Step eight of the twelve steps entails making a list of all people I harmed and becoming willing to make amends to them all. When I first entered sobriety, the only people I believed I had harmed were either boyfriends I cheated on, family I stole from or friends I lied to. I thought the only person hurt by my addiction was me.
I knew it was not good for my body to use cocaine, drown in alcohol, smoke cigarettes or purge food. Still, I had little ability to see how my actions harmed the people around me. Even after my first fourth step, I still focused on the more obvious harms like stealing money or missing work.
It was only after several years of doing my inventory on a daily basis, in addition to writing my memoir, that I faced and accepted the subtle ways I harmed my fellows. These harms included my defects of character including dishonesty, envy, manipulation, blaming, shaming, condemning, judging, gossiping, and even withdrawing.
What my friend from college said when I made an amends to her for locking myself in my room when I did cocaine awakened me to the truth about my harms. She said, "Wow, I didnt realize you had that kind of a problem. I alway thought you just didnt want to be around me. I just thought you closed the door so you didnt have to be with me."
Since then, it is clear to me that when I isolate, I harm people. When I raise my voice, I harm people. I harm people by being impatient. I harm people by telling them what they want to hear. I harm people by telling them what they don't need to hear. I harm people by talking behind their backs. The list goes on and on.
A daily tenth step is the best antidote for my misbehavior. When I notice when or how I harm someone else, I ask God for the power to right my wrong. I imagine what it would look like to act better and I set out to change my behavior. An amends is about changing the way I act, not saying I am sorry. When I do things differently, I help others and myself.
I will never be rid of my defects of character. I am human and I err. The eighth step of recovery enables me to make my daily list of the people, places and institutions I have harmed so I can set out to clean up my side of the street in step nine. If I am unwilling to clean up my side of the street because a resentment is too strong, I pray for the willingness to see my part and wait for the right time.
P.S. This month's expert talks about making her own lists. If you are interested in being featured as an expert on Addictionland,