That’s why the 8th step comes with this caveat, which is step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
One of the great temptations we face is to harm others as we seek to make things right.
Here’s what it sounds like:
ME: “Hey, I just want you to know that I spread that rumour about you. I’m really sorry about that and I’ve told everyone I spoke to that it wasn’t true.”
YOU: “Um, o.k., thanks.”
ME: “Of course, I never would’ve done that if you weren’t such an ass and insulted me in front of my friends that day at the park. But hey, I’ve forgiven you for that.”
ME: “Hey, I’m just going over my list of resentments and you’re on my list. I’ve held a grudge against you for a long time and I just thought I’d let you know I’ve forgiven you.”
YOU: “Resentments? What? Grudge? What? I thought we were friends…”
ME: “Sure we are. I’ve just secretly held some hate for you for a few years now but I’m working the steps and getting rid of all that now.”
YOU: “Um, gee, um, thanks…”
We’re tempted to hurt our spouse or take others down who were involved in our troubles. We’re tempted to make an amends that makes it clear that while we may have done wrong or been wrong we weren’t the only ones.
The Big Book doesn’t let us off that easy. Clean your side of the street. Leave everyone else and their stuff out of it. That doesn’t mean that those things don’t matter or never get talked about. It simply means that walking clean doesn’t require you to clean up or correct or get even with anyone else. That is not this step and it is NOT the path to freedom despite what the monkey on your back is telling you.
We also face the temptation to say or do nothing and let the past stay in the past because if I deal with “this” it could get me into trouble. Even prison. The Big Book doesn’t let us off easy here either. As long as the person we’re really worried about is ME and the troubles will really only be MINE, there is no exemption. Even if it involves someone close to us who may be implicated or tainted by our move to make things right, the Big Book tells us to have a conversation with those people and let them decide if we should move forward rather than make that call ourselves.
Following this through 8 & 9 and avoiding the dysfunction our old self wants to bring into this process of healing and transformation leads us to one of my favourite passages in the Big Book that everyone who follows Jesus should learn by heart.
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
Ultimately 8 & 9 reveal to the world around us what the Kingdom of heaven looks like when it comes to a willing human heart. They help sort out the difference between believing and following.