We certainly shouldn’t feel good about the damage we’ve done, but wallowing in useless remorse is a bad place to get stuck.

Faded drawing of man's head in profile, on old-looking, stained paper. The "brain area" is filled with gears.On the principle of starting with the most-available, easiest-to-access, demonstrably-effective tool, we usually advise even nonbelievers to try the Step fellowships. If they don’t work, there are other tools. However, the Steps may benefit from a little “re-engineering” to increase the nonbeliever’s chances of success. Here’s the next “Re-Engineered Recovery Tool,” the Eighth Step:

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

If we’ve made it this far, we can start to deal with the minefields of our past. In Step Four we identified some of those self-defeating beliefs and attitudes like resentments, the need to always be right, etc. In Step Seven we acknowledged our struggle with them and assumed humility to ask for help.

It’s very likely that in the process of doing that inventory, we discovered an unpleasant truth: We have, intentionally or not, brought great distress and even harm to people we care about. And there is no way to go back and undo it. Nearly all of us face this issue at some point.

The damage we do when drinking or using is an inevitable companion to the distorted thinking of the addicted brain. But every recovering addict or alcoholic we’ve met feels bad about it. “Feeling bad,” though, can be problematic. We certainly shouldn’t feel good about the damage we’ve done, but wallowing in useless remorse is a bad place to get stuck.

Step Eight is the first part of the remedy: A damage assessment, and establishing our willingness to make amends (we’ll discuss the nature of “amends” in the next part of this series.) The “willingness” here is like the willingness we strive for with the Sixth Step: By consciously envisioning ourselves as someone making amends, we become ready to take the action of doing so.

What we’re aiming for is a state where we don’t feel as though making amends is a duty or obligation, but an opportunity—a chance to right some old wrongs. It may still make us anxious, but the chance is worth taking.

Working the Eighth Step: It may take some time to work this step. Start your list, writing down the people you harmed during your addiction, starting with the most obvious. Describe the situation and the nature of the harm they suffered. At this point, many of us feel guilty and defensive, but it will pass—it’s natural to feel this way. It may be a powerful feeling though, so you may need to take a break, and come back later, or tomorrow. Take a few days, even a week— we’re more likely to remember and add to the list as we go along and our memory is jogged.

Coming Soon: Do-It-Yourself Repairs


I do so agree with trying the steps as a first attempt at sobriety. It takes a willing person and a cleared up head to go through to number 8, dress rehearsal is of course is at 4 and 5. I think a good sponsor who is non judgmental and walked the walk is imperative to helping the person go through with the step thus getting to step nine. What a blessing the ninth step promises are. That’s all i have to share. I enjoy reading these series.

Comment by Juli Hogan — January 17, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

Step Eight is a more thorough, 2nd sweep through our Step 4 inventory. As you’ve pointed out, those in early recovery have used the defense mechanism of repression to solve their unsettled anxieties; both those they have caused and those that were so horribly committed on them that they are hidden under layers of drinking, drugging, addictive behavior and denial.
I find that because many have unsettled pain, fear and anger that it is better to allow oneself to write the names of the people who are seen as having persecuted, hurt and that may be irrationally held responsible for obsessive compulsions and one’s life developments.
Then after, that inventory is ready to have the all too difficult question asked: “What was my role in it? What was I afraid of? How could I have done things differently, even if the role seems passive”?
Your assessment of the “stepper’s” lack of recollection (immediate) is almost a given. We just don’t see things when they are covered with repression or rationalization. I have been clean and sober for almost 13 years and STILL, I will have a rare bubble arise from the deeply repressed ooze to expose something or some consideration I’ve overlooked.
I appreciate your refreshing and natural analysis of the steps Scott, especially in their gentle exclusion of the heavy handed religion-deist slant in which the original author presented them – Oxford Group and all. Looking forward to your next installment.
Look at my blog and decide if you might like to write a guest post, as well as consider being a reviewer to both of my award winning books which you can see on the website.

Comment by Arthur Messenger — January 17, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

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