In Step 8, you made a list of all of the people you harmed, and you became willing to do what it takes to make amends. Step 9 is where you take action to actually right those wrongs.
Why Repairing Past Wrongs is Crucial for Recovery
Guilt and shame, even that which is long buried and seemingly forgotten, takes a toll on your physical and mental health and on your self-esteem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out that while shame and guilt can be healthy if they motivate you to change, they can also fuel denial and cause negative consequences in your life.
You probably have some shame and guilt for some of the hurt you caused when you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and while it's tempting to let bygones be bygones, those actions remain with you, skewing your self-perception and often leading you to make excuses, put the blame on others and justify your behaviors.
These unhealthy and self-destructive attitudes can prevent you from attaining the clarity and serenity you're working so hard to achieve. Coming clean, apologizing and making amends to the best of your ability helps you to clear your conscience, feel better about yourself, relieve stress and let go of hostility and blame. It helps you repair relationships and closely examine your actions to understand how they affect others—and your own wellbeing.
Forgiveness Must Come First
Unless you can forgive yourself for doing harm to others, and until you can forgive others for any part they played in the wrongful actions you perpetrated against them, Step 9 won't have the desired effect and may backfire, causing more conflict, stress and feelings of anger, guilt and shame.
Forgiveness helps transform anger into peace and turn negativity into love and lightness, according to Judith Orloff, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Even if you still feel you were justified in the hurt you caused someone else, forgiving that person for the actions that led you to hurt them back—and doing so before you set up a meeting—is crucial for ensuring the meeting doesn't lead to an argument or a failure to resolve the conflict. Anger, old grudges and defensiveness have no part in Step 9.
When to Act, and When to Let Sleeping
You should avoid making any revelations that will cause more harm than good. For example, if you stole from your employer and disclosing that information will get you fired and leave you unemployable and unable to take care of your family, it might be best to let it go.
If you had an affair with another married individual and contacting that person will cause major problems for him or her, don't make contact. When making these decisions, you should be absolutely certain that you're not avoiding contacting someone simply because you're afraid or uncomfortable. Your sponsor or therapist can help you decide whether it might be best to avoid contact with certain individuals.
What to Expect, and What to Prepare For
In most cases, you'll likely find that following Step 9 and making amends clears the air and leaves you feeling much lighter and at ease with yourself. But there could be those who don't want to hear your apologies or excuses, and that's okay too. You tried. You faced the music, and it wasn't easy, but doing so allows you to move on and put that part of your past to bed once and for all.
And that's what Step 9 is all about. It's about being a work in progress, striving for goodness and transparency, admitting when you're wrong, and refusing to live in denial in any way. These characteristics lead you seamlessly into Step 10, during which you'll work to maintain your clean slate by promptly recognizing when you've done harm and rectifying it right away so that you can live free of guilt, shame, resentment and denial, all of which can compromise your feelings of personal worth and your sobriety.