Step Nine – “This required action”

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

My name is Matt and I was a hopeless alcoholic, yet I’ve recovered and have been living comfortably sober for nearly 8 years as the result of coming to Alcoholics Anonymous, getting a sponsor and taking the Twelve Steps, the plan of recovery in our Big Book. Step Nine was the step where I really began to feel freedom from alcohol, and all my other problems. I was told that this was the step where I was restored to sanity. Of course this was the culmination of all the other preceding steps.

In Steps Four and Five I admitted the exact nature of my wrongs. I was deeply ashamed of and regretted a lot of things I had done. Like most alcoholics, I hurt the people closest to me the most: my family, my partner and my son. Sometimes it was what I did – the usual drunken, sometimes violent behaviour, putting them down, nasty verbal abuse, being a total embarrassment – but sometimes it was what I didn’t do, in other words neglect. A lot of the time I just wasn’t there for them, I didn’t show up when I said I would, I missed birthdays and school events, I regularly went missing and really failed as a parent and a partner. I was selfish and dishonest and did not consider or care about their feelings or welfare.

In Step Eight I faced up to these things and became willing to make amends, and in Step Nine I went out and did my best to straighten out the past and repair the damage I had done wherever I could. Like all the other steps, this required action. I had a list of amends and my sponsor gave me directions on how to approach each one. Never was I to criticise them, but focus on what I had done, admit where I was wrong, ask forgiveness and above all ask what I could do to make up for it, and then do it.
Sometimes people told me about things I had done which I’d completely forgotten, so these things had to be dealt with as well. I made financial amends as soon as I could. I started paying child maintenance. I paid back expenses I had fiddled at work, facing up to the possibility that they could sack me if they wanted to. Like it says in the Big Book, we must not shrink at anything if we want to overcome drinking. But instead they were just pleased to have me back after yet more time off sick, a well man, and I went on to do the best work I’ve ever done.

A lot of my amends were dealt with in a single conversation or visit, and that was that. But many of them, particularly family, required ongoing and persistent work. It took time but the wonderful thing is relations with my family were restored. In fact they are better than ever. This is all down to AA, listening to others and following my sponsor’s guidance, patiently working to reverse those harms. Today I have a bond with my son that I never thought possible. Because of bad behaviour with other women, my now ex-partner did not want me back whether I got sober or not, but today we are actually good friends and there is no animosity between us, all because of Step Nine.

Some amends take different forms. For instance, when my son was at primary school, I would regularly turn up drunk, sometimes in the car, to pick him up. The other parents rightly reported me and due to this and other incidents, I was called in and told by the deputy head in no uncertain terms not to come to the school – period. But when I got sober, an opportunity arose to volunteer there. I saw a way to make amends and repay a debt of gratitude to the teachers who’d kept my son on track during the times I was drinking. They were understandably sceptical at first, but I was committed and willing, so much so that at the end of the year they actually asked me back the following term! I have been enthusiastically volunteering there ever since. When my previous job came to an end, I started thinking about what I could do next. This experience started me thinking about teaching. The other day I was called into the school office by the same deputy head and told I’d got the job I’d applied for as a teaching assistant there. Amazing! Making amends has led to the opportunity to follow a second career, proof that if we do the right things, then good things will happen in AA.

Because I followed what I learned in Alcoholics Anonymous, I have experienced the promises in the Big Book, and above all complete freedom from alcohol, but only because I was willing to work for them. Of all AA’s Twelve Steps, Step Nine really is the step where actions speak louder than words.

Matt D, Road to Recovery Group, Plymouth