Step Nine

"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

The deep healing and profound freedom that accompanied this step made it one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It was sometimes challenging but never impossible; humbling but never humiliating. I made a few amends that simply required a sincere apology while others needed carefully chosen words shared in a letter or financial restitution.

I had lied, stolen, commited adultery, drove drunk, damaged property and been physically abusive. I cheated on exams, went to work drunk, manipulated, ignored and used people. Basically, I was a train wreck.

I made my easiest amends first which built confidence. Many of my amends were made by email but a few had to be made face-to-face. There were amends I was willing to make which proved to be inappropriate. I was willing, but I was advised that my apology would probably cause more harm than good. We don't have the right to clean up our conscience at anyone else's expense! In these cases I wrote letters that never got mailed. The process of writing out my apology, and praying to God about it, was surprisingly effective in dealing with the shame and strengthening my conviction to never repeat the same mistakes.

When I first leaned about this part of the 12 step process I wondered what kinds of amends people were making. We often hear about the sensational and comical stuff but rarely hear the deeply intimate and shameful actions for which amends are made. Let me share some of my own: 
  • I made anonymous donations to institutions from which I had stolen. My sponsor and I agreed that given my personal situation this (anonymity) was the best approach. 
  • I wrote an email to someone I hadn't spoken to in years explaining that something I had told him was a lie. This was a very big, very harmful lie that would have forever damaged a reputation. 
  • I wrote to a teacher admitting that the award I had won at graduation was earned by cheating. 
  • I made amends to my ex-husband for my part in the breakdown of the marriage and gave him money I felt I owed him.
  • I appologied to several ex-boyfriends for everything from manipulation to cheating and physical violence.
  • I wrote, but never mailed, a letter to the woman whose life I forever changed when I chose to pursue her husband which led to the end of their marriage and home together.
Then there was the complicated issue of making amends to my parents. I use the word complicated because most people who did the things I did would have amends to make for their behaviour but I was raised in a dysfunctional, abusive, alcoholic home and my actions/addictions never registered. In fact, if acknowledged at all, they were minimized. Do we owe amends to people who neglected or abused us? I had stolen some small bills, lied, not come home at night, had parties that trashed our home, etc. but nobody seemed to notice. (And that all seemed like small potatoes compared to what was going on between my parents -not to mention their failure to guide and protect me.) Nevertheless I knew I needed to work through the mess for my own benefit, so I started writing. 
  • First, I realized I was still hanging onto a lot of resentment so I wrote two very detailed letters-one for each parent-expressing just how much their actions had affected me. I knew I would never send these letters so I was blunt and painfully honest. 
  • Second, I wrote letters offering forgiveness. I acknowledged their hurt and brokenness-the sad experiences that made them into the addicts and abusers they were-and released them from my anger. I also admitted to the areas in which I was still having difficulty forgiving. 
  • Third, I appologized for my part, however small. I admited my wrongs and said I was sorry.
  • Finally, I wrote down my commitments to each of them. For example, I promised to be healthy enough to set boundaries and speak the truth lovingly rather than protecting their emotions or enabling their addictions.
None of these letters, not even the letters of apology, were given to my parents. These amends were between me and God. Some may disagree with me, but my sponsor and I agreed that it is usually not necessary to make amends to those who have abused or neglected us. My living amends will be putting the commitments I wrote down into action.

When I first started the process of making my amends I didn't know what sort of reactions to expect from people. In the end, a few people didn't respond at all (they are still refusing to acknowledge my existence), but amazingly not one person reacted angrily. Some people told me that my actions were forgiven long ago while others listened tearfully and reciprocated. I've been on the receiving end of a whole lot of grace and it's been a truly beautiful experience.

The last amends I made were to my husband, my children and myself. I set aside an evening to spend with my husband in which we could talk without distraction and work toward reconciliation.
"We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won't fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love. The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it." (The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)
My amends to my children, being as young as they are, took the form of a prayer, journaling and an age-appropriate conversation. Saying I'm sorry is important but actually living differently by not making the same mistakes is how I really make my amends.

I also wanted to make amends to myself and to God. I took some time to write and pray and rest. I humbled myself before Him and acknowledge how much harm I had caused myself and others by turning my back on God and living a self-centered life. After all the grace I had received from others I had to ask myself if I was truly willing to forgive myself for these transgressions. Can I accept God's love and forgiveness? Am I willing to surrender my past? The promises on pages 83-84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous come to mind:  
"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 theword 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 upon life will change. Fear of people and of 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."
These are the spiritual gifts, the fruits, promised to those who have been "painstaking" about this phase in the recovery process. I can testify firsthand that these promises are manifesting in my life. Take heart; there is hope and miracles abound! The heavy weight of many burdens has been removed and I am no longer a slave to my past. I've learned that both my shame and temptations are lessened when I bring my sins out of their hiding places and expose them to the light. Darkness cannot exist where God's light is shining!

  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme by 2008

Back to TOP