8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step nine, the making of amends, gets a lot of air time, but in some ways, it is step eight where the truly hard work of amends gets done. Think of it like exercising. The hard part isn’t the actual exercise! The hard part is walking out the door to go to the gym. The big roadblock is not in the action itself but in our minds. In step eight, we are stepping out this proverbial door en route to the spiritual gym known to us as…our lives.
In the first seven steps we have spent our time on a solitary path toward recovery. We are supported by OA and our sponsors, perhaps even by family and friends, but no one can go on our spiritual journey for us; it is ours alone. But once step nine rolls around, we return to the world having undergone a massive psychic change. Our amends will demonstrate to those in our lives, most of whom we’ve probably not told much about our move toward spirituality, that we have changed and that a Higher Power can make change in us. But we have to know who to make this demonstration to, and sometimes when we recognize the who, we find ourselves wanting for willingness to walk out that door.
We have to be specific to make any progress. As we did in step four, we make a list in step eight. But this time, that list is who we harmed, not who harmed us. To review step four for just a moment: Page 65 of the Big Book shows us three columns to write out: who we were resentful at, the cause of the resentment, and what it affected inside us (how it harmed us). In that second column, we described what burned us up about another person. Then on page 67 we are asked to write a fourth column of inventory for each resentment: where were we selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? Now in step eight, we are again asked to look at our inventory from the other person’s point of view. The self-seeking we wrote about in the fourth column of our own inventory is what we did to other people to get our way. We might imagine them writing inventory that includes us, and it turns out that our self-seeking behaviors are their second-column resentments! So we can start right there at making our list, and then we can ask God to show us other folks we may have harmed who were not in our inventory.
A question worth asking is what exactly is harm? Harm is usually defined as injury whether physical, emotional, or financial. In step eight we needn’t get overly specific about what harm we did to another, only that we caused it. For now, we are simply making a list of those we harmed. If we can answer yes, then their name goes on the list. If we aren’t sure, we pray for the truth from our Higher Power.
We need to be careful at this point that we don’t tell ourselves that we didn’t harm someone only because we know step nine is coming. Just because we don’t want to face someone doesn’t mean we didn’t do them harm. We might recognize that they did us a terrible harm, far worse than we did them. So what? That doesn’t negate the harm we did. And isn’t a willingness to proceed with an amends to that person a reasonable exchange for our abstinence, our happiness, and our freedom from the horrors of compulsive eating? Here our minds may place our pride and fear ahead of our recovery. If we listen to them, we will be troubled again. If we ask God to help us with them, we will make gains spiritually.
Step eight is not an overnight step. We may make a list of those we have harmed and find ourselves requiring time and prayer to achieve willingness for all the names on it. That’s OK. We become willing. If pride and fear put a wall up between us and willingness, we use the tool of prayer to chip it away. We will know when we are ready not because the fear and pride are gone, but rather because the way through them will seem passable, if not easy. In the meantime, we have made our list and are willing to be willing. We can move on to step nine and make the amends we are willing to make as we continue to pray about those we are unwilling to make. In other words, progress not perfection.