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M(3), 9/21/15: Amends is More Than an Apology

It is the third Monday of the month, and fall is just around the corner.  Hard to believe we’re into the school year already!  The third Monday is where we discuss the various steps in my 12-step program; since it is September, the ninth month, we discuss Step Nine:

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

This is, without a doubt, the Monday to which I look forward the least, as step 9 is the step to which I personally have the most conflict.  I’m sure if I went back through the archives of this blog I would find multiple posts that discuss in detail my conflict in executing this step; I won’t bore the world again.

In fact, the only thing that may have changed between last year and this year is a general sense of patience with regard to this step.  Sooner or later, this turmoil will resolve itself, and I will be ready to proceed.  It’s happened with many other crossroads in my life, and I have absolute faith it will happen with this one.

So that’s my personal journey with step 9, and when the time comes for me to proceed, you better believe I will be writing about it!

Of course, wiser people than myself attend this meeting, and they had more profound things than I to share:

First, a regular attendee who just celebrated his 29th year of sobriety, spoke of his conflict regarding step 9.  Due to the nature of his profession, he interacts with dozens of people daily, which would make an amends list an overwhelmingly lengthy one.  His sponsor at the time tugged on his sleeve and said, “Why don’t you start the amends process simply, and stop the behavior that caused you the need to make an amends?”   When we are all twisted up on the how’s and why’s of an amends, it is critical to remember this is the most important aspect.

The woman who last year told me to pray for the willingness was back, and her advice was as spot on as it always is.  She referenced the chapter we read this morning where it talks about the importance of sound judgment, and good timing playing a role in the amends process.  She said whenever fear is involved, both of those things fly out the window, which is why it is critical to enlist the support of a sponsor or a spiritual advisor when tackling this step.  Rushing into an amends often does more harm than good, so planning and practicing with someone who knows your history will produce the best results.

A friend who is back to the meeting after many weeks absence said it took her years of sobriety before she was ready to attend to this step.  Her best advice is to get right with yourself before you attempt to get right with anyone else.

Another gentleman said the roadblock he encountered in completing this step was the incredulity of the people to whom he was making amends.  Turns out, most people in his life didn’t think he was that bad!  He overcame this obstacle by reminding himself, and those to whom he was making amends, that doing so is important to his sobriety.  It doesn’t matter whether or not someone else thinks you need to make amends; it only matters that you think so.

A woman who is not as far along as step 9 told a cautionary tale about rushing this step.  She was speaking with a loved one, who was asking about a time in her active addiction.  She decided she may as well just forge ahead and start the amends process with the full and unvarnished truth.  This candor turned out to be a mistake, and she regretted being as forthcoming as she was.  She failed to consider the second part of the step, and inadvertently “injured” her loved one.  She learned the valuable lesson of running things by her sponsor rather than making an impulsive decision.

Another regular attendee spoke of harm he had caused in his college days.  He said the house-mother of his fraternity stands out as someone to whom he wishes he could make amends.  He guesses he is currently around the age she was at the time, and it causes him shame to think of how his drinking antics affected her.  She is, sadly, deceased, but he had been advised to write a letter to the woman to tell her what he would say if he was able.  Great advice for any of us who feel we owe an amends to people who have passed away.

I said to the group that this is the meeting I dread the most going in, but leave with the most going out!

Today’s Miracle:

Feeling decidedly under the weather today, so I suppose the miracle is composing this post and hitting publish!

M(3), 8/31/15: Searching for the Willingness

For the record, I am sitting and typing this blog with the quiet hum of an air conditioner as my only background noise.  I actually forgot the air conditioner made a noise, since it’s been drowned out by endless re-runs of Malcolm in the Middle and various Xbox games.  Oh and the occasional sibling argument!  Back to school = Golden Silence.

Today’s meeting centered around Step 8 in the 12 steps of recovery:

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I had a few people groan aloud when they realized we would be reading and discussing step 8… August, the eighth month in the year, is a popular time to discuss this step, and it is the last day of the month.  Therefore, regular meeting attendees have had their fill of this topic.

Note to self:  it might be time to switch up my literature rotation.

Despite the moans and groans, the meeting was an interesting one, in that the conversational focus was on a different part of the step than usual.  Typically a Step 8 meeting focuses on the question, “Who exactly should make the list?”  This conversation then winds around to what exactly do we mean we say “Harm?”  And then, inevitably, the shares will turn into stories of the following step, which is the actual making of amends.

Today, however, the focus was on the second part of the step, the part where we actually become willing to make the amends.  Because you can know you’ve harmed a person, but you can also not want to right that wrong for a whole bunch of reasons.  Some people think, “why bother?  that person is out of my life?”  Some are unwilling due to pride or ego:  “No way am I making amends after all that person’s done to me!”  The list of why not’s could go on for awhile.

But it’s important to realize, for those deciding to use the 12-step program to recover:  you are not ready to tackle the often challenging step 9 of making amends until you have finished the entire of step 8.

And how best to become willing?  Pray for the willingness, meditate, whatever you do to calm and center yourself, do so specifically around this issue.

A second theme of today’s discussion:  why it’s important to do such a thing in the first place.  Who the heck wants to sit around and think about all the people you’ve ever hurt in your life?  Knowing all the while that the list is then going to turn into an even worse job… going around and making amends to these people?

The why is simple:  to untangle the relationships that you’ve complicated with your addiction.  Even in the case of the person not realizing it, the point is if they’re making your list then you realize it.  Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule of making amends, and those exceptions are covered in the following step, but overall the reason to create a list is to clean up your side of the street.  It has more to do with you than it does with the person harmed.

The last point of discussion was another interesting one:  there is something to do while you’re waiting to become willing to make amends.  And it’s a simple one, and in most cases goes a long way towards the amends process:

Stop doing the behavior

If your habit was to drink too much and then… fill in the blank:  stay out too late, drunk dial/text, pick fights, become a crying drunk, fail to tuck in your kids, ad infinitum.  Stop doing it!  Come home on time, call and text positively, be there for your friends and family, spend extra time with your kids.

By the time you are actually ready to tackle the amends process with the list you’ve made, I would bet the vast majority will say that your amends will be to keep doing what you’ve been doing since you got sober.

There will be more to discuss on the topic of amends in a couple of weeks when we read step 9.  Until then, any 12-step readers with insights to share on step 8, I’d love to hear it!

Today’s Miracle:

I am proud to say that I’ve written an article for the website addiction.com.  Check it out if you are interested in a little more of my backstory than I usually write about here!

To Amend or Not to Amend, That is the Question

Quick Monday Meeting Recap:

Of course I am biased, but today was a spectacular meeting!  We had 11 people, which is a fine number of attendees:  everyone gets to share, but no one feels pressured to speak.  We had a perfect blend of sobriety (again, I am biased!)… one person had 12 days, one person had 25 years, and lots of time in between.  I like having the mix because it provides such a broad spectrum in terms of perspective.

Today was a Step 8 meeting (made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all).  If you are unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery and are interested in a little more background with regard to Step 8, I wrote a post about it earlier this year, check it out!

In my experience, the main topic of conversation at a Step 8 meeting is how detailed one needs to be in terms of making the list of people one has harmed.  Do you need to make amends to the playground buddy you pushed off the swing when you were six years old?

The sub-topic is just how detailed one needs to be while actually making an amends with respect to past misdeeds.  Usually a lively discussion follows, because there are people who will take the amends process to great lengths, while there are others who believe strongly that the intent of steps 8 and 9 (step 9 is actually making the amends) is to clean up your side of the street, but not at the expense of another’s peace of mind.

And then there are the murkier ethical dilemmas, such as:  what if your mistake has legal implications, but many years have gone by?  Do you risk legal consequences in order clear your conscience?  There are diverse opinions on all of these subjects, which is why step 8 is a fascinating topic to explore.

At less than two years of sobriety, all I know for sure is that I have a lot to learn about sobriety, so I don’t feel like I need to rush the amends process.  A friend of mine who happened to attend today’s meeting, a woman with nine years of sobriety, says the longer she stays sober the more she understands all the amends she needs to make.  That makes sense to me, and so I have faith that when the time is right, I will know it, and I will have the serenity, courage and wisdom with which to make amends.

As always, I welcome feedback from my friends in recovery… what are your thoughts on the amends process?

Today’s Miracle:

I have stayed true to the individuals to whom I’ve made amends in the last 18 months, and I have not had to add to my list since becoming sober!

The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Nine

Step Nine:  Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

There is a lot of debate among members of the 12-step fellowship about which step is the hardest to complete.  If I was the deciding vote, it would be step nine.  Full disclosure:  I am not even halfway through this step yet, I am procrastinating for all sorts of reasons.  Here is what I can tell you about this step:  it does give a real sense of freedom.  For me, when I have completely and thoroughly made amends to someone, I felt like I could, once and for all, stop hanging my head in shame regarding my addiction.

So, let’s break it down:  what does it mean to make direct amends?  Here is how I was taught to complete a step 9 amends:  first and foremost, it should be a face-to-face encounter (the “direct” part).  Next, it is very important to explain what you are doing to the person with whom you are making amends.  After explaining the process, you should dive right in, and list out the harms you have caused, being as direct as possible.  It is critical when doing this process to focus only on the harms you have done… this process is about cleaning up your side of the street, not pointing out the failings of others.  After you have listed out the things for which you wish to make amends, tell them the regret you feel, and ask what you can do to make things right.  At this point the dialogue can vary, depending upon the response you receive.  Finally, ask if there is anything you left out that is still hurting the person, something you may have forgotten, or not realized you have done.

The difference between step nine and an apology is the part about making things right.  As alcoholics/addicts, we have all apologized too many times to count.  An apology is regret for a past action; an amends is a commitment to rectify the past action to the best of your ability, as well as an honest effort not to repeat the mistake.

So why, if it’s so liberating, have I not completed it yet?  Because, and here’s the bottom line:  it’s damn hard!  It’s hard to sit down and write out for each individual everything you need to make amends, it’s hard to muster up the courage to approach the person, it’s hard to explain to someone not in recovery why you must dredge up the past, and it is really, really hard to look someone in the eye and admit your past mistakes.

Another stumbling block for me personally is the second half of step nine:  except when to do so would injure them or others.  This portion has stopped me in my tracks with many of my amends.  Dredging up the past in order to “clean up my side of the street” sometimes feels as though I am doing it at the expense of causing those closest to me pain, which seems contradictory to the process.  How I have handled this conflict so far is: when it doubt, hold off on the process.  I believe when the time is right, I will know it.

Everyday life can prove equally as challenging in the application of this step, but the payoff is just as rewarding.  You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have life-long resentments, hurt and anger you hold on to way longer than is necessary, and ultimately hurts you more than it hurts anyone else.  Making amends, doing what you can to right your wrongs, has a way of releasing that negative energy from your life.  Step 9 is not something that you can just pluck out of order, do and expect instant results… you need to do the prior steps in order to have the right perspective to make a proper amends.  But if there is something in your life… a relationship, a past incident, anything, that just keeps resurfacing, then in all likelihood it is something you need to examine, and find your responsibility in it.  If you can do that, and clear up your part in it, then you are the best possible position to let that pain go, and what better payoff is that?

I can tell you this, even with the limited number of amends I have completed… when I finished each one, I felt freedom unlike anything I have felt before.

Today’s Miracle:

In honor of my friend Christy, today’s miracle is five badass days in a row of exercise!!!

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Argument Mediation Number 243 of Thanksgiving Break:

12-year old sister (with malice aforethought):  “Mommy, Danny just said something he shouldn’t have said.”

10-year old brother:  “Mommy, I have no idea what she’s talking about.”

Me:  “So, Reilly, after all the times we have talked about tattling, you are choosing, again, to volunteer information to get your brother in trouble?”

Verbatim will take this post into the 1,000+ word category, so let’s fast forward.  Reilly tattles, the incident is small, but extremely typical of Danny.  Danny flat-out denies, and a heated argument ensues.  I ask Danny to admit what he did, he repeatedly denies his wrongdoing, and now I get involved.

Me:  “So, Danny, you are saying that even though the incident sounds exactly like something you would do, and even though Reilly has never been known to lie, and you have been known to be less than honest, you are still claiming that you did not do it?

Danny:  “Yes!”

Me:  So someone is blatantly lying, and must be punished.  If you are telling the truth, then Reilly has just made up an outrageous lie for no reason other than to get you in trouble, and she will be punished severely.  Are you okay with this?”

Danny:  “Yes, I am okay with this.”

At this point we are getting out of the car and into our home.  I hand out various punishments, and start to send them to their rooms.  Danny lingers, and I seize the opportunity.

Me:  “Danny, here is the issue.  Everything about this story leads me to believe you are lying, and, if this is true, then you have turned an extremely minor incident into an extremely major one by not simply admitting what you did.  I am going to give you one more chance to tell me the truth.”

Long, long pause… then Danny:  “Alright, I did it.”

This leads to a discussion about how lies exacerbate whatever problem you are trying to solve, and how the fallout of lying is broken trust.  He becomes extremely agitated at this point, and is crying as he yells, “well, since you are never going to trust me again, why even bother trying?”

Here is the turning point of the conversation for me, the pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel.  Sadly, I have been exactly where Danny is right now, feeling the frustration and desperation he feels, and I am quite a few years older, and should know a hell of a lot better.  So I say to him, “There are two ways to deal with this situation, and it is your choice.  You can be angry and feel like a victim, believing no one will ever trust you again, and you can continue to kick and scream.  You have taken that road before, and you know where it leads.  Or you can try another path.  Admit you did wrong, accept the consequences, and do your best not to repeat the mistake.  It’s the only way to build back the trust.”

I can now process this incident in one of two ways.  I can feel immense guilt that my past mistakes have somehow taught Danny by example how to lie to get out of uncomfortable situations, and I can beat myself up for being the worst Mom in the history of the world.  Or… I can use my past as a tool.  First, I have an empathy for Danny, because I have been there and done that.  And since I am actively working on correcting my past, I am in a position to teach him how to do the same.

I guess time will tell…

The Step 9 Wrap-Up

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
Paul Boose 

Last night I completed steps 10 and 11, which means only one more to go, and I will have officially completed the 12 steps of recovery!  And yes, my friends in the fellowship, I do know that means I have not graduated.  I think of it more like Weight Watchers… 10 and 11 are the maintenance program, and with step 12 I am a lifetime member.  As someone who, in the past, joined Weight Watchers more times than I could ever count, it feels like a HUGE accomplishment to be in the maintenance program of anything (I was insanely jealous of those people who had the special colored weigh-in cards and did not have to pay their weekly fee!)!

I must add, for the record, that step 9, making amends, is a process, and I have continued my step work even though I am not through making my amends.  Depending on individual circumstances, making amends can take years, and it would not be efficient to stop step work until you are completely through step 9.

I was required to complete 2 amends before advancing to Step 10.  My original thought was saving my husband for last, but when I realized how long the process could take, I decided to “do” him first (sort of like movie credits, the most important actor is listed either first or at the end with an “and” in front of the name).  As long as I was getting important ones done, I asked my Mom if I could also make my amends with her.

Here is what I think about Step 9, now that I have officially done some work on it:  it is painful!.  The worst part of the whole thing is the preparation for it, because I am once again reliving the horrific mistakes of the past.  Second worst is the wait time between preparing for and actually sitting down to do the amends.  Because I live with my husband, and because I have procrastination in my blood, I put this off as long as I possibly could (seriously, I did both amends the same day I was scheduled to meet with my sponsor for Step 10!).  During those few days, any of which I could have sat down and done it, I did not sleep well, had a hard time making eye contact, and was generally pretty crabby.

The actual process itself is not quite as painful as the prep work, but by no means is it a party.  Luckily for me, with both amends I completed, I was dropping no bomb shells, and I had a pretty good feeling that both amends would be accepted.  There was some painful feedback, but it would have been weird if there wasn’t, and by the end of both I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction that it was DONE!

My greatest fear in making amends, particularly with my husband, was that I would re-open some pretty fresh scars, and that by doing what I needed to do for my recovery, I would in fact be hurting him.  Thankfully, this did not seem to be the case, and with both amends I was able to spend “normal” time afterwards, and it really was normal.  Such a blessing!

This post is going too long, I was really going to write about Steps 10 and 11, I guess I will save that for tomorrow!

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