Big Book Recovery
Working the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

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About This Site

Step Nine

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

Reading: p76-84.


Examples of amends letters are given in appendices one and two. No two cases are exactly the same and the experience of others is most useful in avoid the possibility of misinterpretation and wrong application of these principles. For this reason it was suggested to us that if at all possible we speak to someone, ideally our sponsors, before approaching anyone we have harmed.

We are told in the Big Book that it is not enough just to get sober. We may stop causing any more harm because we are no longer drinking, but that is not the same as repairing the damage we have already caused. “Certainly he must stay sober, but…we feel a man is unthinking when he says sobriety is enough.” {p82}

We never bring anyone else into the process who would be damaged by our disclosures unless we have sought their permission first “Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people, we secure their consent.” {p80}


Amends for emotional harm done

The aim is to make the people we approach feel good about themselves — not to make them like or admire us. The general approach, which is appropriate when there is an emotional content to the harm done (that is, we have written something in the third column as detailed in Step Eight), is as follows:

Beforehand, we pray for guidance {p79, 80, 81} and for strength to do the right thing.

1. We explain that we have had a drinking problem and that we are going through the program of recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Telling him what we are trying to do, we make no bones about our drinking.” {p78}

2. We tell them that this program requires us thoroughly to examine our past, and wherever we have harmed anyone, we are required to make amends. “tell him that we will never get over our drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out our past.” {p77}

It is important that we remember that the purpose of the two points so far is to explain the reason for our approach. So it should be clear that we are doing it because AA has suggested that it is the right thing to do in order to get over our drinking. We are not saying these things in order to elicit sympathy or to use our alcoholism as an excuse for what we did. Similarly it is important that AA gets the credit for what we are doing and not us.

3. We explain the harm we did and express regret for former ill feeling. Contrast our harms done with a positive account of their deeds and their behavior. Indicate that they did not deserve the treatment they received. “We… confess our former ill feeling and express our regret.” {p77}, “His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.” {p78}

4. If there are any debts, then we offer directly to pay any debts, or state our intention to pay as best we can. “He… sent a small amount of money. He told her what he would try to do in the future.” {p79}

5. We ask for forgiveness for these and any harms that we may have done and invite them to say so if they feel there any harms we have not mentioned or forgotten about. Then wait until they respond. Let them finish anything they want to say. Then ask for forgiveness for any additional harms done as well. We do not say we are sorry. “A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit the bill at all.” {p83}, in the example of a man making amends to his wife we say it was suggested that he “ask for forgiveness”, {p83} Note, we ask for forgiveness. We cannot demand it. So, if they are unable to forgive us, then we must accept the fact. Some will not be able to.

It is often a good idea to use our own words to get the message across. However, take care not to use AA jargon (or even worse “psychobabble”). Phrases such as “a day at a time”, “the Big Book”, “pressing buttons”, “hitting your knees”, “on the program”, have a certain resonance for those within the fellowship, but to those outside the fellowship are meaningless and pat.


  • A personal approach is usually better than a written letter. We write if we are sure that it would cause the person we approach real distress to see us in the flesh. And we do mean real distress here: not simply the discomfort that most of the people we approach are going to feel when confronted by us. Very often we can be forced into writing because the person we are trying to approach won’t make or stick to meeting arrangements because they don’t want to meet us.
  • We don’t approach old girlfriends or boyfriends unless we are sure they are still single. Our arrival could cause embarrassment and difficulties to current relationships. Even then, it is often wise to be cautious about making an approach. Often it is best to stay away whatever the situation.
  • Where we have been married to someone it can be good idea to approach or write a letter even if they are now married, though counsel should be sought before doing such a thing. We have had good experiences with these amends. This is true particularly in cases where they have custody of children and we are excluded access. We should outline that in addition we would like to make an amends to our children, but will not interfere in anyway and the decision as to whether we get the chance is down to them. We assure them that we will not make any further effort at contact unless we hear from them first. Then we wait. Sometimes no response comes, sometimes it comes, but after several months.
  • If the person we have harmed has died, we do the Eighth Step in the same way and make an amends by saying a prayer.
  • If we are unable to trace someone after making a reasonable attempt then we say a prayer and do nothing further. However, if we happen to bump into them, wherever possible we must grab the opportunity. This means that we must think about what we would say if we were able to see them, just in case. It is surprising how often such coincidental meetings do occur.
  • In cases of sexual abuse, it is usually not a good idea to approach the victims. Any amends should be done through the criminal justice system in accordance with the conscience as with crimes (see below).


Debts

“ We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face them.” {p78}


  • We should approach our creditors, explaining that we are alcoholics who are going through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and ask: “Please help me?” “Nor are we afraid of disclosing our alcoholism on the theory it may cause financial harm.” {p78}
  • If the approach is an institution, say a council or a company, we omit points 3 and 5 from the standard approach given before. This is because there is no emotional harm done. We don’t ask Lloyd’s Bank to forgive us for going overdrawn.
  • Very often we will be unable to pay off our debts. In this case we are quite open about our financial situations and where appropriate we let each creditor know the full scale of our debts to other creditors. We put ourselves in their hands and ask for help. Usually they will offer a deal that will allow all to gain partially. “Arranging the best deal we can we let these people know that we are sorry.” {p78} If debts are large and many, or the situation is complicated, it may be wise to seek advice. We have found debt helplines very helpful.
  • For any debts that include a strong amount of emotional harm done then we must consider a personal approach to the people concerned that includes a request for forgiveness. This is likely to included cases where a personal trust has been betrayed.


We should be reassured that creditors do not want to send people to prison, they want their money back. They know that the debtor’s ability to pay is hugely reduced if he is sent to prison. So as long as they feel that we are sincere (a frank description of the financial situation will convince them of this) then they will cooperate to recoup what they can without bankrupting us. The Inland Revenue, credit-card companies and banks have responded particularly well in the past. Our experience bears out that described in the Big Book: “Approached in this way, the most ruthless creditor will sometimes surprise us.” {p78}


Crimes


  • If we have served time in prison for the crime, then we have usually paid the penalty and so nothing further need be done. If it is felt that something should be done, an approach through the Victim Support Scheme is often the best way.
  • If we have family or dependents then we should hesitate to put ourselves through the justice system and risk being unable to fulfill our obligations to them. It is important that we gain their permission before taking any risks. “Usually there are others involved… we would not be the hasty and foolish martyr who would needlessly sacrifice others…” {p79}
  • If neither of these apply (and it is very rare that there isn’t someone who would lose out by our going to prison) then our consciences must decide whether it is right to go and own up (this applies also to cases of sexual abuse). “Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given the strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be.” {p79}
  • If the crime is a large-scale fraud or theft against a corporation, where there might be risk of imprisonment, and assuming that our crime has not been large enough to bankrupt the company, so causing emotional distress for the employees, then we do not have to declare ourselves. But we must not profit from our crime. We must work out how much we have defrauded and then it is clear that the money must be given away. If it is possible to return the money anonymously then it should be done. If not, then it should be given away anyway, perhaps to charity. For example, social-security defrauding might not be repaid to the government, but the money should be calculated and given to someone. One thing is certain, it’s not our money.
  • For minor crimes where there is very little chance of prosecution, for example cases of expense fiddling, fare-dodging, shoplifting, petty vandalism and so on, where institutions are involved, then the money should be returned with an explanation as to why it is being done. This explanation is similar to that given to those to whom we owe debts. This is good PR for AA and is indirect 12th-step work. We must not forget, of course, that we would not do this if anyone else is implicated or affected in any way. It might worry our spouses, for example, for us to do even this.
  • For any fraud and crimes that include a strong amount of emotional harm done, we must consider a personal approach to the people concerned that includes a request for forgiveness. This is likely to include cases where a personal trust has been betrayed. For crimes of violence it is not good to make any personal approach to the victims who would find it traumatic to be confronted by us again. Amends should be made through the criminal justice system. Our consciences will guide us – we know if what we have done is wrong.


Here are two letters of amends. Letter One, on the next page, is to a past associate from college who was taunted to the point that they were driven away from our crowd of friends. Someone we have not seen for several years.

Letter Two, on the page after Letter One, is an amends letter in which the alcoholic is writing to a former employer to repay money for expenses fiddled steadily over a period of several years. It is several years since he worked there. He is writing to the chief accountant, who would not know him. The amount of money is judged small enough that there is no need for a personal approach.

When have we finished Step Nine? When can we start to make major decisions?

The answer is when we have done all the amends that we can do. Some people cannot do them all because they have debts that may take years to repay or individuals whom they are unable to contact. So provided that we have done all amends you are able to do, and as long as we are willing to make any outstanding amends should the situation change, then, we will be fine and it would be reasonable to make major decisions and enter relationships again if desired.


Letter One

Dear Fred

It is some time since we last saw each other and I imagine that you are surprised that I am writing to you. So I shall get down to the purpose immediately.

I had a problem with alcohol that became so serious that nine months ago I was forced to seek help from Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been following their program of recovery, which I must take in order to get over my drinking and so far, through no credit to me, it has worked as I have not had a drink in that time. As part of their suggested program of recovery, I am required thoroughly to examine my past and to make amends for any harm that I have caused.

It did not take much of an examination for me to be aware that I have harmed you greatly. Throughout the period that I knew you I behaved in an arrogant, rude, bullying and abusive way. You did absolutely nothing to deserve this. If I had been on the receiving end, I would have felt very deeply hurt by the way that my offer of friendship was, apparently, thrown back at me with such undeserving callousness. At times I would have been very frightened by the threatening and angry abuse.

In the face of my terrible behavior. you, in contrast, showed incredible tolerance and patience. I am full of admiration for you for the way you put up with me. I don’t know how you showed the restraint that you did.

So now I ask you please to forgive me for what I did.

If you are unable to forgive I, of course, understand. If you do feel that you would like to get in touch, and again I could understand it if you did not, then I would be delighted hear from you. Furthermore, please do not hesitate to contact me at any stage in the future if there is any way at all that I can be of service to you.

Yours sincerely,


Letter Two

Dear Mr Wilson

For the period of roughly 3 years, from 1990-93 I worked for Company Ltd in the stores. I realize that this letter will be arriving out of the blue but I will have to ask your indulgence as I explain why I am writing.

I had a drinking problem that was so serious that I was forced to seek help from Alcoholics Anonymous. You may have heard of the organization. So far AA’s program of recovery has worked and, no credit to me, I have not had a drink since I joined. In order for me fully to get over my problem, the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery requires me thoroughly to search my past,to make amends for all harms committed and repay all my debts.

While I worked in the company stores I was dishonest and systematically stole goods. I betrayed the trust that Company Ltd placed in me and I estimate that I took goods to a value of $225. Taking into account interest accrued, I calculate that I owe the company $300.

I am not in a position to pay all of it now, so I enclose a check for $150 and ask if I can make arrangements to pay $50 a month until the rest is paid off?

I would like to apologize in advance for any inconvenience that this must cause you. If you have any suggestions for other ways I can pay off this money, which are more convenient I will do my utmost to follow them.

If there is any way I can be of help please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours faithfully,


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