September 4: Step 9

Topic for the week: Step 9

We are all invited to share on Step 9. The steps are our blueprint for living sober lives.

*** Step 9 ***

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

This step is listed in Chapter 5, How it Works, from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous (affectionately known as the Big Book) (see p. 59). There’s much more in Chapter 6 (Into Action), starting in the middle of page 76. There’s even more about it in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Making amends….not something I was familiar with while an active alcoholic! It’s a good thing I went through the Steps starting at Step 1 as I surely couldn’t have done Step 9 if I hadn’t done the other Steps in the order in which they’re written – there’s just no way. I wouldn’t have had an understanding of what it means to make amends, I wouldn’t have known who I needed to make amends to, and I wouldn’t have had the calmness of spirit to understand that making amends to those I’ve hurt is for their benefit and also mine. For me, it’s the step that allows me to begin being of service to others by cleaning my side of the street, trying to mend broken relationships and therefore finally making an attempt to connect with others in a meaningful way (i.e., not just to get something from them), and starting the process of forgiving myself for what I’d done while an active alcoholic.

I don’t know that I consciously made the decision to do this – it may just have been that they were the ones I was in contact with most often – but most of my initial amends were made to family members. It wasn’t easy; I found myself getting choked up due to nerves, wondering how the person I was making amends to would react, if they’d be angry, and so on. But every time after making the amends – every time! – I felt SO much better…truly, it felt like a weight had been lifted from me. In making my amends I tried to remain focused only on myself and my part, which wasn’t easy when it came to my parents. In all honesty I don’t think I did a good job when it came to my mother; she was a single parent for much of my childhood, raising my older sister, brother and me. However, it’s not too late to “update” my amends as she’s still alive and well, and I’ve certainly made a conscious effort to live my amends to her by being a helpful, honest, loving daughter, none of which I was when I was actively drinking.

One of the first amends I made was to a former employer; as an undergraduate I worked part-time in a convenience store. While at work I’d occasionally take a soda or an iced tea, I’d eat a sandwich (I worked in the deli area sometimes) and I’d often take the Sunday newspaper insert that had the comics, TV guide, grocery store coupons, etc. I didn’t pay for any of these things. Because the company is a large one with many locations I didn’t feel that making amends to the manager of my store was appropriate, after all, he didn’t own the store. I discussed it with my sponsor and we came to the decision that I’d write to the office of the company’s president and, along with my written amends, I’d include a check for the estimated amount of money I owed for all the items I stole. I sent the amends and check, and about two or three weeks later I came home from work, listened to my phone messages (this was long ago, in the days before cell phones) and there was a message from the secretary of the company’s president asking me to call her. I thought, shit – they’re going to press charges! I shouldn’t have sent the letter!

Once I’d calmed down and remembered that we make amends in order to stay sober and leave the outcome up to our HP – I have no control over how my amends will be taken. I called the secretary, and with numerous fearful scenarios swirling around in my head, I told her who I was and that I’d received her message. She then told me the most wonderful thing; her boss had read my letter and was overcome with gratitude because his wife had just begun in AA and he was so happy to see what AA might do, could do, for her. The secretary couldn’t thank me enough for sending the letter, and it was I who was saying “You’re welcome.” several times throughout the conversation!  Now granted, not all of my amends have been like that, but this one is such a great reminder to me that I never know how my honesty and willingness to work the program will affect others.

I know this is a long share but I’d like to mention one other amends. I happened to be in Paris a number of years ago and was in a park when I turned around and thought I recognized a man as someone I owed amends to. I wasn’t sure so I hid behind a tree and tried to get a better look at him. I was pretty sure it was him so I started to think about what my amends were as I really hadn’t expected to ever see this guy again – I didn’t even remember his last name even though I’d shared an apt. with him (and another friend) in San Francisco for about six months in the mid-’80s

As I was trying to recall what I’d written on my 4th step, it looked as though he was leaving the park. I started to debate in my head whether or not to go after him…I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have the opportunity to make amends, and while on vacation in Paris! I kept hiding behind the tree and debating until it was clear he was definitely leaving. I thought, Michele, you made a promise to yourself to go to any lengths to stay sober and here is your chance to make amends to Scott – you may never get this chance again! So, I made the split-second decision to go after him and after walking up to him (he was waiting at a bus stop) I excused myself and asked him if his name was Scott; it had been about 20 years since I’d seen him so I wanted to be sure I had the right guy before making my amends. He smiled and said, “No.” I said, “Oh, okay.”, and walked away, laughing at myself for being so nervous when I didn’t even have the right person! I never confirmed this, but I think the guy I spoke to was an English actor as a few months after this incident I saw a program about British spies in France during WWII and one of the male actors looked just like the guy I talked to, and this actor looked a lot like Scott.

For me, making amends for the things I did, or didn’t do and should have, while an active alcoholic has released me from much of the self-hate, guilt, and overall negative feelings about myself I carried around for many, many years. And as I mentioned earlier, it has allowed me to start connecting with others in meaningful ways, ways I’d never been able to before due to my selfishness and dishonesty. Making amends is still somewhat difficult for me, but knowing the benefits of making them is what keeps me willing when the opportunity arises. As for Scott, our paths have yet to cross, but I remain willing 🙂

Thanks for letting me share. Please share on your experience with Step 9.