Beginning With Amends

Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,

except when to do so would injure them or others”

Happy New Year, dear reader! New Years Day is perfect for starting fresh, perfect for beginning to make our Step 9 amends.

Step 9 Meme

“Step 9 completes what I started in step 8. I make amends to those that I have harmed. I pay back debts I owe. I apologize. I write letters. I find time to do and say things that would help heal the damage that I have done. I try to bring goodness where previously I had brought discord and destruction. It takes insight, courage and dedication to make such amends, but now I have the help of my God to know what to do and how to do it. I learn to earnestly seek the right way to go about this process from my God. I start to live the kind of life that my God has meant for me to live all along.” 12Step.org (http://12step.org/the-12-steps/step-9.html)

As we think of the list we made in Step 8 and begin to ask God how to go about making amends with those we’ve harmed in our struggle to control our own out of control lives, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. We may have a mountain of amends looming before us. The enemy of our souls will attempt to heap fear, guilt, or shame on us as we prepare to contact those we’ve harmed. We do not need to accept his lies.

Although the New Year is a good place to begin with human beings, we never have to wait a whole year to start fresh with God. The Bible has great news for those of us struggling with addiction in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. It is found in Lamentations 3:22-24: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (NKJV)

With each new morning, God’s “mercy,” “loving-kindness,” and “tender compassions” (see the Amplified Bible) are fresh for each of us. We never have to wallow in yesteryear with God. He does not hold shame over our heads, waiting to douse us in a fresh dose whenever we mess up. God accepts our humble acknowledgement and confession of sin. He moves us forward each day with fresh mercy.

I wish I could say the same for the humans we deal with. Unfortunately, they are a mixed bag. Sometimes we will find mercy and compassion as we navigate Step 9. Sometimes we will run headlong into someone else’s unhealthy rage, retaliation, or indifference.

Claudette Wassil-Grimm says, “We need to be open to any response we get from the people we’ve injured, and be ready to accept their responses without becoming angry. We are not there to manipulate them into forgiving us. In order to have this come off smoothly, we should make every effort to purge our bad feelings toward the person or incident before we meet to speak. This will help us resist the temptation to point out to them what we felt they did to provoke us. We are only there to talk about our own behavior.The Twelve Step Journal, p. 224-225

When I took Step 9 again a few months ago, I experienced a not-so-great response from someone I reached out to. She wasn’t unkind, but her words stung like a slap in the face. It had been more than seven years since my actions had hurt her. She seemed shocked that I would reach so far back to make amends. Then she basically told me that she had forgiven me because that’s what God commands. She said she would say it to me if that’s what I needed to hear from her to make myself feel better. Ouch. Yeah, that’s what can happen when you reach out to make amends.

But you know what? It’s okay. I had deeply wronged her and I needed to let her know that I knew I had and that I am sorry. However she responded was her choice. I’m not sure I would be very gracious, either – to someone who had done to her what I had done. Sometimes we just have to move forward, doing our part and releasing all of the persons we’ve hurt, to our God, who IS merciful, gracious and understanding of why we acted how we acted in our wounded and/or addicted state.Colorful Couple

As we welcome 2015 today, let’s move into it with open hearts, open minds, and courage to make our amends. If you have any amends stories of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments section, or even email me with them at info@julietvanheerden.com. I would love to hear from you and share your stories with others.

Happy New Year!

Making A List, Checking It Twice…

Step 8

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed,

and became willing to make amends to them all”

 Today is Christmas Eve. For many of us, that means getting together with family we don’t often mingle with. Sometimes the mix creates a Molotov cocktail, with one incendiary whose mission is to pit family members against one another. (Wikipedia says these particular cocktails are “primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them.”) Perhaps you can even name that person in your family who moves from conversation to conversation setting everyone off. Perhaps you are or have been that person.

My Honey often repeats the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” When wounded families come together for the holidays, they don’t leave their hurts at home. Often the pain of mingling with abusive or intrusive family members is exacerbated by secret sins that have never been made right. With the just-right mix of people, ghosts of Christmas’ past, and often, booze, many families have a less than “holly jolly Christmas.”

If your family holidays are not Norman Rockwell worthy, and the above paragraphs ring true in any way, you are far from alone. Many people in recovery survive facing their families at holiday time. They even manage to look at these get-togethers as litmus tests of their own recovery. There’s nothing like “Uncle Joe’s” inappropriate comments that can bring the truth of where we are in our own recovery racing to the surface.

Do we react or respond? Do we get sucked into an argument, or walk away? Can we remember who we are now, not allowing ourselves to be placed into the ill-fitting boxes from yesteryear?

Or are the tables turned? Am I the one forgetting to allow another to grow out of their family straitjacket? Do I hold someone hostage with my jokes or innuendos? Are there amends I haven’t yet made or been made aware of?

One popular Santa song says:

“He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”

Step Eight speaks of a different list, one that requires some serious introspection.FullSizeRender-1 In A Hunger For Healing, we see that, “Step Eight is a social housecleaning, just as Step Four was our personal housecleaning. In Step Eight we’re setting out to clean up all the bruised relationships and the pockets of guilt, pain, fear, resentment, and sadness that are stored inside, stuck to our shameful past deeds. For this undealt-with material blocks us from loving other people, ourselves, and God in the present.

It’s as if God were saying, “Okay, now you want me to take all of your character defects, fine. Then you can be free and serene and the person I want you to be. But first you must see that almost all your troubles involve other people. You’ve tried to control them one way or the other or fix them; you have guilty or resentful feelings about them; or you have been so preoccupied with yourself and your feelings, dreams, and plans that you have ignored them emotionally and caused them to experience some of their worst fears of being deserted. Now I want you to face what you have done and own your part in hurting each person in your life so you can move into the future I have for you unencumbered by the past and beginning to understand how not to keep repeating the mistakes of that past.”
– A Hunger for Healing, p. 135-136

The Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 8 reminds us that “The Eighth Step starts the procedure of forgiving others and possibly being forgiven by them, forgiving ourselves, and learning how to live in the world.”

As we celebrate the holidays with our families, we can remember that, although they may be far from perfect, so are we. Only with the true Spirit of Christmas in our hearts, can God restore the brokenness of our pasts and use our story to bring hope to loved ones who are still stuck in unhealthy places.

So, here’s the Christmas challenge for all of us, as we interact with others over the holidays: Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us aware of ourselves, and any amends we need to make. And then, let’s make our lists, check them twice, and pray for Spirit-led opportunities to follow through with Step 9.

Happy, emotionally-healthy holidays to all! And to all a good night!