Step 9

Owning History

Our disease, especially during the worst part of its influence on our behavior, provided a seemingly endless resource of fear. We were prey to the deceptive conclusion that “tricking” everyone else in our lives was the only realistic chance we had for survival, even when more reasonable minds would not have been able to see such a threat. That progressed to an even more destructive stage when we had to begin “tricking” ourselves to keep the program – our “game” – running.

The result of this aspect of the spiritual malady was usually all kinds of lies and other, we thought, less direct (more innocent) “manipulations” of facts we thought necessary to “cover our tracks.”15 Step 9's amends must not be allowed to quietly migrate under the cover of this confusion. In fact, it falls to the sponsor to make certain that there is no confusion about amends matters at all.

Step 8 has provided a list which both sponsor and sponsee agreed was complete. At Step, 9 amends which were decided to be necessary during Step 8, remain necessary. At Step 9, amends which were proposed during Step 8 will remain uncompleted until they are completed!16 All amends are to be completed.

Although this approach might seem unnecessarily authoritarian, anything less will offer an invitation to the new man to return to his old alcoholic confusion and excuses. Step 9 must be a clean sweep. No more tricking anyone – including his sponsor – but most importantly, himself. AA has, through experience, found this approach is the best way to insure that the new man will receive the full benefit of amends making. When complete amends have been made this way, there is no opportunity for the disease's old technique of hopeless confusion to re-enter the picture to convert his efforts into anything more or less than what they actually are.

There will almost inevitably be amends proposed during Step 8 which become entangled in all sorts of conditions which might delay them. These are to remain very much on the table until the process is completed. Each time the new man and his sponsor meet, this subject should come forward. “How about the amends to Mr. Smith? Have you been able to get any closer to getting that done?” The sponsor can provide some important assistance to the new man's efforts by helping him stay focused on completing every amend on Step 8's list.

Amends Making Has Both a Start and a Finish

New AA members seem somewhat infatuated with particular parts of the program's step work which “hurt.” This may often mean that ideas such as Step 4 inventory and Step 9 amends making becomes overly dramatic, but it can also come to include other parts of the AA program such as Step 2's “coming to believe,” or Step 3's “making a decision.”

The overly dramatic designation may not be quite as innocent as it first appears. A new member may become hesitant when facing Step 9 amends. His reluctance is, however, inconsistent with the work he has already completed at Step 7, and his sponsor will need to make this clear. A similar, multi-step situation existed at inventory time. In that case, inventory seemed almost impossibly difficult until the effort was placed squarely on the firm ground prepared during the accomplishment of Step 3.

AA's twelve steps were designed to function in the order they are presented, each one contributing a vital advance as it prepared the new man for further work. Steps 8 and 9 are no exception to this idea. They represent a consolidation of all sorts of previous work dealing directly with both the new member's alcoholic history and his aspirations for recovery.

Sponsorship during the amends cycle encounters difficulty or delay based on two general features of the famous alcoholic run-around. The first arises from outright defiance and contradicts the idea that he has “...become willing to make amends to them all.” (BB p59) The second is based on more “trickery” made in hopes of his delay finding a lasting refuge in his alcoholic confusion.

The exact style of confusion in this case comes from quietly delaying amends with the idea that, once they have been placed on a Step 8 amends list, their completion has become a casual matter. In fact, the new member may try to exchange their presence on the list with the task of actually making them. The sponsor can see such a development, explain why it is dangerous and revitalize the necessary immediacy of the actual amend making process.

If the situation warrants even stronger direct action on the sponsor's part, a schedule can be laid out with the new man which encompasses all the amends on his Step 8 list. Of course, there will almost inevitably be exceptions to such a plan, but even those must remain fresh as pending actions. They should be discussed regularly at sponsorship meetings.

Our Big Book presents a very comprehensive discussion of the amends making process. (BB p76 - 84) Even though it describes legal issues, marriage relationships and family matters in great detail, modern sponsorship seems to always encounter a still wider variety of very relevant topics. The new man, however, can get a full picture of the program's concept of making amends from what is written in Chapter 6, a concept he is expected to enthusiastically apply to his specific amends making efforts.

He is either determined to make his program work or he is not.

If his attitude or determination falters, the problem most likely rests somewhere in his previous step work. Such problems always originate in his alcoholism.The disease of alcoholism relentlessly flourishes in its traditional environment of hopelessness, confusion and perfection. Amends making in Step 9 emerges as an opportunity to openly confront all three of these disease driven dilemmas. His struggle against them becomes far more material when amends are involved, but he can be reassured that success in this part of his recovery will produce equally remarkable material advances in his spiritual progress.

Extremely valuable things rarely have low prices.

Making Amends As Another “Step” Away From Alcoholic Absolutism

The sponsor knows that a careful presentation of AA ideas about the “absolutism” fostered by the disease of alcoholism is an important ingredient of step work, that is, step work with respect to much more than any specific step. Matters such as inventory, the disposition of “defects of character” and, now, amends making all address -- in effectively separate ways -- the alcoholic's habit of making all acquaintances into saints or monsters, framing all the mistakes in one's alcoholic history as either “blinding” successes or absolute failures and his placing the prospect of amends into a strict division of possible outcomes between “utterly painless” and “life threateningly” dangerous.

From our experience, we know that such extreme selections are no more than another “pitch” by the disease of alcoholism, made for the possibility of, once again, introducing the inevitable alcoholic hopelessness which has always been served so well in the past by this kind of thinking. Spiritual maturity is, at Step 9, very visibly on the table. This idea becomes very material and immediate during Step 9's making of amends.

The new man will have an expectation of just how his amends will work out in each case. He may be theoretically prepared for some deviations from his expectations, but it will fall to his sponsor to make certain that he is also emotionally prepared for the almost inevitable “wild cards” which will arise as amend making outcomes. It is a great time to reinforce the ideas of continuums of outcomes. In this case, maturity will mean a firm foundation on the idea that he is an imperfect alcoholic making imperfect amends to imperfect victims of his alcoholic treatment in the past.

Spiritual progress renounces the old idea of absolutes. Amends will, most likely, lead him to a very reassuring conclusion that his previous, alcoholic “infractions” were not actually as horrendous as his disease developed them to be while they festered in his ideas about himself all this time. The amends idea can be too easily represented solely as an externality, that is, an undertaking directed outside the new member to rectify the damage of his alcoholism.

However, Step 9 also presents the possibility of reconciliation inwardly. When his past behavior and its consequences to others are finally “made the right size,” that is, neither increased unreasonably to overly grave and damaging proportions nor simply dismissed as an exaggeration of something that “was only in his own mind” after all, he will be finally “growing up” spiritually.

Although this spiritual advance is usually less emotionally dramatic that the “flash of religious conversion and rehabilitation17, it is one shown by our experience to be much more durable during sobriety and recovery considered in the long haul. When amend making has this result – one which his sponsor can very beneficially point out to him – the new man will be prepared to face his sober future with a great model of character and spirit building results from his step experience, spiritual progress. (BB p60)

The prospect of emerging from the amend making experience with an incomplete understanding of the new member's commitment to spiritual maturity based on the idea of his reconciliation between his image of himself and the actual (real) nature of his place in society along with his continuing effort to abandon the absolutist ideas of alcoholic hopelessness is an important one. The sincere sponsor will not allow this opportunity for even more, vitally beneficial, self-observation to pass unnoticed.

The Promises

Aside from the first pages of Chapter Five in our Big Book, the Promises may represent the second most popular and frequently read part.18 The message carried to alcoholics in the last paragraphs of the discussion of Step 9 describes exciting new possibilities which seem to catch the imagination of all AA's, both those with experienced sobriety and newer members who are attracted by the startling scope of what may lie ahead in their recovery.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.

  • We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  • We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
  • We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
  • No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  • That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  • We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  • Self-seeking will slip away.
  • Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
  • Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  • We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  • We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
  • Are these extravagant promises? We think not.

  • They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” (BB p83-84)

We will attempt to avoid the most commonly mentioned comments about the Promises in our discussion of Step 9. Ideas about them are presented in an endless variety of essays by AA's, hand crafted artifacts of all sorts, key chains, sobriety medallions and embroidered tapestries adorning the walls of meeting rooms around the globe. However, having said that, nothing here should be interpreted as diminishing the ultimate value of this amazing “source of hope!”

Our references to the Promises are so plentiful precisely because of the great and warm affection of AA's who recall the refreshing breath of heartfelt hope they provided for us on our first encounter with them and continue to provide in our successful recovery. But here, perhaps, our goal of assisting in the sponsorship of new members can be best served by a less emotional, closer examination of the essential nature of the Promises absent the sentimental concepts they hold for us.

Considering the Promises and Their Place in the Larger Picture

A Note About Reading the Big Book and Recovery

Too often Big Book reading, even during active sponsorship and step work, remains incomplete. Because of this, just as often the new member's understanding of AA principles -- in depth -- remains equally incomplete as a consequence. More experienced AA's are quite comfortable with the idea that a myriad of useful ideas are presented in many different contexts throughout our basic text, for example, different subjects are approached from different angles in various chapters, but newer members are often victims of "reading phobias" which reduce their familiarity with the Big Book to its "lowest possible denominator."

In fact, the idea of the Big Book being a basic text is a useful one. Many new members to our program are not recently accustomed to reading any books at all! For them, even the first one hundred sixty five pages may present quite an obstacle even though the words and grammar are carefully tailored to make the message readily accessible to all.19

When the new member regards a single reading our of Big Book as a significant effort in his work to recover, he is -- of course -- quite right. Perhaps it is to these new members that the Promises are included as a condensed "recap" of other parts of our basic text. However, because of the great importance of a comfortable, complete and quick reference to the ideas in our Big Book, it falls to the sponsor to encourage more than a single journey through the central (including the prefaces, the doctor's opinion and the first 165 pages) text.

Even in the case where the new member is a "reluctant" reader who found a single reading somewhat of a challenge, an even better comprehension of the material will be required. Although it is seldom a good idea to insist on repeated readings right at first, the full benefit of our book's important contents usually only become possible with a much greater familiarity than a single reading might provide.

Sponsors know that the role of the authoritarian "school marm" seldom has the desired results. However, we also know that if the new man is led to understand the life saving importance of the message in our book, he can undertake this closer study based on his new instinct for self-preservation. It falls to the sponsor to make this clear, and to encourage an easy, frequent reference to the material.

A Closer Look at the Promises

The Role They Play in Sponsorship

(1.) We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

The "freedom" aspect of recovery from the disease of alcoholism made possible by the AA program is presented in many places and forms throughout the central text of our Big Book. The sponsor may, however, want to emphasize that the nature of the "freedom" recovery offers will continue to change and grow as the new member matures in his sobriety.

There is the initial freedom from seemingly unstoppable drinking and all of its consequences, but this is quickly followed by a new, useful understanding of alcoholic behavior, alcoholic thinking and, over time, the alcoholic spiritual malady as parts of the disease. Many benefits should be clearly obvious to the new member by the time he is making Step 9's amends, but "recapping" them can lift spirits and lend important encouragement during the challenge of amend making.

So far as "happiness" is concerned, it may be a commodity he has not experienced for a long period. Under the dark burden of the spiritual malady, most AA's plunged deeply into "survival mode" during their alcoholic drinking. When security or "happiness" was constantly portrayed through the lens of the spiritual malady as aspects of desperate survival, the "happiness" idea began to be defined as simply "less" or even "temporarily less" threat or fear.

This may appear to be a little overly dramatic, but experienced sponsors know that the mere idea of "being happy" has been absent so long that, once the prospect of once again reaching a positive, optimistic outlook appears on the horizon, it can place the new member in a serious quandary. His sponsor needs to remember that the new member's recent experience with "being happy" during his drinking has probably had continuously bad outcomes for him.

The sponsor knows that to receive the full benefit of recovery, the new member must be brave enough to experience and enjoy the happiness and peace which will come with it. Frequently, the new member may be cautious, unwilling to accept the "risk" of his new, spiritual possibilities because he still thinks that any "good news" will inevitably be followed by yet more "bad news." The sensation of "happiness," along with the peace and serenity once again possible during a healthy recovery may actually make him a little paranoid or "gun shy." It may sound foolish, but if it develops during Step 9 work, it must be addressed.20

Remember, the Promises are introduced with the phrase "... we will be amazed before we are halfway through." Some of us are so wounded or sick when we finally arrive at AA that it seems like "being amazed," "being happy and free" are dangerous, risky, long lost possibilities, lodged in our pre-drinking past. It falls to the sponsor to assist the new man's return to an outlook of spiritual optimism. All through step work this dismal, alcoholic negativism (impending doom) must be left behind. There is nothing innocent about it. It is clearly a product of our sickness, not a mere indication of a habit of reasonable caution.

(2.) We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

We have already mentioned the critical importance of "owning history" and the reconciliation which can only become possible when the new man fully agrees with the idea that he both has been an alcoholic and will continue to be an alcoholic. As his step work advances toward the continuing development of his sobriety in Step 10, this idea becomes even more important.

Our Big Book emphasizes the idea that one's alcoholic history is an "asset" which will serve as an indispensable tool in equipping the new man to carry AA's message later on in his own sobriety.21 This idea represents a clear future advantage of "owning history," but sometimes clouds the immediate benefit of being comfortably and entirely reconciled with the wreckage on one's alcoholic past.

Trying to hide or make secret the actual facts of one's history, aside from all the other difficulties such an effort can introduce into one's sobriety, is exhausting, suffocating. Remember the definition of the Latin root word "spiritus" presented in the discussion of Steps 2 and 3. It -- and the words derived from it such as "spiritual" -- mean "to breathe."

This second Promise heralds a recovery during which the alcoholic new member can become comfortable and secure in his "own skin." The suffocating idea that he is, somehow, no more than a desperate refugee in his own life will fade.

(3.) We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

By the time that Step 9's work confronts him, the new member will have crafted a much more complete understanding of his previous experiences which lacked serenity. This is a case where the definition of a strange new sensation really can benefit from an new understanding of its opposite concept.

The sponsor should not overlook the necessary duty of assisting the new man to "comprehend" his own serenity! Again, it may sound overly dramatic, but new members can become seriously threatened when they first experience actual "peace and serenity" in their recovery. There have been cases when the sensation of these new positive developments has been so unsettling that new members have returned to drinking! In terms of sponsorship, such events are dark and wasteful indeed.

In effective sponsorship the weight of the disease of alcoholism and its penetration into human thought must not be underestimated.

It can also be emphasized to the new member that his highest priority goal when he arrived at his first meeting was to, somehow, stop drinking. However now, as the he finds himself at Step 9's Promises, the discussion has become one dealing with "serenity" and "peace." It is entirely consistent with good sponsorship to call the new man's attention to such wonderful developments. Not noticing or missing such things when they begin to emerge in his life as a result of step work is entirely counter productive.

(4.) No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

The history of the new man's alcoholic drinking seems to show two unpleasant faces. On one hand, those histories can present abject horror, leading to a sort of hopeless resignation that the past can never be corrected or reconciled. On the other hand, those histories may have more in common with a perpetual toothache, that is, inevitably and unchangeably present. In most cases, the alcoholic baggage from the past includes some features of each variety.

When it is the case of abject alcoholic horror, there remains the necessity of placing those memories somewhere. The "continuum" idea may offer a solution. Being confronted with Step 9 and the Promises offers a good possibility for the new member to confidently put those events into their "right places," neither underestimating nor exaggerating how serious they are. Only when this has been accomplished do these "horrific" parts of an alcoholic's history become usable in both "carrying the message" and "living with oneself."

Neither the high drama of over reaction nor the attractive, calming neglect of under reaction will work for the man who has seriously undertaken spiritual growth. Such advances as those promised during Step 9's work must occur in the real world where things are actual size, have actual consequences and can be met with actual amends. That is one important part of the fourth Promise.

When the extreme "horror" style events in an alcoholic history have been handled, the "toothache" style events step up next, eagerly prepared to introduce alcoholic hopelessness in their own style. If the "horrors" represent "quality" in the spiritual dilemma, the "toothache" matters can press their own agenda in terms of "quantity." There may be so many of them that it might seem even the powerful AA program can't encompass everything.

The fourth Promise eliminates the possibility that some aspects of one's alcoholic history are so grave as to not be of some use, sooner or later, in the continuing process of helping other alcoholics. The price for this usability? An absolute reconciliation on the part of the alcoholic who will use them as an example in the future. If mentioning these parts of his history continues to shake his confidence (or pride...) to such a degree that they remain "his personal secret" when they might have been usefully employed in his "carrying the message," he has not yet claimed ownership of the spiritual freedom essential to his recovery.

At the other end of the "parts" of his alcoholic history, the dramatic elements are not present. Instead, what seem to be thousands of much smaller bits of alcoholic behavior rise up to fill every crack and cranny of his "un-recovered" past. The fourth Promise predicts that these too will become essential and useful as he carries the message of AA's powerful program. Both the smallest and the largest examples of his previous alcoholic behavior will have their critical part to play as he recounts his experiences to other alcoholics.

Here, the sincere sponsor can introduce the idea that what had previously been agonizing secrets can become useful tools. Instead of returning to old ideas of guilt or embarrassment when these come up in Twelfth Step work, the new man will encounter gratitude that they are in his past and joy that they can now be turned to something beneficial. It is not too soon to suggest that Twelfth Step work, done sincerely, "feels" great!22

(5.) That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

Most new AA members -- including the new man to whom these promises are presented -- consider "uselessness" and "self-pity" to be more a reality than a simple, inconvenient "feelings." The fifth Promise introduces the idea that the reality of the new man has changed in conjunction with the feelings he might have. The fact is that many AA's were, in fact, useless while they suffered under the debilitating influence of an untreated case of the disease of alcoholism. This deflating conclusion was often inescapable to those of us who dared look at our situation and lurked as an unseen fear among those of us who avoided looking at our situation.

The fifth Promise implies that the "feelings" of uselessness and self-pity will disappear when the "reality" of uselessness and self-pity disappear! Recovery is not solely the product of having different feelings. Instead, it will be the result of having a different essential nature, one founded on having different qualities which come with recovery. The normal course of events, once the old alcoholic reality is replaced with a remarkable new reality, is that the "feelings" one derives from honestly observing himself and his progress will produce different, improved "feelings" about himself, feelings quite removed from those they have replaced.

If recovery from alcoholism did not hold this reassuring fifth Promise, it would imply that the very feelings which reasonably accompanied our previous, failed state would unavoidably continue in our recovered state. Recovery of the style made possible by our AA program leaves that dismal old idea behind in the dust with a good number of other old ideas. (BB p58)

(6.) We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Explain to the new man that the sixth Promise manifests itself in three noticeable manners. First, the possibility of relieving the misery of alcoholic isolation emerges in recovery. Alcoholics isolate because it simplifies alcoholic drinking and other alcoholic behavior. If we characterize this simply as an "interest in selfish things," we might cloud the water a bit, but not too much. It may seem to the alcoholic deep in the morass of his drinking that solitude represents the single social model where his insistence on "control" might actually exist.

Second, as the spiritual malady incites the reckless "survival mode" thinking we are familiar with, self-focus -- even beyond the general bounds of simple selfishness -- in almost every respect seems to become a reasonable outlook. We call it selfishness, but when we define it more closely, this becomes a desperate self-absorption based squarely on the unexamined fear that "if we don't look out for number one, we won't get what we need." Positioned in a world which has already become constantly threatening and fearful, this old approach seemed to make sense.

However, when, as a result of spiritual progress, we move away from this dark outlook into "the sunshine of the spirit," that old view of the world slips away. It is replaced by one with a realistic, workable, spiritual optimism. When we cease the habit of automatically expecting nothing beyond a string of calamities no matter what we might do, we can relax a little, making an increased interest in our fellows a working proposition. Recovery means having a surplus of spiritual strength which allows an existence beyond the old desperate frenzy of "grab and keep."

At this point in step work, the sponsor can ask the new member to describe what might be meant by the phrase "in the sunlight of the spirit." (BB p66) Understanding the impact of resentment or anger as features of the disease which can block "the sunlight" is one thing, but right along with that understanding needs to be an explanation of the positive side. What will it be like when the "sunlight" reaches the alcoholic because he is recovering?

Third, emphasize to the new man that our character changes in recovery. The change can be described as the "emergence of an immense, unexpected decency." We discover that once the alcoholic disease is faced, we were suddenly far more fundamentally decent than we dared imagine! In fact, over time we grow comfortable in the role of being a decent human being. Although the mythological approach to spirituality implies being judged favorably for acts of altruism, even the more rational approach accounts for "less thinking of self and more thinking of others" as a reasonable outcome of simply being profoundly more decent people in recovery.

Of course, based on the nature of our new character, we will want to help others, especially other alcoholics! Whether this must be explained by supernatural beliefs or simply accepted, more realistically, as the product of a radically improved outlook, it remains enduring evidence of a newly revealed decency. In recovery, "... we gain interest in our fellows." Even more important, once we begin to "fit in" more successfully, we find out that we really enjoy their company!

(7.) Self-seeking will slip away.

Among the manifestations of "self" described in Chapter Five (BB p62), self-seeking is often one of the least understood by new members. Trying to understand it while still in the throes of the disease's craziness can be rather challenging, but later, perhaps during the process of making amends, the picture can become much clearer.

At the low point of our alcoholic drinking, many of us imagined that we could read the unspoken thoughts of others. Thanks to our natures as drinking alcoholics, their view of us was seldom encouraging. Worst of all, we usually had to agree with them! With this firmly in place, our desperate survival frenzy launched into high gear. Our alcoholic outlook demanded than we find some way to control what they were thinking about us!

This is where self-seeking entered the picture. We would do almost anything to improve their opinions of us. We were willing to lie about anything, deny our involvement in anything, decry the unfairness of anything while, only a moment later, we exploded with boastful exaggerations of our abilities, desirability or prowess at whatever metric was in play. Naturally, those around us got tired of being constantly manhandled and herded into one artificially induced opinion after another, growing less and less tolerant of our company.

They got tired of listening to us, and we got hurt because they ignored us, or worse, simply became determined to avoid us. Self-seeking usually produces extreme loneliness long before it produces any admiration -- even imaginary admiration. It was a great step forward when its fear driven necessity began to fade away in our recovery.

(8.) Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.

Previous step work has presented plenty of evidence that the business of changing an alcoholic's "outlook on life" has everything to do with his recovery from the spiritual malady imposed by the untreated disease. Likewise, that old pessimistic outlook fostered a terrible attitude in most cases. In the depths of our disease, every slight appeared as an unfair attack. Even the parts of that dismal life which seemed to turn out fairly well were met with suspicion and the expectation of "impending doom."

During the process of the work of Step 9, ask the new member about his sensation of recovery. After all, it is occurring in him! Encourage him to compare the difference in his state of mind between now and before he began his step work.

The only personality trait most of us mastered under such a dark shade was a confusing stoicism. As drinking alcoholics, our usual comment was little more than a brave lie, "Who cares?" That crack might have helped if we had actually believed it. We continued to care even when we said we didn't, and we got more miserable by the minute.

Our recovery from this part of "what ailed us," represents one of the most astonishing facets of AA's program. For the sponsor, however, this amazing progress can also be one which arrives unnoticed among new members! Although clearly a benefit of good step work, the nature of such progress can be very subtle, at least in the beginning. For this reason, a discussion of the eighth Promise represents an excellent opportunity to look at "the big picture."

Make sure that the new man is presented with the challenge of reviewing his own case. Important, serious progress with the "attitude" and "outlook" heralds a sober life which is not only much more positive, but also incredibly more comfortable! It simply feels better! Remember, serenity can actually be perceived as a threat! Good sponsorship is charged with the responsibility of addressing such nonsense.

(9.) Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.

Most fears concerning people seem to have to do with either money or lying. Since the "economic insecurity" is handled in the second half of the ninth Promise, we can assume that lying will be a major player in the first half.

Many of us were extremely busy trying to keep lies we had told -- for all sorts of reasons or no reason at all -- from being found out by other people. Those around us were supposed to have an image of us which had been carefully crafted over time. To make that work, sustaining and supporting "current" lies, became an exhausting and threatening "second job."23

After a while, we retreated into a sickening isolation primarily because we were simply too tired to face all in stories we had told. Sitting alone with a bottle was clearly less frightening than entering into conversations where every falsehood from the past had to be remembered and reinforced. When we were caught in our lies, it was even worse.

Of course we were afraid of people. Too many of them were either already suspicious or seemed to eagerly center conversations on exactly the things which weren't true. When one of them knew something that another must not, the situation grew even worse.

The honesty we all come to value so much in recovery can eliminate all of this, and amends are very often when this begins to happen in earnest. Once this can become a reality for the new man as a result of making amends to all these people, those embarrassing lies can be converted into something useful to share with some new man. (re: the fourth Promise)

Many amends have to do with money in one form or another. Most AA's consider this part of Step 9's amends, along with the ninth Promise, to deal primarily with owing money to others, that is, needing to repay money which was taken by stealing or deception. Those considerations should certainly be handled in Steps 8 and 9, but another side of this should also emerge into the light.

The matter of "economic insecurity" encompasses more than just the creditors. Although it may have been their pressure for repayment which accounts for the "fear" part of the ninth Promise, there is another side which turns the table to bear directly on the recovering alcoholic, and a discussion of the ninth Promise is a great place to place it squarely on the table.

Alcoholics with an untreated case of the disease are famous for being utterly foolish with respect to their personal finances. In many cases, sobriety brings with it a deep case of remorse when the new member is facing rather desperate budget problems while new in his sobriety when he is still filled with thoughts of the incredible amount of his own money he spent so foolishly. Although we like to speak of this as money spent for liquor, a closer look reveals that a great deal of those dollars were spent chasing after some relief from alcoholic insecurity!

The new member may be able to see that spending money in the hope of appearing to be more affluent than he actually was often marked a form of self-seeking. This practice certainly did very little in terms of making sense out on a personal budget! For those drinkers lucky enough to have a job, it was easy to be extravagant right after payday -- especially if everyone were watching.

An end to drinking, when accompanied by other aspects of a "return to sanity," can go a long way toward making sense out of even the slimmest income. Many of us came to realize in the first days of our recovery that we could actually get by on what might have seemed far too little only a few months before. In a certain way, this is the experience that the ninth Promise employs as it offers relief from financial insecurity. After handling these early days successfully, any monetary successes or failures later in sobriety can be beneficially seen in perspective. That old fear eases away.

This may be an important issue to the new man in your sponsorship. Common sense, when compared to the old drinking crazies, offers us great and solid security. Decisions get better. Money goes farther. This is another "point" which can offer the new man encouragement if he falters in his amends making.

(10.) We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

The better decisions of the ninth Promise extend to many areas of the new member's life in sobriety beyond his finances. The tenth Promise speaks to the prospect of not making the same old alcoholic mistakes over and over again.

The "situations which used to baffle us" seemed to occur pretty much all the time. Driven by the fearful outlook of his spiritual malady in action, it didn't take too much to bring out the old, self-crazed alcoholic responses to life conditions which really weren't all that threatening. In addition to a serious case of bad reactions, there was the continuous inclination to over-react, usually in cases which could have been much more successfully handled with a more reasoned, sober honesty.

Although it might seem that this improvement in the new member's abilities at successfully meeting life situations arises from "intuition," those of us with a little more experience suspect that this wonderful change is centered on spiritual progress. When the dark, desperate hopelessness of the disease's spiritually sick outlook and gloomy expectations changes to a much more positive state, "matters which used to baffle us" become much less threatening and less absolute. In recovery, the things we encountered began to have a much broader set of variable, possible outcomes.

An important responsibility of sponsorship with respect to the tenth Promise deals with encouraging the new man to actually anticipate that he will, in fact, begin to do better at handling baffling situations! Of course, emphasizing that his spiritual progress will provide the strength he will need to judiciously pause and consider before responding to such matters is important, but if he still doesn't assume that he has become capable of such better behavior, the "theory" of the tenth Promise will remain just that -- theory.

Like all other aspects of the AA program, the benefit of the tenth Promise only becomes material when it is allowed to manifest in the life of the recovered alcoholic. It sometimes requires a moment of breathless trust and bravery to implement the advances of the tenth Promise, but they will never arrive if we don't begin to count on them being there when they are needed.

Overcoming that nervous reluctance to actually have this new expectation and to try this new approach is part and parcel of what is meant by spiritual progress! (BB p60)

(11.) We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

The eleventh Promise, regardless of whether the new man prefers the mythological foundation or a more realistic one, explains the source of what drives the new member to such an improved and more promising outlook on everything!

Serious sponsorship is charged with the duty of being certain that his sponsee understands that spiritual progress accounts for the wonderful changes he is experiencing. Too often, even when the new member's AA program has advanced as far as Step 9, his understanding of the totality of what has occurred in his life rests solely on the fact that he is not drinking.

Of course, not drinking represents the first, immense step that he has taken in his recovery, but once the drinking is firmly in his past, it is spiritual progress which provides the foundation of his continued recovery. The new member who disregards this fundamental fact is undercutting the strongest -- and perhaps the strangest and least expected -- influence which has made his progress possible.

Most attempts to somehow rectify all the difficulties of alcoholic drinking were centered on very self-absorbed (selfish) approaches. The introduction of the ideas of spiritual work and spiritual progress are mentioned over and over in our basic text, and, sooner or later, AA members begin to see that "spirit" will become the new opposite of "self."24

Frantically working on his "self" usually only made things worse during his drinking. On the other hand, a calm and determined effort to work on his "spirit" has turned out to be the key to real progress in his life situation. Understanding this simple fact can guide the new man's maturing sobriety more than any other single idea presented in the AA program of recovery.

(12.) They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

The AA program, although it repeatedly presents the idea of "one day at a time," also presumes that we should plan for sobriety to endure for a lifetime. There may well be good reason to proceed through step work at the best possible speed given the gravity of the alcoholic situation which prompted such an undertaking in the first place, but how long should we plan to wait for the benefits of recovery?

The twelfth and final Promise has more to do with paying attention than with a time table. Experience shows that the benefits of step work -- in this case Step 9's amends making -- are very much concomitant with the process itself. Advances made as spiritual progress usually occur before the new member fully realizes that they are unfolding in his life as an alcoholic. The crisis of impatience is more often the product of failing to realize the reality of his recovery than not receiving the benefits of the work he has done.

It falls to the sponsor to approach this possible difficulty along two avenues. The first will have to do with the new member's expectations.

The new man had developed the habit of always assuming that his expectations were overly ambitious. During his drinking, this was an almost constant outcome. However, the likely error in his expectations of his recovery is usually that it is framed in ideas of progress and success based on old ideas. The actual facts suggest that, although it isn't likely that his progress in the AA program will produce outcomes particularly similar to those he wanted while he was under the debilitating influence of the untreated disease, the exact nature of the progress he has made in step work and his new sobriety will be incredibly greater!

It may take some time at sober living for him to realize that the tangible parts of his AA recovery cannot, and should not, be measured in the same terms he used while drinking. If the new man confuses this with not receiving those advantages at all, it is a simple case of expecting -- even hoping for -- the wrong things. Sharing his experience of this same period of his own recovery, the sponsor can "redirect" the new man to a refreshingly realistic awareness of results incredibly greater than those "allowed" by a mind still crippled with alcoholic thinking.25

The second avenue which leads to the meaning of the twelfth Promise has to do with paying attention not only to the alcoholism which will permanently remain a part of the new man, but also to his progress toward his recovery from that disease. Although he will never become a "non-alcoholic," the spiritual progress he makes in the AA program offers him the possibility of never falling prey to its destructive influence. Why would any alcoholic in his right mind26 settle for, say, falling prey to the influence of alcoholism only less frequently? The twelfth Promise is a perfect bridge between "paying attention" and being constantly vigilant in Step 10.

Sponsors may be reluctant to "blow the trumpets" about the new man's progress, but they still remain responsible for assuring that he sees his progress. There is nothing boastful or self-seeking about making sure he has a frank, confident awareness of the facts of his case: He is recovering! Through his step work and the spiritual progress which results from it, he is finally walking away from the misery of his past. Further, he must realize that those steps he is taking have "depth and weight!"27


15 “On that basis (self will) we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good.” (BB p60) Thanks to alcoholism's self-delusion, in many cases we only convinced ourselves that our motives were good by looking at those motives through the lens of our spiritual malady and fear.

16 “There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don't worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right them if we could.” (BB p83)

17 “This man recounts that he tumbled out of bed to his knees. In a few seconds he was overwhelmed by a conviction of the Presence of God. It poured over and through him with the certainty and majesty of a great tide at flood. The barriers he had built through the years were swept away. He stood in the Presence of Infinite Power and Love.” (BB p56)

18 Interestingly, neither the Third Step Prayer nor the Promises appear in the content of the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

19 Some new members are not able to read at all (and are very sensitive about this issue), but literacy in the English language, although helpful in sponsorship, is not an absolute prerequisite to surviving the disease of alcoholism. If the new man can't read, he will still be willing to listen. One suggestion mentioned previously in this series is to have other sponsees undertake the task of reading it to him. Everybody wins.

20 "While you were drinking, you were withdrawing from life little by little. Now you are getting back into the social life of the world." (BB p102)

21 Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The alcoholic's past thus becomes the principal asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only one! (BB p124)

22 "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." AA's have said that Twelfth Step work is "the new drug!" It can become a great replacement for the "old drug" in a healthy recovery.

23 "More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world, he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it." (BB p73)

24 "Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will." (BB p63)

25 AA's frequently share in our meetings that had all their wishes for recovery when they first adopted our program been realized that they would have sold themselves terribly short! Regardless of what we wished for, we seemed to get the full measure of what AA offered, and that always turned out to be not only enough, but quite beyond "enough."

26 Remember, "... restore us to sanity?" Step 2 is not done and forgotten!

27 "Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and weight." (BB DO p xxviii)