Debtors Anonymous: Step 8 — Make a list of the people you've harmed

How many people have you harmed over money?

Debt Diaries, Step Eight: Make a list of everyone you’ve wronged

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Eight involves making a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all

That’s it. We come up with a list of people we have harmed. We just make a list. That’s it. We don’t charge out and start apologizing.

Again, hilarious. I moved through these steps with zero grace and willingness. But I did them anyway because, well, I was screwed. (I remember telling someone in the program once, when I was having a fit, “I’m leaving the program!” And she said, “Where are you going to go?” End of conversation.)

PREVIOUS STEP: Ask a higher power to remove your defects

Turns out I had harmed a lot of people with my money behaviour. First, I had to shorten the list of people I had harmed. I am given to melodrama, and my first list of harms was too long. I included a lot of people. Including an assistant at a magazine I had worked at 10 years ago. My sponsor asked me: what did you do to her? And I said that I had thought unkind thoughts about her because she was always late in coming up with cheques for us.

Let me repeat: the harm I had committed was that I thought a bad thought.

I had a very no-nonsense sponsor at the time and she said, no, girlfriend. People you actually harmed. Like, in reality.

OK, so that trimmed the list.

My mom was at the top.

I saw that I had caused my mother pain and anxiety by getting into trouble and then expecting her to bail me out. That was a real harm. So I kept her on the list.

Ruth, the nurse from New Jersey, put her father on the list. The harm? Only going to him to ask him for money. I know this was hard for Ruth because her dad was a jerk in a lot of ways, but again, she was just looking at what harm she had done.

I had strained a friendship with a very old friend by asking her for $500. I put her name on the list.

NEXT STEP: Make a list of the people you’ve harmed

And then there was the list of institutions. God, that was long. I put CRA and Capital One because I lied to them: I would say yes, I can pay this amount and yes, I can pay this by this date. I was dishonest with them.

What about that part about being willing to make amends? And that was this willingness all about? Well, again, what seemed like an impossibility melted away with time. Turns out I didn’t have to be 100 per cent ready to go charging about apologizing. I just had to slowly become willing to make amends for my bad behaviour. The really tough stuff came in Step Nine. We’re not there yet.

What I learned:

  • That even though I felt like I’d had a tough go and the world owed me (a living, a fur coat, store credit at Sephora) I had done a lot of harm when I was whirling around like a financial Hurricane Sandy.
  • That the list of people I had actually harmed (not made up harmed) was not that long
  • That I didn’t have to be totally sold on the idea of apologizing in order to move on to Step Nine. There is never perfect willingness in any of these steps, there is just enough grudging, whiny, petty willingness to move forward.

Tips on what to do: 

  • Just make the list. Don’t worry about the application of the list. Don’t go too far into the future: oh, I can’t put this person’s name down because if I call them they will tell me to go screw myself and I can’t handle that.
  • Check the list with sponsor, program people. If you’re getting all melodramatic (oh, I’ve caused so many harms, I’m so terrible) or the other blind spot: (I haven’t really caused harms, I’m a victim of life’s cruel vicissitudes) then people who are working the program will provide you with a necessary correction.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid the tendency to complicate things. For example; let’s say I took a sweater from a friend and did not return it. No need to complicate things and say well, I didn’t ACTUALLY harm her and it’s OK because Elizabeth is rich and she didn’t mind and she has so many sweaters so the fact that I didn’t return might, in fact, be part of some cosmic redistribution of wealth thing and anyway I look AMAZING in this sweater….NO. NO. Put Elizabeth on the list. Move on.

Jane Dough is a pseudonym. The writer has decided to remain anonymous

Read the full Debt Diaries series:

Step 1: ‘I was trying to fix my pain with spending
Step 2:  ‘My higher power cares about money’
Step 3:  ‘I surrendered my free will to finally control my debt’
Step 4: Stop blaming other people
Step 5: Admit what got you into this mess
Step 6: Why spending money makes you feel special 
Step 7: Ask a higher power to remove your defects
Step 8: Make a list of the people you’ve harmed
Step 9: Make amends to those you’ve hurt
Step 10: My money problems can’t be fixed by reading ‘The Wealthy Barber’
Step 11: How meditating helps me with my debt problem
Step 12: My urge to binge shop won’t go away