This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Five: CONFESS TO THOSE AFFECTED for harm done and seek to make amends.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

In the 12 Steps of AA step 8 asks you to, “Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all,” and step 9 asks you to, “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” These tasks are combined in step 5 of this study.

The earlier sections of this step covered how to take ownership of your sin, the need to see how your addiction affected others, and how to have a confessional conversation without blame-shifting, minimizing, or falling into self-pity. Now we will look at the final part of this step – seeking to restore what we can of what our sin destroyed.

Remember, making amends is meant to be restorative not cathartic; you are not trying to get something off of you (relief) but to make something more whole for others (repair). This is the reason for the exception in AA’s step 9. If you have doubt about whether your confession would be more harmful than helpful, then seek the guidance of a pastor, sponsor, or counselor.

Making amends can be one of the more vulnerable steps in addiction recovery. Here's guidance. Click To Tweet

Making amends can include efforts to do any of the following:

  • Direct Amends – for those offenses that are tangible and measurable.
    • Example: Paying back money that you stole.
    • Example: Repairing property damage resulting from your addiction.
  • Narrative Amends – for those offenses which result in damage in the form of mistrust or confusion.
    • Example: Explaining and making right expressions of past slander.
    • Example: Clarify that damage to the relationship was because of your deceit or addiction – removing false guilt.
  • Living Amends – for those offenses that can only be relieved over time through a commitment to healthy relating.
    • Example: Committing to authenticity with a friend or family member you closed out during your addiction.
    • Example: Committing to a process of handling anger differently to someone you regularly lashed out at.
  • Symbolic Amends – for those offenses that are highly inaccessible, but result in significant emotional disruption.
    • Example: If you killed a child in a drinking-driving accident, then finding a way to serve parents in your church or community who have lost children.
    • Example: If your parents died before you began to pursue sobriety, perhaps you would write a letter to read to several of their close friends or to leave at their graveside.

This step can be one of the more emotionally painful steps to take. Looking into the eyes of those you’ve hurt and hearing their experience (even hearing their forgiveness) can be very emotionally straining. That is why it is important to have a mentor, sponsor, pastor, or counselor guide you in this step.

Be patient with the process. When something is painful, our tendency is usually to either quit or speed through it. But both of these are addictive responses to an unpleasant event (even if substances are not involved). One of your goals in this step is to engage recovery with sober-mindedness (that is, with the mentality and life habits of someone not given to addiction).

As we conclude the instructional part of this step and you begin enacting it, it is good to remember the purpose of step five. We are prone to view this step as penance – a form of punishing ourselves for being bad, so we’ll be less likely to be bad again in the future. This is not the purpose of confessing and making amends.

We confess and make amends to terminate the lifestyle of living as if nothing happened and imposing that lifestyle on those who love us. We acknowledge past sin and seek to mend its impact so that we, and those around us, can live cohesive lives instead of lives segmented by a collection of “off limits” subjects and false assumptions.

This is the step when you realize that John 8:32 is not an individualized truth. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” when you are not in control of the “truth” everyone has access to, but when you allow yourself and those around you to live freely without secrets, guilt, or shame.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.