Step 8

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

The List

I had a pretty good start on this list from the inventory back in Step 4.  That’s where we look at our resentments and find our own mistakes in each case.  So I already had a list of resentments along with the whos and the whys, including where I had acted selfishly, dishonestly, or for my benefit at the expense of the other person.  Without going into specifics, let’s just say I had a hefty list and a lot of work to do.  In nearly all of my resentments, and I’m sure it is (or will be) true of your inventory, I was at least partly at fault.  But it was far from complete.

My list wasn’t lacking from thoroughness; it was lacking all those times I’d caused someone to hurt that did not involve resentment on my part—a thoughtless word spoken in anger or frustration, a forgotten birthday, or a case of insensitivity to another’s situation.

Keeping in mind that in Steps 8 and 9 we are dealing with people we have harmed, there may be people on our resentment list who have harmed us in some way while we did nothing to cause harm to them.  A woman who has been raped or a person who suffered physical or sexual abuse as a child come to mind as obvious blameless victims.  No amends are necessary or appropriate where we have caused no harm.  Forgiveness, yes, but that is not what these two Steps are about.  I’ll talk about forgiveness in a later post.

The Willingness

By the time I’d gotten this far into the Steps, I was already willing to do whatever it was going to take, so the willingness wasn’t a huge problem for me.  I will admit, tho, that for several people on my list, I needed to keep reminding myself that they were human, too, and even if they weren’t alcoholic, they had problems, too.  When I could see them as like unto myself, it made the amends process easier.  As recommended in the Big Book, I could say to myself, “This is a sick person.  How can I be helpful?”

And in fact, the other person can benefit from our amends as much as we do.  If they have carried resentment against us, as we against them, it gives them the opportunity to also let go. That’s entirely their call, tho.  My job in the process is to offer to amend the damage I’ve caused.  It’s not up to me to even so much as suggest what they should or should not do from there.  From the Tao Te Ching:  “The wise one acts, then steps back.”  (And accepts whatever the result might be.)

Next up—Step 9, where the magic happens.

Any thoughts or questions about Step 8?  Please leave a comment!

Removing Defects

The 4th and 5th steps gave us an idea of what our faults are, where they might be coming from, and which ones have been the major players in our lives up to now. Once we know what they are, we can start to get rid of them. But how exactly do we do that?

Some of them will be so minor that they seem silly in hindsight. We can simply let them go and that’s that. Something like “I’m jealous of my brother because Mom always liked him best,” maybe. (Remember the Smothers Brothers?) Other faults will need a bit more work. I go through a process of comparing my feelings/emotions of the moment against certain core beliefs and values I have. By the time I’m done, the majority of them drop to the more manageable level of “silly,” and then I can let them go.

Core Beliefs and Values

This is a short sample of beliefs and values of mine that usually play a part in the process:

  • We are not powerless over our reactions or our feelings. We can choose to change.
  • We are all brothers and sisters, each one of us a divine spirit having a human experience.
  • The human experience is to be imperfect. We all have defects, and for the most part, they are all the same.
  • To be human is also to be conflicted. We are both/and rather than either/or, both saint and sinner, beast and angel.
  • What we resist persists.

There are others, of course. You may not have the same ones; yours might even be in direct opposition to mine. It doesn’t matter; we all need to discover and start living by our own set of values and beliefs.

The Process

Anger (along with resentments, which are anger we’ve put into an interest-bearing spiritual savings account) were big on my inventory, so I’ll use that in the example. When I get angry about something, such as something someone writes on the Internet, I stop and go through the following:

  1. I let myself feel it. What we resist, persists. I let it have its way until it subsides enough for me to continue. Sort of like counting to 10, except I observe the feeling without judging it as good or bad and accept it for what it is—the feeling of the moment.
  2. I name it. “OK, I have some anger here.” This lets me own the feeling.
  3. I look at why I reacted with anger. Maybe I was on a forum and someone replied to tell me I was wrong about something. This would affect my prestige in that community, which really means “my pride gets hurt.” Or maybe I hear my bank is going under, and my financial security evaporates. The list is, or seems, endless. (I don’t know yet, I’m still alive.)
  4. I decide whether I want to let it go. If I don’t, or I’m not sure, I look for why I want to keep it. What am I getting by clinging to the anger in this particular case. What’s the payoff? Am I afraid of something? Often, I’ll need to do some contemplative meditation to discover this.
  5. When I know I’m ready to let it go, I plug it into one or more of my core beliefs or core values.This puts it into a proper perspective, usually knocking it down to the more manageable level of ‘silly.’ Then, I can let it go.

The process is not as involved as it appears when written out, and it gets easier and more automatic as I practice it. It’s my way of disconnecting my buttons so that the next time a similar situation occurs, I can act with understanding, rather than react with emotion. The same process works whether I’m dealing with baggage from the past or present, and whether it involves another person or not. The only difference is that if it involves another person, I almost certainly will need to make an amends.

How do you go about ridding yourself of these defects?

AA’s Step 4–Part 3 (The Nitty-Gritty)

The inventory starts with three related lists.  The first has the people, institutions, and principles we are angry with or resentful about; the second sets down exactly why we’re angry; and the third specifies how we are affected.  These can be written on separate pages, or, as the book suggests, set up as columns in a table as I’ve done here:

I’m resentful at:


Affects my:

My Wife Doesn’t understand me.  May be unfaithful.  Always wants more $. Pride/Self-esteem (fear).  Sex relations (fear).  Financial security (fear).  Personal security (fear).
The IRS Unfair.  Punishes me for being successful.  Changes the rules every year. Pride/self-esteem (fear).

Financial security (fear).

Ambitions (fear).

Myself I can’t stop drinking.  I’m losing friends over it yet I still drink.  Might lose my job. Personal relationships (fear).

Self-esteem (fear).  Financial security (fear).  Ambitions (fear).

So who’s inventory is this?  Anyways?

This should be an inventory of my character defects, not everyone else’s, right?  A little further in the book we read “We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future.”  We’re directed to refer back to the lists, looking for two things (which will make this our inventory):

1) To see just how much the world and the people in our life dominate us.

Consider how much of our time we spend reacting instead of acting. Contemplate that those people on our list are every bit as human as we are, with problems of their own, and it’s probable that, rather than being out to hurt us, they are reacting out of fear just like we’ve been doing.  All of this should lead us to a crucial element of recovery–the first faint feeling of compassion for others.

2) To find our own mistakes.

Forget the other people and what they’ve done.  Where had we been acting selfishly, unfairly, dishonestly?  Where were we reacting out of fear?

“When we saw our faults, we listed them.”  While we’re looking back on the inventory to find our own mistakes (faults), we write them down.  This will be our fourth list, the “Faults” list.

Did you notice that ‘fear’ accompanied each of my sample resentments above?  While I fabricated those specific examples, fear of one sort or another was behind each item in my real inventory.  Which brings us to the fifth part of the inventory, a list of our fears.  “We reviewed our fears thoroughly.  We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them.”  Write your fears down, along with why you have them.  Once we identify our fears, name them, we can begin to deal with them as we see them at work in our daily interactions.

One final list remains now.  This sixth list is for our sexual relations, and the routine should be familiar by now:  Whom have we hurt? Where had we been selfish, dishonest, inconsiderate?  Did we cause jealousy, suspicion or bitterness in the other person, use sex as a weapon?  What could we have done instead?

These six lists make up our inventory.  When you’re writing, keep it all down to single words or short phrases.  This is not the time to write your memoir; the inventory is just a tool to move you toward recovery.

Also, try not to get overly emotional while doing it.  Yes, anger and other strong emotions will no doubt come up as you think about it all, but when they do, take a break, go for a walk, eat some chocolate until the feeling subsides.

If you’d like a download-able form to get you started, pay a visit to Heidi’s awesome blog, Good Life, where she has a PDF version available.  And check out her thoughts on Step 4 and other topics while you’re there.  You’ll be glad you did.

Share your thoughts with us!  Do you have misgivings or questions about the inventory, or maybe another format that helped you more than this ‘by-the-book’ method?  Let’s talk–leave a comment or send me an e-mail.