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The Twelve Steps - Step IX


Again, faithful followers of the 12-Step way are directed by the first word in the 9th Step to DO SOMETHING. Our way to a path of spiritual actions, that if followed consistent, will bring about an inner transformation in us. That spiritual transformation is the only solution to "the problem" of alcoholism and addiction. This spiritual transformation, maintained and strengthened through staying in deep connection with God, self and others is the only power in the universe strong enough to overcome addiction.

Transformation comes through doing. Only doing is doing. Not just any doing but the directed, focused, consistent action taught by the Program.

As we saw last month Step 8 tells us to practice humility, positive action, responsibility and honesty. Step 9 picks up where Step 8 has led us. The very first word of Step 9 tells us to get in action. It says DO IT.

I take our men at the Salvation Army through the 9th Step word by word and phrase by phrase. The first word is


Not thought about or talked about or prayed about but did it. We acted. We picked up the list of all those we had harmed, stepped out and did something with it.

I tell our men that DOING this 9th Step is all about manning up. No one likes to ask for forgiveness or making amends. But this isn't about reaching out when it is safe or we feel like it. As with all instructions for going forward in working the Steps, it isn't about "how you feeling?" It's about "How you are doing?" In this case, doing what?


Direct amends does not mean secretly. It does not mean sideways or hidden behind some other behavior. It means to stand up, stand still, knock on the door, look in the eyes and say, "Yes, I did harm to you and I am sorry. If there is something I can do to make up for what I did I will gladly do so."

For many of our men this is a huge thing to ask. They have been on the street or in jail or prison a long time. They have hurt more people than they can remember. Carrying the load of guilt and shame as they do – and as nearly everyone entering recovery does, - to face someone they have harmed time without number and make amends is beyond the power for them to do alone.

That is why Steps 1, 2, and 3 are so important. No one can fully work the Steps alone. A conscious connection with God, self and others is a must if a person is to do the 9th Step.


What people? The ones on our list from Step 8. The ones our recovering attitude allows us to see and humbly admit, "Yes, I hurt you."

A great many people may be on that list. Yet we must not forget that ultimately we must be on that list as well. Self-compassion is at the heart of recovery. Even though many of us fear and may not know how to treat ourselves with compassion it is a lesson we must learn.

The "old lies" and "old normal" we have talked about so often in this series may thunder in our heads that it is too late for us, that we are beyond any real redemption, that our time for truly joining back with the human race. I tell our men – we HAVE TO DEAL WITH OUR BROKEN HEARTS. We HAVE to learn to at least begin to see ourselves and treat ourselves as someone worthy to love and be loved. "Such people" is us.


Due to the death of a person we have wronged or for other reasons, sometimes we can't make direct amends. This bothers many of our men who look back at the devastation they've left behind them and have no idea where to begin.

There are many creative ways the men figure out how to make amends "to the universe" – meaning those they can't reach. One man told me, "All I can do is pray for all those people I hurt and don't even remember who they are. At least I can do that." Indeed he could.

In addition to that however they find ways to reach out to help others. They do their "direct amends" by focusing on service work to others. I guess you could say they "play it back by paying it forward."

We are strong on service work at the Salvation Army. I tell the men to remember what it felt like at the worst point in their active addiction. They got there through spiritual bankruptcy and isolation. So, I tell them, if you know how that feels DON'T ALLOW anyone else get to that point. Offer them fellowship, welcome and hospitality. Stand up for them. You might not be able to do much about the past but you can most certainly do something about the future both for yourself and those you can reach.


Talk this over with your sponsor or an old timer in the program you respect. Honesty without kindness can simply be cruelty. If your "direct amends" would bring crises and chaos to another, perhaps doing them great harm, then we have no right to do so. WE must own the damage we did such people but that doesn't mean we have a right to mess up someone else.

This part of the Step 9 plays out countless ways in the real world. No one can give themselves perspective. We are far too close to ourselves to see what may be apparent to others. So, again, that is why "Staying connected" to God, self and others is critical to long term, satisfying recovery.

I tell our men, if you are in doubt or confused about how to make amends, or if it is fair to the "other" person to reach back into their lives – talk with one of the counselors or your sponsor. Pray about it. Take the time to figure out how this Step looks when the rubber hits the highway of practical, everyday life.


Isaac is a miracle story. To say he had and has trouble with this 9th Step is a vast understatement. In his near 50 years of active addiction (he started shooting heroin at age 8) there's not much evil or ruinous he has not done. He is haunted by "all the men I buried in the desert" over that time.

There is no way he can make "direct amends" to even a fraction of those he hurt, harmed or killed. He can't pay it backwards. He can only play it forward. And he does. He never stops reaching out to others. He never says "no" if there is an opportunity to further the process of recovery in another person's life.

I tell the men "pain is power if you hold it up to God." Isaac has enough pain and regret in his life for a thousand people. But by using all that pain as motivation to reach out to another he is putting purpose to all that pain. He is making amends the only way he can – by never allowing another alcoholic/addict to disappear down the throat of addiction without doing everything he can to pull them up.

About the Author

Earnie Larsen is a nationally known author and lecturer. He is a pioneer in the field of recovery from addictive and unwanted behaviors. He is the originator of the process known as STAGE II RECOVERY. Stage I Recovery focuses on the breaking of a primary addiction or unwanted behavior. Stage I is a release from that destructive behavior. Upon achieving that release, however, there still remain the patterns and habits, the feelings and attachments to old systems that must be dealt with if recovery is to continue. Resolving these life issues is what makes up STAGE II RECOVERY.

Earnie has authored more than 60 books and 40 motivational self-help tapes on a variety of topics ranging from managing interpersonal relationships to spirituality. As a lecturer, Earnie is known and sought after by Industry, Treatment Centers,Churches and many other types of organizations both nationally and internationally.

Earnie has been seen and heard on radio and television throughout the country, from WCBS radio in New York to KPZE Radio in California to the Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago and the Cable News Network Show. Earnie has been a counselor for over 30 years. For more information, please visit his newest website: His e-mail is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Comments (1)
1 Friday, 10 September 2010 13:36
maria carmen s. ramirez
Helpful information. I can use this with consumers on my caseload who are recovering from substance abuse addiction.

Thank you:)

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