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.”
* * * * *
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.
–Becoming willing means that I want to be healthy and whole, serene and peaceful enough to take the risk I need to take to clean up a relationship and do whatever I can to make things right.
–Becoming willing means that I understand that while I cannot ever put things back like they used to be, after my offense and after my amends, but that God can take the broken pieces and make something beautiful or useful out of my wrong choices.
* * * * *
Making Amends takes many forms….
So, it was that I was to come to understand that making amends takes many forms.
–Sometimes, all that is necessary is to say, “I did this. I am sorry. I ask for your forgiveness.”
–There are times when I must change my behavior not so much to prove that my amends is sincere, though that is important, but because behavior tells the truth. If I really mean it that I am sorry, then my behavior must match the words I say.
–Making amends means that I will do everything in my power not to be a repeat offender, and the person with whom I am hoping to reconcile and I may need to talk about what action would communicate that I am sincerely wanting reconciliation.
–Making amends requires me to look at what is broken. Is it communication between myself and another? Did I break the trust between us? Is the relationship broken permanently, or is there hope for reconciliation?
–Making amends means that I am intentional, consciously choosing my words and actions to show that I want to repair what I have broken, if that is possible.
* * * * *
What making amends is not…
Making amends doesn’t mean I give the other person the job of being my parole officer to watch over me to make sure I don’t repeat my original sin.
Making amends doesn’t mean that I grovel and beg for another chance.
Making amends doesn’t mean that I appoint the person I offended as God, allowing that person to decide when I’ve done enough to earn his/her forgiveness.
Making amends doesn’t mean that I allow another person to determine my punishment.
Making amends doesn’t mean that I have to be reminded of my errors, defects and sins. I will likely do enough of that to myself.
Making amends does not mean that I take on the wrong of another person as my fault.
Other people have their part in making the messes of our lives; I can make amends only for what I have done or said to harm myself or another person.* * * * *
When your best is not enough – and never will be….
“Jeanie,” my sponsor said to me, firmly, “the devil’s best weapon of defeat is to keep us bound by the one relationship we cannot repair, the one defeat we cannot overcome, the one person’s whose forgiveness we can never earn .”
Sometimes I have carried my amends with an open heart to a person I have offended, betrayed or hurt, and the person refuses to forgive me, won’t let me try to fix what I have broken or ridicules me for my weakness and my flaws? What if that person keeps a closed heart and mind to me and won’t hear me or give me another chance?
There was a time in my life when I agonized over a relationship I could not repair, no matter what I did or said.
“There are two parts to forgiveness,” a wise priest told me. “One part is asking for forgiveness and the other part is giving forgiveness.”
He paused, and then he asked, “Has this person asked you for your forgiveness?”
“No,” I responded, and the sound of that one syllable sounded like a last gasp in a long process of pain and suffering.
“You have done all you can do to repair this relationship,” he told me. “Now, go in peace.”
And I did.
* * * * *
And what about making amends to myself?
Facing the facts about what harm we have done to ourselves is only the starting point to serenity and peace. Here are some suggestions for accessing self-forgiveness and appropriating the forgiveness of God and others.
I make amends to myself when I form new habits that are based on healthy choices.
I make amends to myself when I set appropriate boundaries with all persons in my life, and especially with those who have enabled me to stay stuck in unhealthy behaviors or those I have enabled to continue in unhealthy patterns.
I make amends to myself when I move from self-judgement to self-compassion.
I make amends to myself when I change from self-neglect or self-abuse to self-respect and self-love.
I make amends to myself when I become more conscious of my patterns and more mindful of my motivations, my feelings and my habits.
I make amends to myself when I accept God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness by living as a forgiven person.
I make amends to myself when I move from self-rejection to self-acceptance and self-appreciation.
* * * * *
At an event at Rice University in Houston, I heard the Dalai Lama say in response to a question from the audience, “You do not ever allow another person to abuse you in word or action,” he said. “When you do so, you are participating in that person’s cycle of self-injury and self-hate.”
“When another person abuses you, he hates himself for doing it and he hates you for allowing it. And when you abuse another person, you hate yourself for doing it and hate the other person for allowing it.”
I have learned that I can enact those cycles of violence on myself. I have learned that only I can stop them.
* * * * *
WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO STOP CYCLES OF VIOLENCE AND HATE.
BE A PART OF A CULTURE OF MERCY, GRACE AND FORGIVENESS,
STARTING WHERE YOU ARE.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
Just as in Christ, God forgave you.
What about you?
For what do you need to make amends?
Do you have trouble saying, “I was wrong”, “I am sorry” or “Please forgive me”?
What might change if you could more easily make amends when you need to do so?
What happens when you just can’t make yourself make amends?
(Remember: When we live in unforgiveness, we leave the door wide open for self-punishment, and sometimes that self-punishment involves repeating the same cycles of mistakes! Think about it. Doesn’t it make more sense to accept forgiveness from God and forgive yourself?)
This recovering life really is lived one day at a time and sometimes one breath at a time.
For today, breathe out fear. Breathe in peace.
Grace to you –