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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), 9/15: Talking Prudence While Practicing Evasion


And a beautiful Monday morning it is here on the Eastern side of the United States, hopefully it is equally beautiful where you sit and read right now.  This morning’s meeting was a small-ish one, 11 people total, which is amazing, because I remember a time not too long ago when that number would have been a huge turnout!

Today’s meeting read and discussed Step 9 in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:

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

For those not involved in a 12-step fellowship, the goal of step nine is to make right, as best as you can, the mistakes you made in active addiction.  It’s about owning up, cleaning up, and moving on.

Like many aspects of the 12-step program, there is a wide and varied interpretation of exactly how one goes about “making direct amends,” who exactly are “such people,” when exactly is “whenever possible,” and, the big one, what constitutes an exception that “would injure them or others.”    The answer to personal and specific step 9 issues is typically answered within the context of a sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Certainly, you do not have to be an alcoholic or an addict to be in need of making amends; as I have mentioned on too many occasions, the steps are simply a way to better oneself, doing any or all of them, regardless of your proclivity towards alcohol, is going to lead to self-improvement.  In the case of step 9, it’s simple:  you did wrong, so go ‘fess up, and make it right.  No matter what the outcome, you will feel better for having cleared your conscience.

The biggest stumbling block I hear in meetings, and in fact heard about today, is this:  Yes, I’ve done someone wrong, but that someone has done more wrong to me that I’ve ever done to him or her, so I refuse to make amends.  The answer to this is simple, but not easy.  It may or may not be true, the grievances you are tracking, but they are irrelevant to the spirit of Step 9.  Making amends is about cleaning up your side of the street.  It doesn’t matter what mistakes anyone else has made.  Truthfully, the bottom line is it doesn’t really matter what response you receive.  It simply matters that you are taking responsibility for your bad choices, and you are willing to make those mistakes as right as you can.

Another common misconception regarding step 9 is distinguishing between apologizing and making amends.  As alcoholics/addicts, we have all said “I’m sorry” more times than we can count.  Apologies are meaningless unless you can back them up with something.  Step 9 is an honest attempt to do just that.  We admit our past faults, and we offer to do what we can to make things right.  Of course, making things right can go in a million directions depending upon the wrong that was committed, and as such deciding the when’s, why’s and how’s will depend upon individual circumstances.

Finally, the subject that typically comes up when talking about step 9:  so do you have to sit down with every person you have ever known and make a formal amends with him or her?  The answer to this, obviously, is no, but not so obvious is the selection of people to make the list, and just how specific you need to be when confessing.  Again, individual circumstances will vary, and having a trusted confidant, or sponsor, will help you greatly in sorting out the list.

One nugget of wisdom I took with me today, and will greatly help me as I go forward with the amends process, came from a gentleman with 28 years of sobriety.  He explained that making amends is the process of mending something.  The minute you arrest the bad behavior, you have started the amends process.  Quite simply, if you are stressing out about making amends, as I have numerous times throughout this process:  stop the bad behavior.  If you amends was lying to someone, stop lying.  If it was stealing from someone… you get the picture.  Not a perspective I have considered before, that the regular and honest attempt to incorporate the 12 steps into my daily life is a type of living amends to the people I love.

I would love to hear from any and all of my recovery-minded friends on what step 9 means to them!

Today’s Miracle:

Having the privilege of handing a 30-day coin to a newcomer to the Fellowship.  It’s a great way to start the day, celebrating milestones in recovery!


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 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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