Working the Steps – Step 8

Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

“If I have done anything to offend you…..”

“Tell me what it is that I did!”

“You know I did that only because you did what you did….”

Stop right here.

Those are not good openings for doing this Step.  In fact, if there were rules for doing this Step, these approaches break all of them, but they are common and frequent ploys for wiggling out of taking responsibility for the harm we have done to others.

The first one puts the burden on the offended party for being offended.

The second one makes the injured party do the work, setting up a line of defense in the offender.

The third approach places the blame on the person who has been harmed.

This is the point in the program when you really do start to grow up.   This is where the point is not about other people have done to make you do the things you have done or may even still be doing.

This is the point in the program when you do what spiritually mature people do and start taking responsibility for how you have hurt other people and yes, even yourself.

* * * * *

Taking Step Eight starts with making a list of all the people you have harmed, and on the front end, it’s only about making the list.  You can’t get ahead of yourself and go even to the second half of this Step just yet or you might get too scared and run back inside yourself and close the door.

On the other hand, you may want to ponder this list for a period of time because it is scary to think about having to own up to some stuff you’d rather forget in front of someone who already knows what you have done and may also be hiding in an inner cave, closed off in fear, disappointment, pain and suffering.

You might want to make a pact with yourself or with your sponsor, however, about timing.   If you linger too long, making that list, you might get stuck.  Moving forward it the underlying goal of this Step.  Moving from guilt and shame and through the paralysis of fear to the freedom of forgiveness, restitution and restoration is a worthy goal and worth the trouble.

* * * * *

When I come to this Step, I have to acknowledge that it is really truly hard and unpleasant and painful and just plain terrifying to have to face the truth about how my words and behavior have injured someone I love or maybe some innocent person who came across my path in a moment when I was out of control, either with my self-will running riot, my self-destroying behavior or an emotion that is out of control.

Face it, I tell myself:  It is so hard to fall from grace in your own eyes.

It is so hard to face the things I have done that injured other people — either emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually.

Just remember:  At this point, all you have to do is make the list.

Take out a piece of paper and a pen or go to your computer and start a list there.  This Step is potentially life-changing for the good, and the sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to experience mercy and grace.  This Step is potentially healing, liberating, transforming and empowering.  That’s not a bad outcome, is it?

Yes, there is a time and a place for dealing with what others have done to us, but at this point, the focus is on taking full responsibility for what you have done to harm others, either by word, action or indifference, neglect, abandonment or the violence of silence.

* * * * *

The first time I took this Step, I really wanted to shift the responsibility for what I had done over to someone else.  I can remember the look in my sponsor’s eyes when I started explaining to her why it was I was the way I was.  I remember how she listened to my justification for a moment, but I will never, ever forget the moment when she said these words of grace:

Yeah — That’s how you got this way.  Now……what are you going to do about it? 

Years later, sitting in my analyst’s sacred room, I knew I had another layer of stuff that I needed to confess.   You would think that I would have learned my lesson with my sponsor, but I guess I thought I might try a similar approach.

“I am not responsible for what I did when I didn’t know any better, am I?   I am not responsible for what I did before I was aware, am I?”

Even now, I cringe with embarrassment, but then I smile to myself, remembering his response, other words of grace.

Children blame.    Adults take responsibility.

That was then.  This is now.

Woe to the person who believes that grace always comes in a flavor you like.  Sometimes, grace begins with a terrifying moment of hearing someone say that whatever you have done, you gotta own it, and you’ll feel ‘way better when you do.

No more excuses.   No more rationalizations.

Don’t explain.  Don’t justify.

Own it.

Make the list. 

* * * * *

It is true that there are some wounds inflicted on us that we will carry for the rest of our lives, but this Step helps us carry them in a different way because there is something infinitely liberating about owning our own stuff.   Ironically, it feels good to admit that the way we have carried what others have done to us has also hurt other people.  The ways we have suffered have also done self-injury.  We all know that hurt people hurt other people, and we all know that our we have used our wounds as weapons.

The Good News  and amazing grace is that our deepest wounds can become healing balm for others.

Somehow, admitting the ways we have harmed other people by or because of  our character defects opens the door of mercy.  Even better, admitting our wrongs with ruthless honesty helps us join the human race.

A memory verse from Isaiah 53:6 reminds us of our common tendencies as humans:

All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned our own way.

 Either out of innocence or willful intent, ignorance or stupid carelessness, arrogance, indifference or anger, all of us sheep tend to think we can go down our own selfish path.

 Those words pretty well state a part of the human predicament, and there is more truth from 1 John 1:8.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

 I like the way Eugene Peterson renders 1 John 1:8 in The Message: 

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves.

A claim like that is errant nonsense.

 (As much as I resisted the pressures of memorizing scriptures when I was a preacher’s kid, those memory verses come back to me when I need them.)

Here’s the Good News:   It is in a simple process of making the list of those I have harmed and following a path that has been life-changing for countless thousands that I place myself in a position to experience amazing grace — and here is where 1 John 1:9  affirms this process:

On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—

he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself.

 He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. 

(To be clear, the “he” in these verses is God, and yes, we all have done things that have separated us from his love.)(And oh my goodness, could we ever have long and lengthy talks about this– Remember that God image discussion, ‘way back in Step 3?)

* * * * *

When I am guiding people through this Step, I see it as part of my job to stand as a witness to God’s loving compassion in this sacred process.   One of the things that means is that I attempt to empower the other person to claim the wrongs he/she has actually done out of his/her character defect.   I find it is vitally important to walk the fine line between being too hard on yourself and letting yourself off the hook too quickly or easily.

This isn’t so much about hitting your brother when you were a small child and it isn’t about saying bad words to annoy or offend your mother, and so some deep reflection and prayer for guidance is appropriate.    What it is about is owning your harmful words and actions when you were acting from your character defect.

When doing this Step, I always ask for God to give me the courage to see what I have hidden from myself, either by convenient forgetting, denial that it really was that hurtful, fear of what the other might do if I make myself vulnerable enough to make amends or by excusing, rationalizing, justifying and explaining my wrongs away.

* * * * *

It is important to keep a firm focus on my behaviors, my deeds, my attitudes, my wrongs and not let other peoples’ stuff bleed over into mine.

Sometimes it is helpful just to let the memories come to you as they will, and sometimes it is helpful to divide your life into seasons and comb through those years sequentially.  You get to choose how, but do it.

You may want to reflect on the time you first began acting out of your primary character defect.  Or, you may want to go to the first offense against another you can remember.  Suit yourself, but come clean, if only with yourself, for now.   Often, telling yourself the truth is the hardest part.

Let yourself feel the regret, the guilt and the shame, but count on your good and wise sponsor not to let you drown in your remorse.  An experienced sponsor has a keen sense of when you are into just beating yourself up, being super-scrupulous and trying to be perfect, which can be part of a character defect, and when you need to be honest to the bone.  Punishing oneself and taking responsibility for oneself are two notably different acts with  radically different outcomes.

* * * * *

So….back to making that list.    Just take the first steps.

Equipped with your computer or pen and paper, begin.

Ask God to help you and then, write.

Take breaks if you need to, but promise yourself you will stick with the process until you are finished.

When you have finished, offer it to God.

Give thanks that you have the moral courage to admit your wrongs, and give thanks to God for bringing them to your attention.

Take a walk.  Mark the moment.   Give yourself credit.

Be willing to understand that in the strangest way, it is God’s grace that allows us to come to our senses, feel the pain and shame and guilt and regret we need to feel, own our stuff and be open to the forgiveness and peace that is ahead.

Remember this:  Only the dead feel no pain, and only those who have a moral center and a healthy conscience  are willing to face the truth and tell the truth about the ways they have done to hurt another person.

* * * * *

When one of my grandsons was only four, he had enough of something one of his cousins was doing, and so he picked up a bucket and banged her over the head with it.  Of course that set up a great wailing in their Montessori classroom where they were both enrolled.

And, of course, the incident was reported to their mothers who are sisters, which set up another one of those conflict of interest things sisters tend to have.  Each of them was torn between wanting her own child to be able to take responsibility for what he had done, and each of them wanted to sort of blame the other cousin.

On the way home, my daughter asked the offender if he had hit his cousin on the head with the metal bucket.

My daughter could  see her child in the rear-view mirror as he sat in his booster seat, sucking his thumb.

He took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I did,” and put his thumb back in his mouth.

“Why did you do that?” my daughter asked, probably hoping that there was a good reason.

Again, he took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I just did it.”

Clear and simple, it was.  A confession and a statement of ownership.  No excuses.

Sometimes I have to suck my thumb — symbolically — when I’m up against a wrong I’ve done, but I have to make sure that whatever I do to soothe myself doesn’t encourage me to regress back into my old defects.

What about you?

Is there something you have done that is standing between you and someone else like a brick wall?

Have you tried to make amends before, only to have the other person wind up laying more guilt and bad energy on you?

Has anyone come to you to make amends?  Have you ever rejected another’s attempts at making amends?  How has that worked for you?

Is there something from long ago that keeps on knocking at the door of your consciousness, wanting to be faced and forgiven?   What holds you back from the free flow of grace?

Do you long for peace of mind?

I love the bumper sticker asks the question, “Do you want peace?  Then work for justice.”

Justice is about making things right.  Step Eight is a giant Step toward making things right, with yourself and with other people you have harmed.

Grace comes first, it seems…..and then, peace

I wish it all for you.


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