Dear Fellow Travelers,
Step Nine Essay
Writing very much on an action step might seem at first to be difficult.
In this case, however, what I want to do is two things, and they may take a
bit of space.
The first thing is that it is really best to be able to make amends to
everybody we owe one to. Failure to do so simply leaves us carrying the
baggage on and on. We suffer from either guilt or being in a state of
denial, or something like these things. We need to note that the step tells
us to make "direct" amends to such people. That means going to them, if at
all possible, and talking to them face to face. An amends may include
offering sincerely to make some kind of restitution beyond just saying we're
sorry. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. The load we have been
carrying, often for many years, from all our compulsions, resentments, denial
of reality, and so on, has become a real part of our disease itself. Until
we can shed these things we can ultimately shed no pounds! This is the point
at which we unload the baggage car.
Do you remember the story of Marley's ghost in Charles Dickens' A
Christmas Carol? Poor Marley was consigned to wear his defects each as a
heavy link of chain, wrapped around and around his body. A part of the
insinuated message to his partner, Scrooge, was that Scrooge could lighten
his own fearful burden in the here and now by doing what, in effect, was
Now, how someone responds is up to them. They may not be able to forgive
and forget, and they may be somewhat justified in their feelings. We may
have done some awful things to them. How they respond is up to them,
however, and their own conscience. We have to make the offer. Surprisingly,
more people than not are indeed willing to forgive.
Having said all these things, there are some special situations that may
occur. Let's go over these, as our second part.
First, there may be people to whom we cannot make direct amends. We may
not know where they are now. They may even be dead. And there may be some
who will not receive us anymore for any purpose, even to offer amends. And
then there are the circumstances in which harm may occur.
In the first instance, there are still some things we can do. To begin
with, we could write out what we wanted to say to the person, and put that in
some kind of sacred place. Some people create such a place where they can
put things of this sort, and other things besides. A friend of mine keeps a
"God box." This is a coffee can with a little slot cut in the plastic lid.
He puts not only amends of this sort, but even daily concerns that seem to be
hung up somewhere. When the can gets full, he opens the lid, and takes all
his little scraps and note papers out and reads them over. He finds that
most issues will have been resolved in his mind, and the notes on these he
destroys. The ones that remain operative, usually the most recent ones, he
leaves in the can for the next time. His prayer is simply that God would do
what was needed to be done, coupled with a trust that God will. What is
beyond his powers has to be turned over. I have been known to offer some
letters by spreading them out openly before my HP, and then burning them. I
am sure that others of us have found satisfactory ways to deal with this.
Perhaps this is something to share with the group.
The other thing is the issue of harm. This can be a bit tricky, and if
there are questions about anything, be sure to speak to someone you feel you
can trust for advice. This might be your sponsor, therapist, clergy, a
friend, or whomever. Some things are very obvious. I would be a fool to go
to my friend Joe and say, "Joe, I'm very sorry, but I slept with your wife."
I would be an equal fool if I went to my wife and say, "Dear, I'm sorry, but
I slept with Joe's wife." It may not even be possible to go to Joe's wife
and say anything. It is not my place in doing amends to destroy Joe's
marriage or my own. In the long run, my guilt may be offered up, in a letter
to God, in therapy, or even in confession, if one's beliefs run to that --
actually, it's a pretty good thing! There are other things, too. If I
confess my part in some nefarious activity which also involved someone else,
I may get them in difficulties that they don't want to be in. I need to be
very cautious in such circumstances. I have to face my music, but I don't
really have the right to drag others into the picture if they are unwilling.
How this is done might need to be discussed with someone we trust in advance.
Finally, remember the "Act of Contrition" by John Buchanan that I posted
last week as a supplement. So many of you wrote to me about it, and were
moved by it. We owe ourselves a great big amends. We have suffered so many
things at our own hands. We are full of self inflicted wounds. We have to
come to love ourselves, too.