The 8th Step and Making a List of All People We Have Harmed

In step 8, we “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”. In the throes of our addiction we have created a great deal of damage in the lives of others. In order to reach true recovery, we need to face the hurt we have caused to others through our actions before we can truly lift the pall of shame in our lives.

This step is crucial to our recovery. You may have already apologized for many of your worst actions. But saying you are “sorry” and actually making amends are two very different things. In this step we start to go beyond merely taking account of our flaws and bad behavior, and prepare to do something about it. A recovered and spiritually healthy individual takes responsibility for their behavior but also acts to make things better and be a positive force in the world. That effort starts here.

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Who should be included in you list?

Make a list of the people you feel you have hurt through your actions. This is a deliberate process. Take your time and calmly evaluate your actions, why they were wrong and who the primary victims of your actions may be. Write down the people who come to mind, in no particular order.

If a name pops into your head during this process, there is usually a good reason. The point is to include people you have harmed or hurt, without accounting for the circumstances. Therefore, indiscriminately include people you hurt before, during and after your addiction. Include people who you may have hurt quite mildly, at least in your opinion. At this point you are also not concerned over whether they will want to hear from you or not or even if the individuals on the list are living or dead.

Include yourself on this list. You have certainly caused yourself a significant amount of harm and this should also be acknowledged and addressed. Once you have all of the names down, write down next to each name the nature of the harm you have caused. You will later go over this list with your sponsor and the two of you will decide together how to make direct amends to the individuals on it.

When making this list you will likely think of people who hurt you as well. Sometimes very badly. This is inevitable. Some of our worst actions may have been some sort of revenge towards people we believed, at least at the time, had wronged us. Some people may have treated us badly in response to our actions. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, human behavior is messy and there is hardly ever one side that is completely to blame for a bad situation.

Although our relationships with other individuals are messy, in step eight we are focused on taking responsibility for our own actions. We do our absolute best to avoid blaming other people, especially when that means relieving ourselves of responsibility for our actions. As the Big Book of AA says “the goal is to clean up our side of the street: to take responsibility for our own part, not someone else’s.”

Therefore, avoid the temptation of skipping over people you have resentful feelings such as anger towards. Instead, work through your negative feelings. If you do not feel ready to confront a specific individual because of anger and resentment, it is ok to delay it. But only if in the meantime you work on processing your negative emotions. It defeats the purpose of the step to merely procrastinate indefinitely. At some point you will have to make amends to every person you seriously hurt, no matter how complicated your feelings are.

How to become willing to make amends?

This is where our burgeoning relationship with our chosen Higher Power comes into play. After making the list, we should pray and ask for the strength to make amends in general and the power to forgive those on our list whom we resent. A persistent practice of prayer and meditation will help us reach the point where we are willing to make the specific amends we most fear.

When thinking about the situation we have to focus on our wrongs rather than those of the other individual. When we do think of the distasteful actions of others, try to use empathy. Think to yourself, why did that person take actions that hurt you? What in their past influenced them? How do they see the situation? Ask yourself if you would have acted perfectly in that situation. Remember also that while you have better self-awareness due to your recovery, they most likely do not.

Do your best to understand why, but even if you cannot put yourself in their position, you still need to make amends in order to further your recovery. Remember, this is not about repairing relationships or blaming other people. The goal is to take responsibility for our actions. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how inconvenient or unpleasant we find making amends to a specific person, we have to do it anyway.

This is a practice we will continue throughout our lives: taking account of how our actions impact others and correspondingly taking responsibility for the consequences of our behavior. After we complete this step, we will be far quicker to notice our wrongs, acknowledge them and make amends for them. This will also help us do less damage in the first place.

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