Steps 8 and 9
I crawled into Alcoholics Anonymous, beaten into submission by the unremitting and painful consequences of many years of drinking, which had wreaked havoc on the lives of those around me. I didn't know I was an alcoholic and I certainly knew nothing of alcoholism – a disease every bit as deadly as cancer or untreated diabetes. I looked up at the Twelve Steps…and understood NOTHING!
At this point, 15 years ago, my life hung in the balance and only an act of providence, a gift of desperation from a Power greater than myself, had enabled me to admit defeat, seek help and turn up at my first meeting. I arrived full of the well-known self pity, remorse, fear and utter hopelessness that only another alcoholic can identify with – yet most of the other people in the room didn't seem to look like I felt. They looked happy, calm; their eyes were bright and they radiated a quiet but powerful reassurance that all would be well.
At the end of that first meeting, I had acquired a sponsor, a Big Book, a list of daily suggestions and a raft of women's phone numbers. I also left with HOPE. For the first time in my life, I was prepared to follow someone else's guidance and take actions I did not yet believe in.
Within days, my outlook had brightened up considerably. I no longer walked staring down at the floor – I was able to look straight ahead…such a different view of the world. I was sleeping, eating. And the greatest gift? I no longer craved alcohol. Already, by doing these simple daily tasks, the all-consuming obsession to drink had left me.
With this new found sense of freedom, purpose and clarity of mind I could SEE how I had hurt those around me – particularly my children – and I enthusiastically told my sponsor I was going to put things right with them AT ONCE. I had seen the error of my ways and THIS TIME WAS DIFFERENT! I could feel it. Oh they would be so happy that I was going to change forever.
My sponsor wouldn't hear a word of it! I was going to say and do no such thing and was I, or was I not, willing to be sponsorable and follow guidance? I was told my intended course of action would simply be 'Old Behaviour'…words that were empty and meant nothing to those who had heard it all so many times before.
Action and more action was the key and the time and the place would come, in Steps 8 & 9 when those amends would be appropriate. In the meantime, by demonstrating I had Step 1 and was willing to follow guidance, I was already taking action and the rest would follow when my sponsor felt I was ready.
At this point in recovery, I had one daughter not talking to me, another who had said she hated me, a mother whose world had been rocked by discovering her daughter was a full blown alcoholic and a father who had died many years before, dying with the knowledge his precious daughter was in BIG trouble!!
Just HOW could I even begin to contemplate real amends to these and so many others?
My sponsor, old-timers and fellow AAs told me that by staying sober, getting into service, giving back to the still suffering alcoholic, attending meetings and showing I meant business by following the daily plan, was THE best way to convince those around me that I was genuinely changing and trying to find a new way of living.
By trying to live a life based on spiritual values rather than selfish values, I would gradually change and that would encourage people around me to gain confidence in my sobriety.
My father always said actions speak louder than words! How right he had been – and I had thought he was just picking on me again, at the time…more amends to be made. But he was no longer here. How would I do that? More would be revealed, my sponsor said. No extravagant promises, no 'guilt-buying' gifts, Just continuous action, regardless of the outcome and in due course, miraculous demonstrations of the power of the healing of the AA way of life would become evident. If I had Faith.
When I wrote my 8th step list of all those I had harmed, becoming willing to make amends to them all, I found it incredibly painful as the full reality of my past actions hit me. Most were taken from my step 4 and I was encouraged to put my selfish feelings aside, to truly try and put myself in the other person's shoes and be willing to make whatever amends and reparation may be needed. It may be emotional, financial: I must be willing to do what was needed.
Suddenly the enthusiastic 'sorry' of my early days in AA seemed very shallow indeed. Faith without works is dead and I finally saw the huge impact of my behaviours. Having completed the list and decided with my sponsor which amends would be first, I was finally at step 9.
The reality of going to my daughters, my mother and others and humbly asking for their forgiveness, whilst offering if there was anything I could do to make amends was HUGE. For one daughter, it was the only time she has ever discussed my drinking. My mother was simply relieved I was alive and I wrote a letter to my father, which I read aloud to my sponsor and God. I then continued on with the others.
The results have been more incredible than I ever deserved. My daughters no longer hate or ignore me. My mother died knowing I was safe and sober and we shared a new closeness.
Amends are ongoing and are rarely finished. 'More will be revealed' it seems, as time goes on. Provided I am willing to make those amends wherever they may present themselves, and stick close to my sponsor in those decisions, then I am more likely to stay on the path to recovery. Some amends are specific, others chance meetings and an opportunity presenting itself.
Under no circumstances may my amends harm others – innocent parties, people who may be hurt at my expense in the desire for me to feel better! Provided I clear my side of the street, trust God and continue to take action where possible, my life will continue to be one beyond my wildest dreams.
I am so grateful that the guidance from a sponsor, old-timers and home group members in the early days prevented me from rushing out and making inappropriate (even if well-intended) amends – charging into broken, fragile lives and creating MORE mayhem…the story of my previous existence.
The wisdom laid down in the literature by Dr Bob, Bill W and the good old-timers ensures my ego stays right-sized, provided I stay true to their principles and that my amends are a true reflection of a real desire to live a better, sober and spiritual life. I am blessed to be sober.
Gail M., Road to Recovery, Plymouth