April Newsletter: Core Principles in the 12 Steps

SteinbergBy John Steinberg, MD – The Bergand Group

Continuing in our series of newsletters expounding on the core concepts embodied in the twelve steps of fellowships such as AA and NA, we come now to Steps Eight and Nine. The core developmental concept in these two steps is: responsibility. Each step has a somewhat different aspect of this concept. They are separate for good reasons.

In recovery, we are responsible. We are responsible to ourselves for our recovery and well being. We are responsible to our families and those around us for what we do, how we behave, and how we affect others. As one wise old AA member once said to me, “Be careful how you live your life. You may be the only copy of the Big Book someone else reads.” Of course, we are reminded in the AA prologue that none of us does these steps perfectly. Recovery is, above all, a process that lasts us all our lives. I am also reminded of a story conveyed to me by another AA oldtimer, Don H. Don was in New York to meet with Bill W. Upon meeting him, Don said, “I’m having a tough time working these steps you wrote.” Bill responded, “So am I. Come on in and we’ll talk about it.” But, if we rigorously approach Steps Eight and Nine, we are assured that our ability to be personally responsible for how we conduct our lives will improve. The NA fellowship says it thus: “The sooner we recover, the sooner we become responsible, productive members of society.”

We begin this process with Step Eight. In some respects, Step Eight is like ending a night out on the town and being handed the tab. It’s a list of what we owe, the damages done, and it points the way for the resolution of the damage done. Yet Step Eight is absolutely and inviolably separate from Step Nine. It is necessary to clear our minds of actually making amends if we are to have a complete list of the amends owed, lest our subconscious keep us from putting essential things on the list. All that is required in Step Eight is the willingness to make amends. The actual amends themselves will come later- if and when our sponsors feel that the proposed amends are appropriate. By the time we get to Step Eight, our sponsors can sometimes help us overcome “writer’s block” as they know us well enough to facilitate the process of starting the list by suggesting specific harms we have done. Note, too, that the step does not limit the damage done to that done after we started using/drinking and up until we stopped. Step Eight harm and Step Nine amends can be added to the list due to our actions before we ever got high or took that first drink and for things we have done after getting clean and sober. Sponsors will then help remove things from the list that are merely there to punish ourselves and add things that we have forgotten. Sponsors will gently probe and ask questions, using their own experiences with this step, to ensure its completeness.

When ready, we come to Step Nine. For those outside who think the “disease concept” offers a free ride, we who recover know differently. We ran wild with open ended credit cards and if we want to recover we have to pay the balance in full, with all interest due. Again, the guidance os a sponsor is essential. It is critical not to undertake this step without guidance lest more harm be done in an attempt to rectify earlier damages. Some amends are simple: a confession, paying back a sum of money, answering questions asked by our victims. Some amends are “living amends,” being a good son, a faithful wife or husband, a decent father or mother to our children. There is a mix of opinions regarding making amends to ourselves. My own opinion on the subject- worth no more than anyone else’s opinion- is that our ongoing recovery is a living amends to ourselves.

Steps Eight and Nine are deeply serious undertakings. They are the path to confidence in our further recovery. When we establish for ourselves that we will come to recognize the harm we have done and that we will have to pay the bills owed when they come due, we become innately more responsible in conducting our lives in a manner so as to keep the tab affordable. Welcome to Steps Eight and Nine in your recovery. Welcome to becoming productive and responsible members of society. Welcome to the self-respect that is the gift of a responsibly lived life, of responsibility to self for continued and ongoing recovery.

John Steinberg, MD
Medical Director, The Bergand Group