The 12 steps are a powerful set of building-blocks that transform an active addict from abject powerlessness and near hopelessness to one of humble self-awareness, confident that they can meet the challenges of any given day with dignity, while living in harmony with other people, with the help of a higher power.
Hopefully, you have taken a personal inventory, shared it at the risk of embarrassment or rejection, and felt the intimacy that comes with revealing our vulnerabilities. In spite of our defects, we receive a compassionate response from another person and enjoy an feeling of closeness to our Creator, or the force behind nature, physics, biology or whatever else you perceive your Higher Power to be.
We begin to see ourselves as human beings; frail, flawed, frightened (and that’s just the F’s) and most of all, worthy of forgiveness.
I saw that I was not so different than other people; we all struggled, had experienced loss or trauma, and we all made mistakes. Some of us just sought help at an earlier age and gained the perspective then that we we’re only just now learning to put our trust into.
The give and take of the fifth step gave me hope that I could lower the shields a bit and give people a chance to accept me…. to come through for me.…to risk letting them know me, and to witness that many people are capable of treating us with love & respect.
And I began to see how deficient I was in my willingness to show others compassion & understanding when they acted in ways that I perceived as defective or hurtful to me.
The AA 12+12 states that defective relations were the cause of almost all of our immediate woes, including our alcoholism. That’s a powerful statement.
Yet, as I started to see my defects without any pretension or defensiveness, I could truly understand how much of a contributing factor that were in the chronic friction with others and lost opportunities that produced so much resentment and self-pity in me.
I couldn’t “make them go away”. I had to develop humility and work in partnership with my Higher Power to have them lifted, and apply the same “day at a time” approach, with all of its checks and balances, to maintain my newly calibrated moral compass.
This brought me to Step Eight, which, like Step Six, was another “get ready, get set” step.
I had to make a list of ALL of the people I had harmed, and become WILLING to make amends to them all. I had to connect the dots between my actions and the people most harmed by them.
By making the list, I saw that there were people that I felt I was ready to make amends to, people that I wasn’t quite ready to make amends to, people that I was damned if I was EVER going to make amends to, even people that rubbed me the wrong way and I couldn’t even figure out WHY I felt that way about them, I just did.
I had had so much turmoil and friction in my relationships, I never thought that there could be an end to it. Since my apologies really didn’t have much credibility, I had little motivation to change, and no clue as to how to do it.
Now I did. It wouldn’t be easy, but I could begin to see some daylight.
Such was the wisdom of dividing the 8th & 9th steps. I saw that some of my character defects were still right there…preventing me from truly clearing away the wreckage of my past… because I still felt that I was the one who had been wronged…even after revealing the worst about myself and gaining some acceptance and forgiveness from another person, I was still too ME focused, and that needed to change.
This is where we have an opportunity to add into our growing emotional palette the colors of self-acceptance and worthiness of forgiveness, and to start extending it to others by owning up to our wrongs regardless of what may have been done to us.
This power to heal through forgiveness is remarkable, and it allows people as broken as we were to move beyond hurts that had plagued us for our entire lives.
The beauty of the eighth step is that we just need to make the list – without any concern for the ninth step, because we aren’t there yet. We make the list, take a step back and ponder it, and just let the pent up torrent of emotions over all of those defective relationships come out. We give them permission to surface because we have prepared ourselves for difficult challenges over the course of taking steps 4, 5, 6, & 7.
For most of us, forgiveness was in short supply. Especially forgiveness of ourselves for being such a disappointment, knowing our potential. And certainly there was a dearth of forgiveness for people that we felt had been dishonest with us, took advantage of us, withheld their affection from us, or subjected us to their unrealistic expectations.
It was far easier for me to feel the somewhat regal feeling of superiority over those who wronged me. I could bask in the power of that anger and resentment. It felt so much better than the sadness or loneliness that was lurking underneath it.
And if I happened to do things to them that were questionable, I could content myself with the knowledge that they hurt me more than I hurt them and that they (probably) deserved it.
Unfortunately, that bit of self-justification & rationalization didn’t really hold up any more.
See, there is no humility in this sort of thinking. There is no balance. There is only fear, anger, defiance and a stubborn belief that if we dared to trust any of them again, and they mistreated us again…we would have no one to blame but ourselves. So we demonized and rejected them before they could reject us.
The irony is that the very fear of the pain of being hurt again was replaced quite nicely with the self-induced pain of our compulsive eating and other addictive, codependent behaviors. And we still got to blame ourselves for being losers anyway.
And in our wake, we left a string of broken or never-started relationships behind us.
This writing exercise was designed to move us in the direction of taking responsibility for our actions; to think about the value in doing the right thing…for those who were affected by the distortions in our personalities, but also for us….to get us out of victim mode and back into a world that contains imperfect relations, and a way to deal with them head on, without fear, shame or righteous indignation.
So how do we take this step?
First off, we don’t do it alone. We involve our sponsor along the way, for their help will be critical in sorting through the amends that need to be made, and the blocks to our willingness to do so.
Our fourth step list of resentments is a gold mine here. A substantial number of the people against whom we had resentments will belong on our amends list. Funny how that works.
I remember writing about a child who, when I was 5 and he was 6, used to like to push me down on the ground, just because he could. I was amazed that I could still get worked up about it. But I also used to tease him and make fun of him, so I had a part too. That’s just one tiny awareness that came through after 50+ years of convincing myself that he was the bad guy. It was writing him on the list that facilitated the awareness.
I’ve cut off an infinite number of people on the highway. I relentlessly flashed my brights at them, as if the road was mine alone, and I blew passed them, always remembering to scowl a little bit as I drove by. (I’m cringing a bit as I write this). There’s absolutely no way that I could make an amend to them other than by driving differently, but it went on the list. I still have my driving on my list by the way…sad to say, I am still a knothead in some areas.
As we write the list, some will them will be nice folks that we let down or took advantage of. Others were co-conspirators in a dysfunctional dance -- fellow sufferers, really.
In these cases, it is helpful to remember our fifth step, and our insights into OUR own shortcomings. If we were such a mess and powerless to change, isn’t it possible that they were similarly affected by their own early life experiences and powerless as well?
Just as in our fourth step, we keep it simple and focus on what we did we do to them, and why.
If you get stuck in this step – here’s a sure fire method to get past your writer’s block.
It’s always easier to see what somebody else has done to us. So write about that, and then consider whether you haven’t done exactly the same thing – to them, or maybe to someone else. It’s remarkable how just turning the lens around does the trick.
I also found it useful to see whether I’d maintained a double standard when examining at my own actions rather than looking at others. I used a magnifying glass to find their defects, while expecting others to cut me slack, since I had lived such a difficult life?
It was easier for me to play the aggrieved party or the martyr than to admit that on many occasions, I acted like a self-important child with an oversized sense of entitlement.
As I alluded to you before – there are people who belong on a “grudge list”. These are people who you might not even recall a specific incident, but you just didn’t like to be around them, gossiped about them, avoided them, and just weren’t willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They may not all require an amend, but they were relationships that troubled us, just the same
All of them go on the list. And we talk to our sponsor about all of them.
As for becoming willing – it’s critical to become able to forgive those who have hurt us, for it will be almost impossible to make an amend in the absence of forgiveness.
Write about why you can’t forgive them. The OA 12+12 says that when we write about them, we find that there is a limit as to how much we feel that we’ve been hurt.
We imagine what our lives would be like if we made peace with our “enemies”
How have our resentments held us back from truly being able to express love and affection, to make commitments with others (for fear of being hurt again), to enter into a true partnership with a friend, a spouse, a sibling, or a business associate.
We start praying for those who have hurt us…that they should receive exactly what we would wish for ourselves. The 12+12 says you don’t even have to mean it, but given a chance, you will find that the anger diminishes and there comes a time when we can approach them with a desire to take ownership of our mistakes and move beyond them
We prepare ourselves to tell the truth about our actions and give people a chance to see how we’ve changed….To take this chance to restore order, to amend things…to heal.
If you should falter in writing a thorough eight step list, remember what it says in the Promises. We are nearing a stage in our development that will elicit profound changes in our attitude.
Stay the course. Set aside your fear.
Take step eight with no concern for the following step.
Assignment: Read Step Eight in your 12+12.
Start writing, every day if you can. Walk around with a paper and pen and jot down those people that come to you throughout your day…
INCLUDE YOURSELF ON THE LIST, as this may be the most important piece of writing in your entire 8th step. How do you feel about yourself and the mistakes you’ve made?
Are you ready to forgive yourself??
Speak to your sponsor frequently throughout the week, and continue to say your seventh step prayer every day. If a particular character defect tries to reassert itself, change the channel and turn it over to your Higher Power, as you have been doing since last week.
As usual – here is your weekly multiple choice question, the answer to which I’d like you all to include in your posting.
1) I have made an effort to work the tools this week, but I could do much better.
2) I’m working the tools each day. It’s a regular part of my program and my abstinence.
3) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools, but I’m cleanly abstinent.
4) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools and I cannot stay/get abstinent.
The Twelve Steps