by Bill C.
“Clear away the wreckage of our past” is one of the many crucial action statements that AA suggests if we desire freedom.
Step Nine deals with the self-centred nature of my past relationships and my willingness to take direct ownership for my part in any harms done. Through the first eight Steps I was able to prepare for and be ready with some degree of humility to not only meet with individuals I had harmed but also institutions, authority figures, etc.
The Twelve & Twelve talks about having the right motives for this Step – a process of character building rather than merely alleviating guilt (fear) or feeling good (ego). This program invites and even demands change if we are to be happy, joyous and free. Therefore, “amend” is really changed behaviour – a change in attitude and outlook toward myself and the rest of the world.
When I was drinking I took absolutely no responsibility for my actions. Whatever the chaos happened to be, it wasn’t my fault. I was the victim. The Big Book says, “The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted.” And that was certainly me.
There was no thought for my actions, no real honesty, no consequences and selfish, self-seeking motives. And the world owed me. I didn’t owe anybody anything. So I had an awful lot of changing to do when I came into the program.
When I first joined AA I began to identify with others for the first time ever and slowly my thinking became more positive. That initial change was the beginning of my amends, not only to others but to myself.
Step Nine discusses three times of amends: direct (those we can approach immediately – family, etc.), those who are not readily available (but we are willing), and those we can never make direct contact with (passed on, etc.). The key for me is willingness.
With family, I began to look at each member as individuals, then as friends. I had had no true relationship with any family member (five siblings and my parents). They were far away overseas. The first time I returned home, approximately six years after emigrating to Canada and with two years’ sobriety, I was able to sit down with my parents individually and spend time to be present and listen – the first time that had ever happened! It was genuine and authentic.
On my trips home to Scotland I would take my mom out – something I had never done before. Sometimes I just sat and talked to her, listened to her, and was interested in her and her life. She would say, “What do you mean?” She couldn’t believe that I was offering her something instead of asking her for something, which had always been my M.O.
Making amends was initially easier with my sister in the USA because I had opportunities to meet and get to know her well. My oldest brother Jim and I spent a lot of time on the phone after he was diagnosed with cancer. We were both in the program and during his last days we spent a lot of time talking and I was able to make direct amends to him before his death.
My other siblings are all in Scotland. Although I have repaired relationships with all of them, I still need to make direct amends to three of them. But over the years I have tried to be a good son and a good brother.
I never took ownership of any of my financial troubles when I was drinking. Even into my sobriety I was still financially irresponsible, drowning in debt. My attitude was that that I needed my money more than the banks did. But then I heard someone state at a meeting that the banks didn’t want my money, they wanted their money.
My emphasis completely shifted from self-centred Bill to doing the right thing and approaching the banks, which I did. I paid off all my credit cards, my bank loans, my student loans. I’m not spending money I don’t have anymore. Part of what I do now as an ongoing amend is to donate what I can to charities.
Throughout this process I’ve looked at all of my basic instincts – social, security and sex – and found they were all out of proportion. Part of the solution in this Step is to bring them into alignment with God’s will and therefore make the right decisions at the right times. And consequently I have made a huge amend to myself.
One Promise that I celebrate is “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it; we will lose interest in self and gain interest in our fellows.” My experiences with Step Nine and living sober in the world continue to offer me the opportunities to make amends wherever possible and help serve others.
I am moving forward today, not looking back at the past or over my shoulder.