John’s Recovery: Step Eight

Step Eight

AA Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

My Step 8: Be mindful of my past transgressions and accept the necessity to make appropriate amends.

By John B

I don’t remember how long I had been sober when we approached Step 8.

Neither of my sponsors was pushy about the passage of time – staying alcohol free one day at a time defined success – as long as I was making an honest effort to fulfill the commitments I had made. As I began to focus on Step 8 exasperation immediately arose.

First of all, my main goal in recovery was to change me, to re-make myself into a responsible, dependable adult. This meant focusing on the present, with the ultimate goal of discarding flawed beliefs and behaviors and replacing them with rational life-style choices. This style of thinking did not have a reverse gear – why focus on the past now? Although I didn’t totally discount the value of making some amends, I was a reluctant participant in the Wilsonian prescribed amendment process. I believed then, and I still believe today, that the demonstration of responsible behavior in the present far exceeds the importance of trying to clear up the lingering results of past screw-ups.

The value of sober mentoring in recovery cannot be overstated. Here at the amends steps the knowledge, empathy, and steady support from my sponsors helped to dissipate confusion, create clarity, and to develop a doable strategy. Some of what I read in the chapter “Into Action”, didn’t make any sense to me, and I questioned whether some of it was even doable. Although Wilson acknowledged that what was done at Step 4 was commendable, here at Step 8 he asks for more by telling us every alcoholic needs to revisit their past and construct…”an accurate and unsparing survey of the human wreckage he has left in his wake.” (12 and 12 p. 77)

I wondered about this because it seemed absolutely clear to me that the “fearless and moral” part of Step 4 more than adequately covered the newly required “accurate and unsparing”. What I perceived to be overwhelming was the specific action now stipulated…”Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past.” (Big Book, p. 76) I was 48 years old and had drank alcoholically for 30 years. Quite a lot to remember, let alone repair.

To emphasize the need for more action on our part, Mr. Wilson chose to fortify the Big Book with a paraphrase from the Book of James out of the Good Book…”Faith without works is dead.” What on earth necessitated that? But, it’s just a paraphrase, so I suppose the official claim of being a non-religious outfit is still intact.

Thus far my journey through the steps had been satisfying, enlightening, challenging, sometimes even exciting. Nothing builds confidence and satisfaction like success, and for the first time in 30 years I was living one day at a time without ingesting alcohol and not even thinking about taking a drink.

As I tiptoed into the land of amends this confidence was being challenged and I felt somewhat stymied. I needed help and  knew who to ask. Louie answered the phone, quickly interrupted me, and said, ”I’ll see you at the meeting tonight, and we’ll talk about it then.” My fear and and anxiety must have been palpable because that was the first thing he addressed, and would you believe it, he even pointed out the probable cause for my unsettled state. One of my flawed attributes that by now had been uncovered was my propensity toward perfectionism.

It had been kept in restraint but now looked to be a serious impediment.

In some ways perfectionism is perfect in itself – it’s a perfect path to failure, and it’s the perfect excuse to walk away from any challenging situation using a perverted interpretation of… ”anything worth doing is worth doing right.” My alcoholic interpretation was… ”There is no way this crap is even possible, so why even start.” Initially how my sponsor addressed my state of unrest was somewhat irritating because he was so damned calm about it. Those with superior wisdom are sometimes a real pain in the posterior. Ultimately, his calm input proved to be far more helpful than anything “approved” literature had to offer. Person to person was more powerful than print.

When I wrote the words “probable cause” above it reminded me of an incident that occurred several years ago when I was the office manager for an AA intergroup.

One day a guy came in and bought a large amount of literature, told me about a new group he and some others had started in a neighboring town, and asked to be put on the area schedule. I told him we could do that and asked him the name of the group. His answer was The Probable Cause Group. Here’s why they chose that name. One nice day prior to choosing a name for the group, they decided to get out of the church basement and hold the meeting outside. Six or seven of them were sitting around a picnic table in the church yard when the town constable drove by slowly, turned around and drove by slowly in the opposite direction. This is a town of twelve or fifteen hundred residents. None of these guys have ever been pillars of the community, the cop probably knew every one of them by their first name. They all had a good chuckle and decided that anytime this group was seen in the same place at the same time it constituted probable cause for the cops to take a closer look. The check for the literature did not bounce.

Now, back to business. I don’t remember all we discussed in this “counseling” session with my sponsor, but I do recall that my fear and anxiety began to recede in response to his calmness. Over the years I have never forgotten this lesson and I still try to convey that same message when dealing with the mini-panics of newcomers I’m trying to help.

Together, we came up with a strategy we thought was sensible: 1) Slow down and focus on what is imminently necessary and reasonably possible; for now he left that up to me; 2) He then dialed up his seriousness, and it went something like this, “Now, pay close attention, if you are ever contemplating an amend that has any potential to  cause harm to anyone, including you, come to me first and we’ll discuss it. The most important thing in all this step work is your own sobriety, nothing trumps the maintenance of your sobriety. Don’t forget that.” I consulted my 4th step inventory, saw no need to revise the list of “wrongs” admitted to in the Step 5 sharing, and committed to both my sponsors my willingness to make appropriate amends.

Step Eight – Done!

For a PDF of all his Steps, click here: John’s Recovery: The 12 Steps.

John is an eighty-three year old sober alcoholic with 35 years of continuous sobriety. Married to Helen for 53 years; three kids in their 50’s. Spent 17 years teaching and coaching at the high school level in Indiana and Illinois. Owned and operated a bar and restaurant for 13 years which led to the acceleration of his alcoholism, which led to treatment, and eventually led to a career as an addiction counselor. Retired in 2001 from the Marion, In. V.A. Served as office manager for a major AA intergroup office in N.E. In. for six and a half years. Was an excellent high school and small college basketball player. Still goes to the gym three days a week and shoots 200 three point shots and does some light weight lifting. Passionate about family, recovery, basketball, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Reads 20 to 25 books a year, and three or four quality periodicals on a regular basis; mostly about politics, economics, science, history: about anything going on in the world that strikes his curiosity.

“There are many versions of the 12-Step program of recovery. In fact, there are about as many versions as there are alcoholics in AA who use the program to get sober and to maintain their sobriety.”

The Little Book

5 Responses

  1. Witek says:

    I want to say thank you for your excellent 12 Steps series. First time, while I am working on Steps with my sponsee, I feel we’re reading something sensible. Embarrassment and constant explanations – ok, you don’t have to accept that version of God, prayer is not necessary… etc. – disappeared. The often-heard question: can we get sober without religious God, can be answered. Yes, we can. What’s more, we can read how to do it practically in your essays. Witek, Poland

  2. John B. says:

    Bob K. – I really like your point about prioritizing. Mr. Wilson’s hyperbole frequently turned me off back in the day and this step was one of those times. Those closest to me deserved and received the highest priorities. This website has been a joy to me over the past several months, and I appreciate your level of participation. John B.

  3. Bob F. says:


    Thanks for sharing your experience with Step 8.

    One approach to Step 8 is what has been called ‘Living Amends’ i.e., working our Program so that we no longer behave in ways that, prior to recovery, created the need to make amends in the first place.

    • John B. says:

      Bob – that’s the behavior that I strive for; it seems that if I just live up to my own value structure, most everybody else sees it as adequate. Alcohol was a formidable obstacle. Thanks for your input. John B.

  4. Bob K says:

    The extremely wise Joe C., aka Toronto Joe, says “If you need to change a word, change the word. The word won’t mind.” The word “all” was troublesome to me. To try to address EVERY wrong I’ve ever done would be a lifetime job. I didn’t get sober for that. The ridiculousness of the call for totality could have kept me from dealing with what was important.

    Who I was rude to in a bar in 1978 is irrelevant to me, as is the kid I threw a rock at when I was 7. I was on the receiving end other times. It’s a wash. None of that was bothering my conscience in 1991. How I treated my parents and my ex-wife was. There were others, of course, but harms done are not equal. They should be prioritized. I wasted ZERO time on irrelevancies.

    I changed the word “all.” Unwillingness to even try to do all, or list all even, could easily have stopped me from doing any.

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