this is Isabella, compulsive overeater and food addict, and gratefully abstinent today, thanks to the grace of Higher Power and this fellowship.
Let's do the next step in this beautiful dance of recovery, shall we? (Ever heard of "GUIDANCE"? God, U and I Dance.)
"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
OA 12x12 says, "the purpose of step nine is to clear away guilt and ill will so that we may establish better relationships with people whom our lives have touched. (page 76).
In many ways, steps 8 and 9 are the same as steps 4 and 5. Steps 4 and 8 are the "to do list", steps 5 and 9 are where we carry it out into the world. That's why they are "direct" amends. There's nothing theoretical about them.
And we do it because we need good relationships. Of course, everyone in this world needs them. But for us addicts, there is something about relationships that frightens the living daylights out of us, it literally "drives us to drink" (or whatever the addiction of choice is for many of us it's eating, for some of us it's not eating, and for many of us it's more than one addiction. One of my other weak points, for example, is spending way too much time on the computer.)
Having a disagreement with one of my children used to be a direct path to the bread box for me. I had no idea how to handle that crazy emotional mix of anger, helplessness, alienation and sadness that would invariably hit me after yet another bout with my pre-teen. A few nice fat slices of bread with butter and jam would put a good lid on it.
Now, instead of trying to glue this all shut with strawberry jam, I am given the gift of dealing with this DIRECTLY. Fortunately, my relationship with this particular offspring is very good nowadays but of course I still have challenges in other areas.
In such instances, I can start with step 3. Take a deep breath and remember that I don't have to immediately race off and DO something. I can hand it over to my Higher Power. That kind of impulsivity is one of my weaknesses. Ooops, there we go that's steps 4 and 5. Then I can practice humility (step 7) and forgiveness (step 8). I have yet to encounter a problem that involves me and another person where I don't own at least some of the problem. I can now go, and WITHOUT GROVELING, admit my part of the problem and make amends (step 9). And then back to step 3 let it go.
Sounds simple, doesn't it?
And as they say it's simple but that doesn't mean it's easy.
"Before starting out to make amends, we must let go of any expectations we may have of how the other people will receive us." (page 76)
That was one of the more difficult things for me to deal with. On the surface, letting go of expectations is easy. But below the surface ...
Take my ex husband, for example. He was a difficult man and brought much sorrow into our family. But in the eleven years that we were together, I wasn't an angel either. And even now, almost twenty years later, I immediately think, "but he called me a bitch, when I tried to so hard to be nice!"
OK, Isabella, let's sort this out. (I like the image of drawing a comb through wet hair for this maybe that image makes sense to you, too). Let's take a piece of paper and write down, "Ex" in one column and "Me" in the other. Then list all the stuff that he's done to me in his column, and all the stuff that I've done to him in the other.
Oh darn, now I have to walk the talk again! This is scary. How's this I think I can do this for 10 minutes. Ok, folks, back in 10 minutes.
- - - - -
I'm back. Boy, this was hard, and I have to confess, I did it for less than ten minutes. But I came up with something, for example, "was arrogant, was sarcastic, didn't appreciate enough when he was ‘Mr. Mom'."
Now at the end of the first column I've written, "Forgive". At the end of the second one, "make amends."
These are two columns like two strands of hair. Yes, all the horrible stuff that he did, it happened. While I've done all the major work of forgiving him, there is still something left, still a few tangles in that strand. So I need to work on that.
And then there are the amends. Last year, I finally wrote him a letter, one that was never intended to be sent. That was very cathartic. But right now I still think I need to let him know that I am sorry for my part. I need to do that for myself, so that I know I have done whatever I can to set this relationship right. And I need to find a way of doing this without worrying about his reaction. ("Now he'll think that I think that he was right after all!" or "He'll probably think that I want to be his best buddy now!" or "He'll probably take that as meaning that I approved of his behaviour." etc., etc.)
Yes, I need to ask my Higher Power to release me of the bondage of the results of my amends.
In this case, it looks like what is needed is yet another letter. What to write in it?
"Certainly we should avoid mention of things they may have done to provoke us ... Having forgiven these people in step eight, we now stick to a simply worded statement of the things we did to cause them harm, and we express our sincere regrets." (p. 77) How about this? "Dear ex, I want to tell you that I am aware that in our years of marriage, there were times when I treated you with arrogance and sarcasm. I know that hurt you, and I am sorry for that. I have also come to realize how little I sometimes appreciated all the work you put into raising the kids and looking after the house when I was off at work. I want to thank you for all that work. That has not and will never be forgotten. I am sorry that I was not able to sufficiently thank you at the time."
Page 79 says, "Appropriateness should be our guide each time we make amends."
In my case, what I need to do after writing the letter is to discuss with my Higher Power and my sponsor what the appropriate course of action is do I actually send the letter? Are there any unhealthy consequences to my family or my children if I do that? Etc. It is SO important to not rush into difficult amends. Getting ready for them certainly. But rushing into them can create problems. I once made an amends to someone who was a) clearly not ready to hear them and where b) at least half of my amends actually constituted me unburdening myself onto them. I still feel uncomfortable about that time (time to let that go, huh?)
So get ready, but don't rush. Be appropriate.
On the other hand, appropriateness also means that there are some amends that are very easy to make. They are often the ones that are either simply the result of procrastination or the ones that at some level you've been ready to make for a long time. Make these amends as soon as you possibly can! It feels sooooo good!
In addition, appropriateness ties in to this: "We make direct amends for our actions (or inaction when action was called for) rather than for our feelings. To go to someone and say, ‘I'm sorry I've disliked you for all these years,' is inappropriate and will only inflict pain. The appropriate way to make up for five years of secret jealousy or hatred is to replace it with five years of open acceptance, respect and love." (p. 79)
As we observed earlier on, the idea is not to unburden ourselves to the people we have harmed. The idea is to take responsibility for and mend our part of the relationship (to "clean our side of the street"). Telling someone that we've disliked them in the past will not mend anything.
What about situations, then, when making direct amends will not help to mend the relationship, or when direct amends are physically impossible, such as a to person who has died?
"To amend something means to change. We complete our amends for our wrongful actions of the past by changing our actions in the future." (p. 78)
Maybe this is the most crucial point. Again we can go back to our inventory. What were the ACTIONS that have harmed people? What actions would offset or ameliorate them, what actions would how that we have truly changed?
If we have been neglectful, how can we now show that we care? I we have been abrasive in the past, how can we now inject sweetness into our interactions with others? If we have been procrastinators, how can we now take special care to promptly carry out our tasks?
These are indirect amends to those who, for whatever reason, we cannot reach right now. They are also amends to ourselves. They are what we call "living amends". (We live differently now.) It is easier to live with ourselves (i.e. easier on our relationships with ourselves) when we behave honourably, lovingly and compassionately towards others. Also, it helps heal the wounds we inflicted on ourselves through the guilt, shame and regret that almost invariably come with our harmful actions towards others. It is often that guilt, shame and regret that we eat over.
While we really need to make sure that we don't have any expectations regarding the results of our amends, the beautiful thing is that in many situations, making amends does have wonderful effects. I had a situation last year where I had a very unpleasant exchange with someone. I was very upset. This happened on a Friday. I spent the whole weekend praying, asking for guidance and insight, asking to let it go, asking for forgiveness for my part, asking for a good outcome. Come Monday, I was ready to interact with that person in whatever way necessary, I was ready to make whatever amends, even though it still wasn't quite clear to me what that was going to look like. When I saw the person first thing Monday morning, he was exquisitely friendly to me. I responded with equal friendliness, and we ended up having a great relationship for the remainder of our stay together.
What had happened? I don't know. Oh wait I do. It was a little miracle. Would it have happened, would I have been able to recognize it without my silent step 9? I doubt it.
One last thing before we finish. I've already touched on that last step. Step 9 is the beginning (or, if you've done the steps before, the continuation) of making amends. I have never met anyone who has done all their amends right away in the first step 9. Some amends take years and years to make. Now we addicts like to see everything in black and white. Let's not do this here. This means, do as many amends as you can when you hear of someone taking 25 years to do an amends, don't take that as in invitation to procrastinate on that. On the other hand, please don't stop working on the rest of the steps because you still haven't made amends to your first girl friend who you have no idea how to track down.
Do your best. And then move on, keeping your list of amends with you so that you can occasionally refer back to it as you keep on cycling through the steps.
Let's finish with the promises. In the Big Book, they come right after step 9.
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 that 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. They will always materialize if we work for them.
Questions to ponder:
"The purpose of step nine is to clear away guilt and ill will so that we may establish better relationships with people whom our lives have touched." Regardless of whether you've already done a step 9 or not, you probably have SOME experience with trying to make things right with people towards whom carried guilt and ill will. What was that like for you?
Are there any relationship problems that have literally driven you to eat?
Share with us any expectations you may have regarding a particular amends on your list, even if they seem silly, childish, unreasonable or unrealistic to you. Acknowledge them and then share how you can let go of them.
Are you planning to make an amends to someone who has hurt you? If so, take a piece of paper and write down that person's name in one column and "me" in the other. Then list all the things that person has done to you in their column, and the harm you've done to them in the other. At the end of the first column, add in big letters, "forgive"; in the second, "make amends." What have you learned?
Think of one amend you are planning to make. What looks like an inappropriate way to do this? An appropriate way?
What living amends can you make?
What in the promises touches you the most?
What passages in the OA 12x12 stand out for you?
What footwork will you do today?