Debtors Anonymous: Step Nine — Make amends to those you've hurt

Make amends with the people you hurt because of money

Debt Diaries, Step Nine: It’s time to make amends

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Nine involves making direct amends to the people you have wronged, except when to do so would injure them or others

We go to the people we have harmed, we apologize, we do this without expectation of reward (or anything really)… and then we move on to the next person. We do not take action that will harm someone else, even if it might feel delicious to do so.

READ STEP 8: Make a list of the people you’ve harmed

At this point, I had taken a good look at my financial life and, thanks to the steps leading up to this, I had become aware of some of the damage I had caused. Step Nine, I learned, was about clearing out the rubbish of the past so that I could move forward with a little less clutter.

In Step Eight, I had made my list of people harmed. Now it was time to make amends. The idea being that I could slightly lessen the crushing grand piano of guilt and shame I felt about all my monetary tomfoolery.

However, this step was tricky for me because so many of the names on my list were of financial institutions… and the bankruptcy had erased my debts to them. The people on the list, well, many of those people I owed money to. Seeing as I was trying to support myself and live in an expensive city and continue paying back the debt that had not been erased by the bankruptcy … that left almost nil to pay them back.

READ STEP 10: My money problems can’t be fixed by reading ‘The Wealthy Barber’

For one relative, I had to write a kind of embarrassing letter telling them that I wanted to pay them back in full, but that I couldn’t do it presently, and that I would have to make small payments, and that I would pay it off eventually… and when I cringed and couldn’t send the letter, I had to make a round of calls and be reminded that humility is not humiliation.

What I learned:

  • Keep it simple. Avoid the tendency to complicate things: for example. No need to complicate thing and say well, 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 it is not good. In fact, it might be part of some cosmic redistribution of wealth thing and anyway I look amazing in this sweater. No, no, no. Person harmed: Harm done: sweater stolen. Amends: apologize and return sweater. There’s a reason Keep It Simple is a slogan of this program
  • I was not allowed to shout at someone for not receiving an amends gracefully; nor was I allowed to hurt people with my amends; when I came up with the amends: “I would like to call so and so and apologize to her for calling her a cow and also apologize for trash talking to anyone and everyone who would listen” I was told that actually, that would harm so and so and as such I was not allowed to proceed with this amends. Boo.

Tips on what to do:

  • Start small. My friend Alex started easy: she wrote letters to previous employers, edited the letters, read them to her sponsor, and then rewrote them, and finally, sent them. She sent one letter to an employer apologizing for always being late. “I did not expect to hear back, but they sent me a card back thanking me for my note.”
  • Call everyone you owe money to (unless they may sue you, in which case, call a lawyer first) and tell them you are cleaning up your financial act, that you intend to pay them back. Then set a date to call them back. Then call them back on the date you have planned to call them back. Keeping your word will make you, and them, feel good.

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