Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Difficult Times/Working the Steps Step 9, Part 3

Step 9:   Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“And now it is time for you to make amends to yourself,” my Twelve Step sponsor said, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant.  After all, I had been brought up in a religious  culture that put service to others as a top priority.

Self-centeredness was to be avoided at all cost.  Selfishness was considered a sin, and narcissism was the ultimate sin.  Self-indulgence perpetuated an on-going sense of shame that finally led to self-sabotage.  I learned early to put others first.  Would making amends make me too self-absorbed?    Would I cause injury to myself or others if I gave myself too much time, too much attention?

What I was to learn, mercifully, over many years were the necessary practices of self-care and boundary-setting, and with those practices I also learned self-respect.

“You have the best boundaries of any preacher’s wife I’ve ever known,” a woman said to me, and I thanked her warmly.  I made a mental note to call my sponsor and report what was said to me.

“That wasn’t a compliment,” she said, and I felt the sting all over my body.

Making amends to oneself is often a complicated and difficult process because by the time we get to adulthood, our habits are so ingrained and unconscious  that we see the behaviors, thought processes and attitudes that motivate them as “natural”.  Furthermore, when we start taking actions that interrupt our habitual responses, those around us may not like our new behavior. Those healthier behaviors likely upset the status quo of the relationship.

Recovery isn’t easy.  Change is difficult.  People remain enslaved because slavery is easy and freedom is hard — and costly.  And making amends to oneself doesn’t get much press, does it?  Where does one even start?

But, if you can’t forgive to yourself, how can you extend forgiveness to anyone else?

We often treat other people better than we treat ourselves, although some persons treat others worse than they treat themselves.  “It just depends…,” we say, meaning what?

Look at the command from the Great Commandment of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22;37-39:  Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Not more than yourself.  Not less than yourself, but as yourself.     What does loving yourself have to do with making amends?

I didn’t have a clue what that meant.   I’m not sure I knew what it meant to love myself.  I knew what it was to respect myself, but what did loving myself mean?

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Making amends to oneself may seem silly and  feel awkward, but it is an important step in recovering from any self-sabotaging behavior or an addiction.  In my experience, making amends to myself has involved serious self-reflection to help me discern the difference between excusing myself by shrugging my shoulders either as an “Oh, well, that’s who I am” or “It’s OK, I didn’t mean to do it”  and learning to forgive myself for the things I left undone and the things I had done.  Making amends to myself required me to wake up to self-defeating habits, and it made me take a hard, difficult look at the flaws in my self-concept that kept me in a perpetual cycle of uneasiness and insecurity.  Making amends to myself forced me to face a lifetime habit of shyness, which I learned was actually self-centeredness,  and learn how to get over myself and start reaching out others.

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