Alcoholism and the Ninth Step in Al-Anon: How to Make Amends
Make Amends and Give Your Friendship a Fresh Start
What Is the Al-Anon Ninth Step?
The Al-Anon Ninth Step tells us that we should make "direct amends" to the people we have harmed "wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Basically, this step asks us to apologize and make amends for some of our past behaviors. It’s important to note that it is not enough to simply tell someone you are sorry; you also need to make amends for your past behavior.
If you have been a member of Al-Anon for a few months or longer, the Al-Anon Ninth Step is the one you have probably been dreading the most. Few Al-Anon members are excited about starting the Ninth Step because they have spent years trying to convince others that they knew what was best for them; in particular, this is what they have always told the alcoholics they loved. The problem is, we did not recognize we could have been doing more harm than good by trying to control the alcoholic.
How can we turn around now and tell them we may have been wrong in the way we behaved and treated them in the past? How can we prove to them we really do want to stop trying to control them?
Although it may be hard to swallow our pride when we talk to the people we have harmed, once you begin to make your amends, you are quite likely to feel a great weight lifting off your shoulders. In fact, when we stop trying to control other people, we stop feeling the burden of feeling we are responsible for what they do or do not do.
As this step progresses, you will become more enthusiastic about doing it, because you will start to see how much better you feel.
Why You Should Make Amends
In the Ninth Step, you are asked to make direct amends to anyone you have harmed unless it will injure them or someone else. At first, you may feel that making amends is unnecessary. You may believe the alcoholics should be making amends to you, not the other way around. However, the Ninth Step is essential in helping you towards your goal of having a happier, more serene life. You will no longer be carrying around all this guilt about the way you sometimes have treated people in the past. You’ll feel less stress and less need to be right all the time.
Making Amends to the Alcoholic
The first person you should make your Ninth Step amends to is the alcoholic. The way to begin your amends is to simply apologize for your past emotional outbursts and anything cruel or uncaring which you have said or done. However, apologies are meaningless if you do not change your behavior. Changed behavior is how Al-Anon members usually make amends. Therefore, you also need to begin to treat the alcoholic differently in the future. Moderate your voice. Stop trying to control the alcoholic or correct their behavior. Let them make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. Let them be.
You may also want to read some of the Al-Anon books and other literature when starting your amends. "The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage" was my favorite when my husband first joined Alcoholics Anonymous. It explained some of the frustrations which I had in dealing with my husband. For example, why was it that he would listen to another alcoholic and make a change to his behavior when I had been telling him exactly the same thing for years? I had so many resentments about that, it was hard for me to be supportive of his Alcoholics Anonymous program. Eventually, by reading this book and talking with other Al-Anon members, I came to accept that he had to make decisions on his own, not because I had manipulated him.
More than any other piece of literature I read when I first joined Al-Anon, I attribute this book and the amends I gradually made because of it to save my marriage.
Making Amends to Friends and Family
After you make amends to your spouse or other alcoholic in your life, you will need to make Ninth Step amends to friends and family members whom you may have harmed because of your reaction to the alcoholic. Once again, start with apologies, when you can. Then, change your future behavior. Treat your children with more attention and love. Try to become a better parent.
When you stop spending so much energy trying to control the alcoholic, you may be surprised at how much energy you have left to become a better parent, child, sibling or friend to the people you love. Your relationships will improve as you become a better person.
You will learn that you do not have to apologize for anyone else, other than yourself. If your alcoholic spouse has disappointed your children or other family members, you do not need to apologize for their behavior. Instead, concentrate on how you behaved and make amends for that. Were you irritable with your spouse and took it out on your children? Apologize to your children for your grouchiness and try to change your future behavior. The atmosphere in your home will improve dramatically.
Sometimes We Wish We Could Make Amends to Someone Who Has Died
What to Do When You Cannot Make Amends to the Person
If you are in a situation where you are unable to make Ninth Step amends to someone because they have died or moved away, you can still change your future behavior towards others. For example, if you were angry with your mother-in-law because you believed she was enabling her alcoholic son, you may now regret that you cannot make amends since she has died. However, by treating other relatives better in the future, and no longer blaming them for the actions of the alcoholic, you will be making amends to that mother-in-law, as well.
Be especially careful about making amends which could hurt someone else. For example, if you told lies to your husband’s employer in order to protect him, there is nothing to be gained by calling them up and telling them that you lied when you told them he had the flu in the past when he was actually hung over. At the same time, you can make amends for this past behavior by not continuing to tell those lies in the future. Simply tell the alcoholic that you don’t want to harm him by exposing the lies you told in the past; however, you will not be covering up for him in the future.
The same is true if the alcoholic is a friend or relative. If, for example, you know they have been unfaithful to their spouse, it is NOT your place to reveal that information. Some people believe they are making their own amends when they create chaos in the life of another person. That only will eventually mean that you will have more amends to make. Focus on your own life and your own behavior. Let people work out their own problems, whether they are alcoholics or not. You will find that you will get along with others much better.
Gradually, as you make your amends, you will be amazed at how much relief the amends bring you. You will be especially relieved when you are careful to make sure that your amends do not do any further harm.
Make Amends to Yourself
There is one more person to put on your amends list … yourself. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made in the past. Stop tormenting yourself and berating yourself for past behaviors. Put the past behind, and treat yourself to a fun experience. You deserve to be treated well, too!
While the Ninth Step may initially seem as if it is the most difficult, you will also find it to be the most rewarding. As you get deeper into studying the "Al-Anon 12 Steps and Traditions," you will begin to see how your life will change for the better. This was certainly true for me, as well as most of the other Al-Anon members I have known.