Step Nine

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

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 making amends.

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.



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