The simple fact is that we are all human, flawed, and full of quirky little insecurities and fears that cause us to act out in all kinds of crazy ways. An addict knows better than most that for most of us, hurting each other isn’t an intentional thing. But it happens. Because when you come between me and a drink, you’re going to disappear. That’s the power of addiction. It’s also the power of overwhelming fear, frustration, boredom, rage, disappointment, resentment, ect., ect.
So we screw up…a lot! And by the time we get to AA or NA or some place where we run smack into the 8th & 9th step (all about amends) we have a pretty big list of wrongs to try and right. Those wrongs may cover everything from stealing food from 24-hour grocery stores to leaving our kid alone at home at an inappropriate age while we’re out doing whatever…
Hopefully, the people we have chosen to surround ourselves with in the program can give us some healthy perspective on exactly who and how we make amends. It’s a lot more than a casual ‘I’m sorry’ and an ‘all better now?’ To make amends requires a certain humility about the fact that our behaviour has impacted another person’s journey on the planet. And sometimes it’s really really hard, because you can’t necessarily make it right.
For example, I found myself temporarily homeless after I was asked to leave the very posh private university I somehow wormed my way into as a 17-year-old running wild all over Florida, I had a friend who was kind enough to offer me a couch for a month or so while I figured out what I was doing with my life (a revelation which would unfortunately not happen for another 12 years.) This friend was just doing what friends do. She was reaching out to a person in need and knowing of my troubled home life, trying to create a space for me in which I could be ‘ok’ again. Little did she know (and we play upon these people when we’re in active addiction) she was bumping into an alcoholic and a drug addict. It was legitimately unclear at the time. We were kids. She drank in a way that was very similar to the way I drank I used. The difference was, she didn’t flunk out of school, and when sleeping on her friend’s couch, she didn’t steal a very valuable camera that had been left to her friend by a dead grandmother. She didn’t take that camera and pawn it and then sneak away in the middle of the night without even a goodbye. She had no idea who she was dealing with.
So when we get here, we have a big list of this kind of stuff. Some of it is right in the forefront of our consciousness, and some of it is pushed further back into the recesses of our brains. But the longer we stay sober, and the more we pursue the redemption of a spiritual life, these wrongs will be revealed to us. Like the layers of an onion peeling away. Sometimes it makes you cry.
There was little I could do about the missing camera 13 or 14 years after I stole it when I finally had the guts to make amends. But the point is, I made the amends under the direction of a sponsor and I came clean about the dirty. Because of that, if I happen to be walking down the street in Orlando at some point and I come face to face with this girl, I won’t have to look away, to cross the street, to duck into an alley. Why? Because I have gone to her and righted this wrong in the most thorough and complete way I can. And to this day, if she calls me and asks me for something, if it’s in my power to help her, I will.
That’s how one early sponsor told me to evaluate whether or not I owed an ammends…if you run into the person on the street, face to face, will that feeling of shame creep up inside you? If you walk into a place (dozens of places !) you stole from or harmed in some way, will you instinctively lower your eyes…will you feel smaller?
Because we have had enough of that in our using lives…that feeling small, shamed, powerless, like an animal. As people on new footing and a new path, it’s time to make that right. Because the harms we have done others ultimately are harms we do ourselves. And because this step, this honest humble admission of our wrongs is a requirement for feeling like we belong at the banquet. When we can’t say we’re wrong, we can’t heal. When making a mistake threatens our perceived security, we’re not going to be likely to own it. The best part of being human is being able to say, yes, that’s who I am! I can be selfish, dishonest, critical, cynical. And I can also care too much, try to hard, give in the wrong ways. I am full of contradictions (as Walt Whitman said) because I am large! And when you know who you are, you don’t have to own anything you’re not.