STEP NINE ~ INTRODUCTION
"Do the easy ones first," my sponsor said. "That way youíll get some practice before tackling the harder ones."
Part 1: Acknowledging that I did something wrong to someone and figuring out *exactly* what it was and feeling remorse. Notice that Iím not concerned with whatever that other person might have done to *me.* This is none of my business; my focus is on my own behavior, not someone elseís.What does it mean to make *direct* amends (wherever possible)? It means taking a deep breath and going straight to the person we harmed by telephone or in person. The "wherever possible" part is for people we can find. [When weíve got people we harmed who have either disappeared and canít be found (at least not when we want to find them) or have died, we need to do some other things.]
How come *direct*? Because itís harder/more challenging ... because itís the method that frees us up the most ... because we owe that much to the people we harmed.
By the way, you may be wondering, "Whatís with the "suggest" business?" Iím glad you asked. When I first came into OA, I was told that working the steps and using the tools were all "suggested" in the same way that using a parachute to jump out of a plane is "suggested" if you want to land and live to talk about it. ĎNuff said.
Let me talk a little bit about the "unless to do so would injure them or others."
Itís really, really important to remember that working the Steps is about ME. This is both good and bad. The good things about it are that focusing on myself means that I donít worry about other peopleís behaviors or donít "take other peopleís inventories" ... just my own. This was an eye-opener for me. One of my earliest elementary school memories is standing in my kindergarten classroom (I was probably 4 or so), sobbing uncontrollably because a classmate hadnít gotten her coat on and I was terrified that sheíd be left behind. I spent a lifetime worrying this way about other people. You may remember that I also spent a lifetime assuming that people were paying a whole lot of attention to ME because I was clearly a hideous person and therefore the center of their disapproval and disapproving universe.
The flip side is that if Iím focusing on myself, I donít get to distract myself from my self. I canít use other people as an excuse any more. And thereís always the possibility that I may try to save my own skin at someone elseís expense (as in, "Iím so sorry ... I cheated on you ... oh, you didnít know ... oops ... never mind"). I am NOT allowed to save my own soul by hurting someone else ≠ at least not deliberately. Thereís a fine line between (1) taking care of myself (i.e., working the OA steps)/hurting someone else in the process because weíre changing the way our relationship works (or doesnít); and (2) being a totally selfish you-know-what and deliberately going out to hurt someone. Someoneís getting hurt in both cases, but the first isnít deliberate ... change hurts people just as it hurts and reformats relationships.
Back to the topic. When I make my direct amends, I canít do something that would cause someone else grief either directly or indirectly (as in, "Iím cheating on you, *and* let me tell you who I did the Ďnastyí with"). I canít involve anyone else in my Step 9 work (as in, "I stole something, and Louella did it with me" ≠ I really hope that thereís no one named "Louella" in this group J).
OK. Iíve got my 5-part process:
Part 1: Acknowledging that I did something wrong to someone and figuring out *exactly* what it was and feeling remorse. Notice that Iím not concerned with whatever that other person might have done to *me.* This is none of my business; my focus is on my own behavior, not someone elseís.Iíve done parts 1 and 2 ... time for part 3, which is pretty self explanatory; I come up with the opposite (healthier) behavior. Now for part 4. Oh, dear.
Hereís what I did.
"Hello, Louella? This is Penny K. You may not remember me. Oh, you do?
Louella now has a choice. She can be really nasty or hang up on me or ≠ if Iím doing this in person ≠ throw me out or refuse to see me. She can say, "Thank you; I appreciate this." She can be cool and detached. Her response is totally none of my business. I did my work by cleaning of my side of street, so to speak, and Iíll continue to do my work by taking the action of compensating her and not doing the same thing the next time Iím in similar circumstances.
Iíve taken Step 9 on the harm I did to this person. And I feel like a 10-ton weight has been lifted from my shoulders. And the more amends I make, the more 10-ton weights come off my shoulders. I am in the process of being freed from a lifetime of guilt and shame.
What did I do if I had someone on my amend list that I couldnít reach (i.e., someone who had disappeared off the face of the earth or someone who had died)? I talked with my sponsor and wrote a letter to those people, praying to HP that I would have the willingness to do the amend directly if I should ever have the chance. (See "personal Step 9 anecdotes".)
Some personal Step 9 anecdotes ...
Remember what I said at the very beginning: "Do the easy ones first," my sponsor said. "That way youíll get some practice before tackling the harder ones." OK. So I decide that the easiest one will be to a dead person because I donít have to go directly to her. In this case, itís a relative. I write her a letter outlining my Step 9 process. And I fall apart, sob hysterically, and resolve that Iím never doing another amend again. My sponsor says, "Hmmm... you know, dead relatives are never really the easiest ones to do first." Really. Thanks very much. Itís a few weeks before I get up the nerve and the strength to continue.
*** I personally enjoyed this one:
When I was in junior high school (mid-1960sí), periodically on my way home from school I would stop at the corner deli and filch a commercially prepared pastry. I think they cost 5 cents in those days (damn, am I dating myself). Cut to 1988 or so. I figure that I probably stole 20 of these things over the course of time. Letís see ... 20 times 5 cents is a dollar. Hmmm ... thatís not going to do. OK ≠ so they cost 1.50 each now ... OK ... so 20 times $1.50 equals $30. OK ≠ Iím going to go back home to go to the deli to give the store owner (figuring that the place hadnít been sold) $30 after I explain what Iím up to.
My husband comes with me, and I walk down to the deli. I ask the kid behind the counter if I can talk to the owner. Heís not there. Can I talk to the manager? Heís not there, either. Neither will be in that day. I take a deep breath and go into my spiel with this teenager. He is looking VERY uncomfortable, as though he expects a Candid Camera crew to pop out and surprise him. I assure him that Iím deadly serious, and eventually he comes around. But he absolutely cannot take the money because it will screw up his cash register receipts, and he doesnít want to be responsible for making sure that the owner gets in whenever he finally comes in. Weíre at an impasse with me insisting on giving him the cash and him insisting that heís not going to take it. AHA. On the counter thereís a collection box for animal welfare or some such thing. I ask the kid if this is the ownerís favorite charity; he nods. Fine ... I shove the $30 into the box, smile at the kid and leave. Another 10-ton weight comes off my shoulder.
*** I personally did NOT enjoy this one:
Me: [I spent the better part of a month looking for this person and finally found her living clear across the country. You need to know that this was one of the grudges that I nursed, loved, fed, nurtured and lived for and that I completely hated this person for (I thought) screwing me totally ... this is really important].
"Hi, (name). Itís Penny K. You were my (subject) teacher in college. (why Iím doing this, yada yada yada) For the past 15 years I have held a horrid grudge against you ... when the reality is that at the time I behaved arrogantly, immaturely and was unwilling to being open to learning new things and I completely tuned you out and refused to learn anything that you had to teach."
"I do remember you. Please ≠ you were a child then ... donít think anything of it ... Iím so grateful for your call, and I am delighted that you are doing so well personally and professionally. And by the way, I am suffering from a debilitating disease and had to move across the country because I couldnít get around anymore and the doctors donít know if how long Iím going to live. I really, really appreciate your call and I wish you the very best in the future."
I cried for about an hour. I had spent 15 years hating this woman, and the hatred had eaten at my soul. And now she was dying. Yeah, the 10-ton weight came off my shoulders, but it was so damn painful.
Cut to about 5 years afterwards. I meet up with some people I went to college with who had also had this teacher and had hated her equally. The big difference was that they still hated her, and I didnít. They were still gossiping about her, and I honestly didnít want to join them. I felt so sorry for them, and I really wished that they had a 12-step program, too, so that they could get rid of their hatred like I had.
Hereís what I was like before working Step 9: I was a woman terrified of the nightmares I had about the people I had wronged, living in a state of shame and self-loathing, feeling like the world weighed heavily on me, eating and bingeing to stop the pain.
Hereís what I was like afterwards: The shame lifted, the self-loathing started to ease up, the world was no longer a massive weight, and I was no longer eating and bingeing.
On pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book, youíll find the "Promises." The Big Book says they start coming true after we work Step 9, and I want to share them with you, because I found that this was the case (from AA World Services):
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
QUESTIONS ~ STEP NINE
1. What do you think about my 5-part process of atonement? Please share your own atonement process?
2. Why *direct amends*?
3. What are you/were you the most anxious when you think/thought about making direct amends?
4. How will you/did you make amends to people you couldnít contact?
5. How will you/did you handle making amends for things that involved other people (without hurting those people)?
6. Please talk about the fine line between the hurt that you can cause by taking care of yourself (i.e., recovery) and hurt that you cause from selfishness or deliberate behavior.
7. Why do you think the promises appear in the Big Book after Step 9?
8. If youíve worked Step 9, please share your experience with the promises.
9. Think back on the past 9 steps. Are you on solid ground? Are you ready to move on?
10. Would you share some of your Step 9 experiences?
Yours in recovery,
The Twelve Steps
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