Cleaning Up The Past

Just as my sponsor had predicted, I possessed a new understanding and resolve to make amends to those I had harmed.  As I completed the Seventh Step Prayer a readiness stirred within.  The truth about my character defects now uncovered in the first seven steps prepared me to now take Steps Eight and Nine.  Step Eight stated we "Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amend to them all followed by Step Nine, "Made direct amends whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."  My sponsor was direct, she said I must follow quickly in the program of action.  That same day, I began Steps Eight and Nine, with my new found honesty.  She noted the book was clear, that I must "sweep away the debris which had accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves", (Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous, 76:3).  And with her steadfast, and loving guidance, I prayed to God who had clearly carried me through the rigorous months of Fourth Step writing.  A clarity appeared.  Where I had once held stubbornly to anger and judgement of others, a softness of spirit began to emerge.  My thinking had changed, instead of those who had wronged me, a new list appeared of those I had wronged.  Still, even with this new found clarity, I struggled to know what amend I needed to make to my once abusive and alcoholic father.  My sponsor advised me to seek God's help until the answer was revealed and so I persevered.  Within a week's time, a revelation, I had been also abusive to my father, I was disrespectful to him and rejected him regularly.  I began to understand, it was my side of the street which needed to be cleaned.  I realized that my bitter anger, judgment, disappointment, and yes, my adolescent cruelty had affected my father deeply.

My list complete, I arranged to meet with my sponsor who reviewed the list, asked me for clarification, and helped me to eliminate several unnecessary amends.  My sponsor reminded me to read the Big Book instructions and to remember, "our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us."  With prayer and God's mercy, I proceeded on my way to right, my wrongs.  I will share the details of my personal amends, to any reader of this personal journey who seeks recovery.  Let it be said, my life has never been the same since completion of my Ninth Step amends.  When my father died several years after he received my overdue amends; our relationship had been healed, we were the father and daughter I had always hoped we could be.  I finally understood, that to be loved, one must give love.

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Eight

We made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amend to them all.

From Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Rohr writes:

God fully forgives us, but the "karma" of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds we have broken.  Otherwise, others will not be able to forgive us but will remain stuck, and they and we will both still be wounded.  We usually must make amends to forgive ourselves.  "Amazing Grace" is not a way to avoid honest human relationships, but to transform them--now gracefully--for the liberation of both sides.  Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; we must reconcile and account for it all.

All healers are "wounded healers," as Henri Nouwen said so well.  In fact, you are often more gifted to heal others precisely where you yourself were wounded, or perhaps have wounded others.  You learn to salve the wounds of others be knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt.  Often this memory comes from the realization of your past smallness and immaturity, your selfishness, your false victimhood, and your cruel victimization of others.  It is often painful to recall or admit, yet this is also the grace of lamenting and grieving over how we have hurt others.  Fortunately, God reveals our sins to us gradually so we can absorb what we have done over time.  "Oh God, little by little you correct those who have offended you, so that they can abstain from evil, and learn to trust in you," we learn in the Book of Wisdom (see 12:2).

It might take a long time, even years, to "become willing" to make amends.  People working on Step Eight learn to make lists--but not of what others have done to them, which is the normal ego style, and a pattern, once practiced, that is very hard to stop.  Instead, they have been given some new software, a program called "grace".  A totally new pattern, "a new mind" (see Ephesians 4;23; Colossians 3:10-11; I Corinthians 2:16).  Rather than making lists of who hurt me, I now make lists of people have perhaps hurt, failed, or mistreated.  Making such lists will change your foundational consciousness from one of feeding resentments to a mind that is both grateful and humble.

Step Nine

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step Nine is an example of the wisdom implicit in the Twelve Steps.  Eastern religions often called such wisdom "skillful means."  Wisdom is not a mere motto or scripture quote in the head, but a practical and effective way to actually get the job done!

Jesus was a master of teaching skillful means, especially in his Sermon on the Mount and in many of his parables and one--liners.  He was constantly teaching us and showing us how to be fully human, which somehow is to be Divine!  To "follow him" is first of all to imitate him in his combining of humanity and divinity in his own person.

Step nine is telling us how to use skillful means to both protect our own humanity and liberate the humanity of others.  It says that our amends to others should be "direct," that is, specific, personal, and concrete.  Jesus invariably physically touched people when he healed them.  It is a face-to-face encounter, although usually difficult, that does the most good in the long run.

Insightfully, Step nine includes "except when to do so would injure them or others."  One often needs time, discernment, and good advice from others before one knows how to apologize or make amends in a proper way.  If  not done skillfully, an apology can actually make the problem and the hurt worse.  You need to pray and discern about what the other needs to hear, has the right to hear, and can handle responsibly.  Even sincere people can do a lot of damage if they are not prepared to handle the information they convey to others.

Thanks to the spirituality of the Twelve Steps, people are hopefully more prepared to handle an addict's efforts to make amends.  Now we can see addiction as spiritual illness, rather than a moral failure or lack of willpower.  What we call addiction is what the new testament called "possession."  Following the example of Jesus the healer, the captive sufferer, or "demon-possessed" person, should be met with empathy and love (albeit sometimes "tough love"), rather than blame, shame, and punishment.  Then they will feel safer to open the only real cure for any kind of "demonic possession": re-possession by the Infinite Love who alone can meet our deepest desires!