Step 8: Willingness
Making a list of those harmed before coming into recovery may sound simple.
Becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part.
1. disposed or consenting; inclined: willing to go along.
2. cheerfully consenting or ready: a willing worker.
3. done, given, borne, used, etc., with cheerful readiness.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Notice that this step does not say we have to make any amends. There’s a reason that it doesn’t say that. The reason, in my opinion, is that it’s hard enough to become willing to make amends to have that be a single step. Who wants to be willing to make amends to people who may have hurt us or didn’t do what we wanted them to do? It’s one thing to realize my part in the mess of my life. It’s another thing entirely to be willing to walk up to another person and own the mess that I made – particularly if I know they might be angry, hurt or never want to see my face again. That takes a whole different level of willingness.
When I got to this step, my sponsor wisely reinforced the fact that I don’t have to make any amends to take this step. I just have to become willing to make them and make a list of the people I harmed. I already had this list written in my fourth step, so the task of making the list was easy. It took a little while, though, to really feel I was willing to prostrate myself and own up to my own contribution to the broken relationships in my life. For quite a few of those relationships, they had harmed me, too. But, that was not my mess to clean up – that was theirs.
I love the definition above for willing – cheerfully consenting or ready. Haha…I don’t know if cheerfully would describe my feelings toward making amends, but I needed to be consenting. This is actually a biblical command. God tells us that “if our brother holds something against us” go make it right before we come to Him. That’s a paraphrase, but that’s what this step is all about. How often do people actually do this? Not very often, I’m afraid. So, why do people in recovery who have a difficult time with relationships in general have to be willing to do this?
I’ll tell you why. All of this stuff was eating me alive. Things I’d done to harm others and areas where I failed to live with integrity caused me to feel a great deal of shame. Shame is different than guilt. Shame says I’m not a good person. I’m a failure. Guilt says I did something wrong. It’s not a judgment on me because we all do things wrong. In order for me to get the shame monkey off my back, I had to deal with my actions the way I would deal with something I did wrong and merely felt guilty about. I’d fix it; I’d apologize; I’d change my ways; I’d make things right. Shame keeps me stuck and unwilling because it all seems way too insurmountable for somebody so bad to be a person of integrity.
This particular step really taught me how to let shame go and see my shortcomings as things I could clean up. What a relief! To just find the strength of character to become willing began to awaken my soul to the possibility that I could clean this thing up, and I could live differently. Talk about a gift. It was like lifting a dark shroud off me and letting the sun start to trickle in to my heart. You know how it feels when you feel overwhelmed with things that you have to do, and you finally make a list of what needs to be done? It always seems a lot less daunting when you see it written in a list. That’s what happened in Step 8. I started to see that I could do this!
That’s why people in recovery have to be willing to make amends. The task of rebuilding our lives seems a bit more manageable, one step at a time. Otherwise, we stay in a heap of shame and debris and are paralyzed by the sheer weight of it all. Whatever addictive substance or action we’ve used to keep us in the dark starts to seem inviting again, and it will kill us. That’s why Step 8 is important. That’s why it is important to be in a state of willingness. Willingness is the key to taking the next right action – in this case, making amends.