12 Step Recovery: Right Relationship

  1. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  2. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jas 2:17). Up to this point, except for “to another human being” (often one’s trusted sponsor) in the Fifth Step, this journey of emotional sobriety has been internal, in one’s head, heart and gut. You have to start there to act authentically, but you cannot stop there. Inner experience has to be fully realized (made real) by outer experience.


What counts as outer experience? We meet the world in every breath, ray of light and grain of sand, but we encounter the world most fully through fellow human beings. Before emotional sobriety, our relationships were smeared with manipulations. How can I get you to do what I want in order to fit my program for happiness? In recovery, we regard and relate to others in their full dignity. The philosopher Martin Buber calls this form of address “Thou” as opposed to “It.” Two people who say “Thou” (a respectful “you” present in other languages but not English) are in right relationship.

The suffering addict is in wrong relationship with a great many people. The “praxis” (practice, action) of our new way of being starts with these folks, usually our family, friends and co-workers. We have to go to each one of them and admit that we were wrong, that we caused harm and that we want to make whatever possible amends that can reset us into right relationship. These encounters make sobriety real and interpersonal, not just personal and private.

Of course, there are often no amends that can revert all of the harm, or certain types of harm. The point of the Eight/Ninth Steps is not to pay off debts, though that could be part of it. These steps continue the necessary humiliation of the ego that has been taking place since the First Step. Put more crudely, you are practicing not being full of yourself – again, not to make you good (you were always good), but because you no longer need to prove your goodness. Your dignity and worthiness are guaranteed by your Higher Power, so you can afford to take as much blame as is necessary, even a tad more.