Working the Program: Step 8, Part 3

Step 8:   Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 

The second half of this Step is where the path gets a bit steeper and the risks greater, but it is also the Step that can change your life.  By taking this Step, I’ve learned that the greater the risk, the greater the possibility and potential of reward.

I’ll never forget how my sponsor talked about this Step.  I remember clearly her ton of voice and the expression on her face when she said, “Jeanie, all you have to do right now is become willing to make amends!”

She must have seen the look of panic on my face, but as with every preceding Step, her intention was always for my best welfare and for my serenity and peace.  Always, there was mercy and grace in her work with me.  Never once did I feel censure, condemnation or criticism; always, my identifying my defects, doing my inventory and now, being willing to look at making amends was offered as a way to open my mind and heart to forgiveness and reconciliation.

As in every other conversation with my sponsor, she gave just enough guidance to be helpful, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed to do the work her way.  Looking back, I realize how perfectly she held a safe and firm container while, at the same time, honoring my own process.

“We need to talk about what making amends means,” she said, “and we need to talk about what it doesn’t mean.”

And then she paused.  “Today, we are going to start with “becoming willing” because I don’t want you rushing off and doing this in a way that makes you become a victim.”

* * * * *

Being willing…. 

Honestly, when it comes to making amends, there have been times in my life when being willing to be willing is the best I can do, and my sponsor assured me that my reserve or even hesitancy about making amends could be a warning to proceed with caution.

Over time, I have learned that making amends can bring about a reaction from the other person that makes my guilt worse.

I have learned that some people view both the character defect and the act of making amends as potential soft spots where they can bind you to your past, holding your weakness over your head like a black storm cloud that can rain lightning and thunder on you when you least expect it.

“You may have to explain to the person to whom you want to make amends what it is you are doing,” my sponsor told me.  “Proceed with caution.  Give up your preconceived notions of the outcome.  Do your part and your part only, and then leave the rest to God.”

In the moment, I wasn’t sure what my sponsor meant, but in subsequent years, I realized that she understood how easily codependents can, in the process of making amends, take all the blame for a problem and all the responsibility for solving that problem when, quite possibly, others might have some ownership of the problem, as well.

“You’re only required to make amends for what you have done or said,” she told me, and then she added hard-won wisdom.  “You see, Jeanie, there are people who interpret others’ making amends or even saying they are sorry as a sign of weakness or, worse, a way to gain power over you.”

Always sensitive to my expressions and tone of voice, she must have seen the confusion on my face.

“You see, for some people, others’ admission of guilt or request for forgiveness is a green light for holding your guilt over your head.  Withholding forgiveness can be a power thing for others, and so it is important to know how to make amends.”

“Sometimes people interpret your willingness to make amends as your soft spot, and they might see it as hurt they can exploit.”

Honestly, I knew that what she was saying was true, but that reality was almost enough to scare me back into a hiding place and skipping this Step.

Becoming willing to make amends is simple, but not necessarily all that easy.  Here is what I learned about making amends:

–Becoming willing means that I have gotten a clear idea of the exact nature of my wrong.

–Becoming willing means that I have a clear idea of what it is I need to say or do.

–Becoming willing means that I understand that I cannot control how the other person responds to what I will say or do.