Step 9 of a 12-Step Series
Making amends to my sister was my soft entry into the Step 9 work I was about to embark on. My list wasn’t terribly long, but it was full of big hurts, betrayals, owning my shit and the AA promise of being amazed before I was halfway through.
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.”
Big Book of A.A. (pp. 83-87)
It’s been six months since I made my very last amends and it’s taken me this long to be able to wrap my head around the whole the experience. I’m sure it will keep revealing itself to me as time goes on, as well. I know I needed to simmer in the feelings that came up for me from my amends-work with others, suss out the hurts I was experiencing and find the lessons in the reactions I received to a few of my heartfelt apologies.
What I learned throughout the five-month-long process of completing Step 9 are these little nuggets:
Not everyone is ready to hear that I’m not the same person I once was;
Some people were baffled that I even needed to do this step and tried to dismiss the entire exchange and “let me off the hook”;
Some knew that by accepting my amends I would be free and so they gave me the time and respect I had hoped for and listened with open hearts and minds; and
A few people had their own agendas, dismissing my amends altogether and deciding to tell me what exactly they thought I needed to make amends for. Wait, what? They can do that? They can and they did.
The last one I mention above threw me off kilter. I wasn’t fully prepared that others would have their own ideas of what I needed to be sorry for and, in hindsight, I realize that I was terribly naïve in thinking that every amends would go smoothly. Two people on my list had their own agenda and resentments towards me and wanted to make the conversation more about what they thought I should be sorry and apologize for. And guess what? Newsflash: That’s not really how it works.
After a lot of soul-searching and tearful conversations with my sponsor, I figured out something really important and I’ll share it here with you - people who want you to make amends over and above what you set out to own are people dealing with their own resentments. That’s right. Resentments that they need to get over. When I got up the nerve to apologize for past behaviors with a select few, my words fell on deaf ears and guess what? That’s okay. I spoke up and told my truth. I apologized and meant it and, ultimately, felt unburdened. The fact of the matter is if they want to get over their own separate list of grievances with me, then they need to dig deep and do the work on their end to help resolve those hurt feelings.
It turns out, that’s not my job.
As I was working this step, it also made me feel like I was breaking up with my old self and, in a way, I guess I was. It's uncomfortable to admit that maybe the story I had been telling myself about who I really am and how I fit into my life has not been entirely accurate. This was very unsettling to understand about myself. Having gone through the writing associated with Step 4 and taking a good, hard, honest look at my past, my resentments and my part in things - it turned out that who I really was at my core was not so cut and dry.
The stories I’ve told myself about who I was when I was drinking or why I needed to numb myself to my very own existence in the first place, felt like a heavy veneer to the real me. It’s a thick top layer of bullshit that is based in partial truth, but there is a quiet complicit part of me that kind of wanted to keep this version alive. It felt safer than the unknown. Over the years, my stories helped me cope and told a version that assisted in getting me through hard feelings and situations. Before I made these amends, I felt like a total fake in my own life. I needed to come clean and tell the absolute unedited version of the truth to those I harmed or implicated in order to start over. Because of my newfound sobriety, I ended up wanting more from myself in this lifetime. I wanted authenticity and honor and truth-telling to be my compass. I wanted to be 100% honest with myself and others. I wanted to shed the part of me that told half-truths and played the victim in melodramatic stories that only embellished a version of who I was or what I was doing with my life.
In the end, by doing this work I was able to find a thread between past relationships and my current ones. I was able to see how I unconsciously carried these old stories into new relationships and created my new altered reality. All my doing. All of it. But now I had the opportunity to change the story by being a truer version of myself. It felt all powerful to even think it, much less make it so.
As I finished the work associated with Step 9, I ended up with heaps of forgiveness, connection, a new reality between me and the people I made amends to and one casualty - a further estrangement from a loved one. You just can’t have it all in Step 9, but working diligently and without delay on this step has freed me up emotionally and put old hurts to rest or, at the very least, given me a new lens with which to view my past behaviors and those relationships.
Step 9 proved to me that I can do hard things and unburden myself from my own mixed up thinking. When I started this step I thought it was more for the other person hearing the amends. Asking for forgiveness is what I thought this step was all about. Boy, was I surprised to learn and truly believe that by working this step there was freedom in it for me, too, and a few things very quickly started materializing in my life.
My integrity got put back together in record time.
Lifelong burdens were finally lifted.
I had a shift in perception towards myself and others that showed me there was another way to live in this world.
I can now see my part in things on a daily basis.
I forgave myself and can now move on.
Step 9 starts to give you your life back. I no longer think of myself as the victim. I create my own reality and nurture the type of relationships that feed my soul. I’ve owned my part in things and can look myself in the mirror knowing I’m doing the best I can. This step has also allowed me to unlock the version of myself who had been hiding for so long and finally let her out to roam free and walk this earth with a clear conscience and the permission to shed that old fake persona and become the person I’ve always wanted to be.
Tammi hasn’t had a drink since February 3, 2015. She is a former wine bar owner, lifelong seeker and recovering perfectionist. She makes art every day and credits this practice as the path to her spiritual overhaul. She documents her creative forays and monthly sobriety milestones at TammiSalas.com Her writing here will share her story as she navigates the 12 Steps of AA.
A NOTE FROM TAMMI:
Anonymity is the foundation of AA and I respect that. However, I choose torecover out loud in order to be of service to other people still suffering.