Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous is perceived by many to be the most challenging step of all. Making amends to those you have wronged can prove to be a huge emotional struggle, but one that is vital to the process of the 12 Steps.

What is Step 9 of AA?

Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most pivotal parts of the journey in terms of emotional healing and acceptance. This step allows the participant to deliver on their list of people they have hurt by apologizing directly to them in turn.

This apology should be fully realized and as the person begins step 9 they should be fully prepared to go above beyond just words to make amends. 

This step not only allows the recovering addict to grow spiritually and emotionally, but it also acts to sever ties with their former selves and the destructive aspects of their alcohol addiction.

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How does Step 9 of AA work?

Step 9 requires personal acceptance and repentance for any negative past action the person has committed due to alcohol, regardless of the consequences.

Even if the person has committed a crime due to their addiction, they must be prepared to report themselves and serve jail time in order to complete this step. Only through total admission of guilt and regret can the person become truly unshackled from their addiction. 

The transition from step 8 to 9 of AA usually requires the person to divide the list of people they have wronged that they created in step 8 into four distinct categories. These categories help distinguish how the individual will approach each scenario in which they need to make amends. 

Category one: all of the people to whom the person can make full amends as soon as he or she is sober

Category two: those people to whom the person will make partial amends, as full amends may do more harm than good

Category three: people who should not be contacted until a full and certain recovery has been achieved, such as children who have been damaged by the person’s addiction

Category four: anyone to whom it is impossible to make amends, such as the deceased

How should you make amends?

The principles for making amends in Step 9 are that an apology should be made at the earliest opportunity, should be sincere, should not cause anyone additional harm, and should not be made with the expectation of forgiveness.

Apologizing early

While it is important to make sure that you are ready to apologize fully and completely to the people you’ve hurt, it does not mean that excuses can and should be made to extend the process. If you can say apologize to the person without causing them harm, then you should.

Apologizing sincerely

It may be tempting to run through your list of hurt people as quickly as possible in order to mitigate the anguish of revisiting your mistakes. This can lead to apologies being given that are valid on the surface but lack a deeper understanding of the hurt caused. Make sure you understand fully what you are apologizing for and how you have hurt the person you are giving them to.

Not causing harm to others

Apologies are not always a straightforward admittance and repentance for a wrongdoing. Some actions that a person has committed while under the influence of alcohol can be multifaceted in how they have hurt someone, and revisiting the situation may be more painful than your apology can accommodate. Some people you have hurt may also be vulnerable, such as young children, and seeing them before the chance of relapse has diminished significantly could cause them more harm in the future.

Accepting forgiveness is not the goal

Step 9 is about further demonstrating that you are giving yourself over to a higher power and cutting ties with character defects that influence alcoholism. The people you have wronged through your addiction may not be able to forgive what you have done, but this should not dissuade you from fulfilling your apology.

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