaps you can remember exactly what you did and know that your actions hurt them. However, there will also be others where you are unsure of if you hurt them or not. Or, perhaps your actions unintentionally harmed them. For step eight, that does not matter. For anyone that you suspect you may have harmed, intentionally or not, include them on your list. People commonly included on these lists are husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, exes, parents, children, friends, and colleagues, among others.
A crucial part of step eight also has to do with resentments. There will be people on your list that you have harmed, but that you feel have also harmed you. You may not want to make amends or feel they don’t deserve amends. However, holding this resentment is like drinking poison hoping the other person will suffer. Work with a therapist, sponsor, or trusted individual to better understand these resentments and realize what amends must be made. Making amends with those particular people may be one of the most important aspects of your recovery process.
By Jonathan Fricke, MA