The Joy of Atonement, Reparations and Forgiveness

The Joy of Atonement, Reparations and Forgiveness

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

Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

In 1997 I failed to pay an attorney for his services because he had inadvertently overcharged me. Not only had I stiffed him, I was full of unjustified righteousness over the issue. While working Step 9, I attended a 6:30 a.m. AA meeting while on a visit back to Toledo, Ohio.
Lo and behold, the attorney, who was on my amends list, was at that early morning meeting. He warmly greeted me and immediately reminded me of the debt and the invoices that I had conveniently ignored. I asked him what he felt that I owed him and he stated, “$500 would suffice.” I told him I would mail it to him to which he replied, “I bet you have it on you.”

Lo and behold again, I looked in my wallet and I had $504. After throwing a buck in the collection plate, I left the meeting with three bucks and a clear conscience.

We are now aware that God’s love and promise of eternity is more real than the illusion of life itself. We intuitively know that our journeys will reunite us with God, not as servants but as part of Him.

The sun has risen. Our wall of shadows can no longer compete with the brightness of God’s light. Nevertheless, our transformation has delivered us to a road that narrows, and the insanity of ego will frequently revisit our human minds. Narrow roads are more difficult to navigate, so the ego will produce conflict and scream, “Go back, go back! This path is too difficult.”

We must protect the brightness of the light and shelter our spirits with all our hearts. Be brave as we list those we have harmed and become willing to make amends with them all. We hold our heads high as we complete the next two steps on our paths to total transformation. Twelve promises are just around the corner as well as the new life that many before us have discovered through the steps.

Lastly, we must always remember that every situation, perceived correctly, is an opportunity to heal. Forgiveness is always an opportunity for peace, love and serenity.

A Guided Meditation to Start Steps 8 and 9…

Close your eyes and sit quietly in a chair. Picture a closed mahogany door above your head. Now physically lift a hand above your head and slightly crack open the door. Visualize a narrow beam of light shining through the passageway you created. Now feel the misty burst of fresh air on your face and notice the aroma of lilacs lingering around you. Multiply the warmth of this experience by a trillion and you have not matched even a glimpse of eternity.

We create peace with guided imagery and mini meditations. We also create hope by the experience of living the principles within the 12 steps. As we transform, our faith strengthens. True faith is the awareness that we are part of God and by understanding this non-dualistic existence, we better comprehend the non-importance of this world and the omnipresence of God in the next.

If every person in the world would complete these steps, we would experience a major energy shift toward world peace. All human beings benefit from forgiveness and atonement. However, outside of recovery and religion, most people don’t intentionally walk through and benefit from these processes. The Big Book’s references to the words “all” and “whenever possible” is meant to instill the completeness that is required to have the true spiritual experience these steps intend to produce.

Some people outside of recovery associate atonement, restitution, reparations and forgiveness with guilt and shame. For the recovering person, nothing is farther from the truth. Steps 8 and 9 are designed to free us from our pasts; we are not responsible for how others respond or react to our amends – it’s not our business. Also, we should not expect apologies from others during this process. We are only cleaning our own house.

We must start by forgiving those who have hurt or diminished us. We often hear people say, “I can never forgive this person for what she has done to me.” Forgiveness may take time; learning to forgive is a process that must be repeated over and over again. We may let go of one resentment only to fill the void with another. So be aware of the universal law: If we want forgiveness, we must grant forgiveness.

Always remember, we are transforming ourselves from mere human beings to spiritual entities so that we may be granted a spiritual awakening. In this journey we go far beyond our humanness into the realm of God-consciousness. So we must clean up the wreckage of our pasts and create a new existence based on honesty, responsibility and discipline.

The completion of steps 8 and 9 indicates a willingness to take responsibility for the damage we created in our lives. Not only do we take ownership for our misdeeds, we actually attempt to rectify the harm that we have caused. The spiritual growth earned by cleaning up the wreckage of our past is monumental in our quest for the transformation we seek. Listing those we hurt and the willingness to make amends to the people and institutions we harmed takes humility and courage.

Alcohol and drugs are but symptoms of our problems. Unmanageability – the spiritual malady, the underlying nature of our problem – requires a spiritual solution. The process of making amends is a spiritual experience in itself. It may be painful, but by now we are aware that the price of admission to a new life is pain.

In his writings, Herb K. uses a key word to describe our wrongs: diminish. How did we diminish others?

“How did we harm another person’s…”
personal relations
sexual relations

These questions probe deeply into our minds and show us how hurtful we can be toward others. Going forward, we recall how our words and actions have devastated others.

Comprising the list of those we’ve harmed should be a review of our first step (those we’ve harmed as our lives became increasingly unmanageable) and our fourth step (what we discovered in our searching and fearless moral inventory). We then add any new transgressions we’ve made against others since the time we completed step 4.

The more detailed we are about the harm we have caused, the more relevant and effective the amend will be. We should be aware that holding a resentment against someone does not automatically indicate that we owe them an apology, no more than gossiping about someone alone requires an amend. The question is, “Did our words or actions harm the person or diminish them physically, financially, mentally, emotionally or spiritually?”

Should we place ourselves on the list?

We have been self-centered long enough and yes; we recognize the harm we have done to ourselves. The action of self-forgiveness is an important part of the entire spiritual awakening. However, the list referred to in step 8 is about people and institutions we have harmed. If we must place ourselves on the list, I suggest our names should be the last.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions do not specifically address placing ourselves on our list but the last page of step 8 states:
“We shall want to hold ourselves to the course of admitting the things we have done, meanwhile forgiving the wrongs done to us, real or fancied. We should avoid extreme judgments, both of ourselves and of others involved. We must not exaggerate our defects or theirs. A quiet, objective view will be our steadfast aim… It is the beginning of the end of isolation from our fellows and from God.”17

Step 8 Requires Preparation, Ownership and

Many of us struggled with the fourth and fifth step. Listing and discussing our character defects with our sponsors or spiritual advisors was challenging. We know step 9 is just around the corner and we are going to be asked to go face to face with those we harmed. For most, this is a daunting task.

Thorough preparation and much discussion with our sponsors or mentors makes step 9 much easier. Taking ownership of our transgressions and sharing the details with those who guide us helps pave the way to complete step 9 more smoothly.

Marianne Williamson says about courage:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine; as children we do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We learn in recovery that to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive. So it’s important to be clear about what forgiveness really is. Forgiveness is not to:


Forgiveness is a decision to not:
exact revenge
seek compensation

Forgiveness is a decision to:
release them
release ourselves
be released

Why forgive?

“How willing are you to forgive your brother? How much do you desire peace instead of endless strife and misery and pain? These questions are the same, in different form. Forgiveness is your peace, for herein lies the end of separation and the dream of danger and destruction, sin, and death; of madness and of murder, grief and loss. This is the ‘sacrifice’ salvation asks, and gladly offers peace instead of this.” ~A Course in Miracles18

Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles that we may find useful.

“Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.79)19

Most of us have trouble getting started with this step. It requires courage and humility to come face to face with those we have harmed. Direct amends means taking full ownership of our past indiscretions. This means repairing physical and financial damage when necessary and possible. Those who have gone before us in this journey have shared that in some cases it took years for them to pay for the financial damage they had created.

Here are some questions that may come up for us in the process:
What if it’s impossible to repay the damage?
What do we do if contacting the person could injure or scare them?
What if the person we harmed is impossible to find or has died?
What do we do if making amends could result in us being incarcerated?

Remember that step 8 states “became willing to make amends to them all.” The words became willing are the key to this process. In some cases, the willingness is all that is required in step 9. Some amends may be impossible and others extremely time-consuming. In some cases we may be justified moving on to step 10 before completing all the amends of step 9. Once again, ask for help with this decision. However, we should never fail to contact anyone because of embarrassment, fear or procrastination.

These quotes set the tone for step 9 and were selected to answer common questions that arise when working step 9. (

I make amends to those who I have harmed.

I focus on the actions I have taken that hurt others.
I pay back debts I owe.

I apologize.

I write letters.

I find time to do and say things that would help heal the damage that I have done.

I try to bring goodness where previously I had brought discord and destruction.

After we have made a list of people we have harmed, have reflected carefully upon each instance and have tried to possess ourselves of the right attitude in which to proceed, we will see that the making of direct amends divides those we should approach into several classes. There will be those who ought to be dealt with just as soon as we become reasonably confident that we can maintain our sobriety. There will be those to whom we can make only partial restitution, lest complete disclosures do them or others more harm than good. There will be other cases where action ought to be deferred, and still others in which by the very nature of the situation we shall never be able to make direct personal contact at all (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 83). Discussing each amend with our sponsors will give us clarity for the task at hand.


In some relationships unresolved conflict may still exist. We do our part to resolve old conflicts by making amends. We want to step away from further antagonisms and ongoing resentments. In many instances we will simply go to the person and humbly ask for understanding of past wrongs. Sometimes this will be a joyous occasion when an old friend or relative proves very willing to let go of their bitterness. To go to someone who is hurting from the burn of our misdeeds can be dangerous. Indirect amends may be necessary where direct contact would be unsafe or endanger other people. We can only make our amends to the best of our ability. Try to remember that when we make amends, we are doing it for ourselves. Instead of feeling guilty and remorseful, we feel relieved from our pasts.

An affirmation for making amends: “I am willing to keep an open mind and heart while in this process. I will use honesty and integrity at every juncture, and I will absolutely avoid hurting others.”

“Forgiveness comes when you give up the hope that you can change the past.” ~Oprah Winfrey

I had two distinct experiences while accomplishing step 9. The first I wrote about at the beginning of this chapter – my encounter with the attorney I’d stiffed. The second was in high school. There was a girl who I bullied, even though bullying was uncharacteristic of my personality and I never understood why I was so mean-spirited to this person. She was number one on my list of people I harmed, and in her case I was totally at fault and had no reason or excuse for my awful behavior. After arriving back in California from paying my ex-attorney and fellow AA member, I decided to search for the girl I harmed in high school. She was not popular then, but I took a shot by joining one of the high school classmate websites to look for her. Lo and behold, she was one of only three members from my high school class who belonged to the site. (We only had 52 in my graduating class.) I sent her a long, heartfelt email apologizing for being such a jerk. I held back nothing and asked for her forgiveness.

I was blown away when I received her response. Not only did she forgive me, she tried to minimize the harm that I had perpetrated on her. She told of struggles in life after high school and that she had lost two husbands to lung cancer. She joked that she finally chose to marry again, this time to a non-smoker. She shared that things eventually turned out well and that she truly enjoys life. She appreciated hearing from me. We are Facebook friends today and we often joke and chat.

After these two experiences, the rest of my amends were a piece of cake. I continue to make living amends with my family, especially my two sons, who witnessed firsthand the damage I caused because of my chemical addictions.

I testify that step 9 is a spiritual experience that I would not have wanted to miss. The Big Book states the Promises of AA start coming true halfway through this step.
The Promises of Addiction vs. the Promises of AA

After the many years I’ve spent navigating recovery (in ways positive and negative), I’ve come up with twelve false promises addiction presents and contrast it with the true and hopeful promises of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Addiction Promise 1: I have lost my freedom and I am void of happiness.
AA Promise 1: We are going to know a new freedom and new happiness.

Addiction Promise 2: I will forever relive the past while trying to ignore the extent of the damage I have caused.
AA Promise 2: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

Addiction Promise 3: I will live in chaos and restlessness.
AA Promise 3: We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

Addiction Promise 4: I do not develop emotionally or spirituality while attached to my addiction. I am amazed at how low I sink while basking in denial and self-pity.
AA Promise 4: No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

Addiction Promise 5: I will feel sorry for myself and bask in my misery.
AA Promise 5: That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

Addiction Promise 6: I will be selfish, self-centered and dishonest.
AA Promise 6: We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Addiction Promise 7: I will continue to isolate and put my wants and needs first.
AA Promise 7: Self-seeking will slip away.

Addiction Promise 8: My attitude and outlook on life sucks.
AA Promise 8: Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.

Addiction Promise 9: I constantly fear that I will never have enough.
AA Promise 9: Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

Addiction Promise 10: I do not trust my decisions and I will distance myself from reality.
AA Promise 10: We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

Addiction Promise 11: I have been a liar for so long I no longer trust God or myself.
AA Promise 11: We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Addiction Promise 12: My addiction is too strong; I will never be free of it.
AA Promise 12: Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

No matter what outward appearance we may give in our addiction, we live alone in fear and isolation. In recovery we use words us and we because we are never alone thanks to our fellowship and higher power.

Accomplishing step 9 catapults us into our new role as a mature and responsible person. We gain the respect of others and experience a newfound feeling of confidence. No longer do we cower in fear because we have faced our demons head-on. We take full responsibility for our actions and we distance ourselves from our past lives.

Larry Smith