STEP NINE: Cleaning it up.
I'm Penny, a compulsive eater and food addict and leader for the 2nd Quarter
So my sponsor tells me that I should go down my list of people I need to make
an amend to and pick out the easy ones 'cause I'll make those amends first.
So I figure, "how hard can it be to make an amend to a dead person? This is
going to be one of those letter deals anyway - I'm not going to get any back
talk or any rejection ... hey, my grandma is dead ... how much easier can you
he he he he he
My making an amend to my grandmother nearly ended by amend-making career.
Writing a letter to a woman who (when I was a little kid) I had resented for
living in my house and sleeping in my bedroom, from whom I had taken money
when she wasn't looking (to feed my addiction) was painfully difficult. It
brought up all sorts of emotions that I thought I had neatly tucked away. I
cried for hours - then read my letter to my sponsor - and cried some more.
And then a miracle happened: I woke up the next day, and I was free of the
guilt and shame I had schlepped around for close to 30 years. I had done
something dumb and childish ... and I had held feelings totally appropriate
to a kid who doesn't really understand what's going on in the adult world.
And all that guilt was gone.
As it turns out, the easiest amend - and the one that I still chuckle about -
was to my corner grocery store in my childhood neighborhood. About 20 years
earlier I had stolen very inexpensive (at the time) pastries on my way home
from school. I figured that I had stolen maybe two dozen of them over the
course of a year - at 50 cents a pop it cost maybe $1.50. I recalculated the
cost based on 1987 figures and came up with about $5. During a visit home, I
walked to the store with my husband and found a very sweet young clerk. No,
the manager wasn't there ... no, the owner wasn't there, either. OK. I took a
deep breath and went into my schpiel:
"I am a compulsive eater, and I am in a 12-step recovery group. Part of my
recovery process is to go back to the people I have harmed and make
The guy looked at me like maybe I had a "candid camera" thingie aimed at him.
No, I assured him, I was perfectly on the level. He kept backing up, looking
terrified because he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I kept
"20 years ago I stole abcxyz's from this store. I calculated the cost and
have decided to return the $5 I owe. Can I give this money to you to give to
The guy was panicking. No - he couldn't take the money ... no - he couldn't
put it in his cash register b/c then he'd have to explain where it came from
... no - he had NO idea how to contact the owner.
We were at an impasse.
Then I saw the cannister on the counter that was a box for donations to a
local animal welfare society.
"Tell you what: I'll put the $5 into the collection box."
So I did - and as I did, another huge weight came off the shoulders. I
thought the guy was going to cry with relief. I left the store, knowing that
another chapter in my compulsive eating career was ended.
The point of Step 9 is not to be humiliated. It is to let go - physically,
almost - of all things we did that were influenced by all our character
defects and instincts run amok. It takes our ego down another peg, especially
when we find out that the people that we have thought about all these years -
the people over whom we crossed the street rather than have to look them in
the eye - frequently neither know who we are or, if they remember, have
little to no idea what we are talking about.
Sometimes they *do* remember - and sometimes they are still pretty sore.
While we may feel sad that they feel that way, we remember that they are
entitled to their opinions of us and their feelings about us and our behavior. We're not trying to become their best friends - we are cleaning off our side of the street so that the next time we see them, we can hold our heads up high because we have acknowledged what we did wrong. I had one person that I was SURE didn't remember me tell me outright that I had behaved like a jerk and that she had been completely hurt by my behavior. Wow - talk about truth. She was absolutely right :)
How do we make the amend? Sometimes we call or visit the person. We tell them
why we're on this mission (see above) ... that we will not recovery until we
come to terms with what we did wrong in the past ... that our point is not to
open old wounds or to point out others' wrongs - only our own. We tell them
what we did wrong, we acknowledge our guilt, and we tell them what we are
going to do to both repair the situation (if possible) now and how to prevent
it in the future.
We're told to do it "directly." This means face-to-face where possible, by
phone if face-to-face isn't possible, by letter if neither is possible, and
perhaps with your sponsor if a letter won't work (i.e., the person is dead or
has disappeared). Face to face is best ... it may be the most disconcerting,
but the benefit is enormous.
Some people will not accept our phone call - will call us all sorts of things
- will tell us again that they are furious with what they did. That's ok.
It's not pleasant, but we're becoming grown ups here - dependent on our
Higher Power, *not* on other people. We have been through a moral inventory -
and we've lived to talk about our stuff w/another person. Someone's being
angry at us isn't going to kill us. We know that. We are abstinent, and we
have tools to stay abstinent even in the face of rejection.
What about the part about not injuring "them or others?" We are not permitted
to save our souls at someone else's expense. If opening an old wound in order
to heal it would harm someone, we don't do it. If making an amend would harm
a 3rd party, we don't do it (i.e., an affair). We don't use this kind of
thing as an excuse - we are just really careful not to implicate someone else
in our acknowleding our mistakes.
The result of our actions is usually that people listen and tell us how
delighted they are to hear from us - and that they wish us well. What we
feared would be a humiliating experience is actually freeing. Hurts and
grudges and wounds that have festered for years are seemingly lifted from us.
We leave/hang up with a sense of peace that we have almost never
Oh, and remember that grudge of mine against the teacher? The one that I
nurtured and babied and diapered b/c it felt good to hate her? Well, I found
her - living on the other side of the country. She and I had a nice chat - I
told her what I needed to tell her - and then found out that she was (this
was many years ago) quite ill and would probably never work again. I got off
the phone and felt so sad. Here I had spent all this time and energy on
someone - who was dying - and what a waste of precious (and I mean that
literally and with no sarcasm) time. Another teacher - I really hated this
guy - it was an ego thing - wrote back a lovely note telling me that I was
right - I had been a jerk LOL I laughed for a few days over this one.
By the way, what *is* the amend we're going to make? It might be a decision
to change behavior the next time a similar situation arises. It might be a
decision to donate funds to a charity in honor of the person (anonymously,
maybe). It might be a decision to volunteer for an organization that has
something to do w/the situation we were in. There are a lot of choices.
Whatever you decide to do, just do it. I promise that the benefits will be
Thoughts for journaling/sharing:
1. What do I think about making direct amends?
2. If you have made amends in the past - please share one or two experiences
with the group.
3. If you haven't, is there anything that's keeping you from making amends
4. As you make your amends, please share your experience with the group.
5. Action step: work with your sponsor ... and start making the amends.
Yours in recovery,