The reality of alcoholism is that it will only get worse. Patterns of use follow a pathway snaking deeper and deeper into the murkiest reaches of human behavior. Tolerance steadily builds and more is needed to attain the same. Classic addiction takes root. Negative consequences become the norm and, although the stories have different names and places, they all share equally in the predictable downward spiral.
At some point it will happen. The alcoholic reaches a point of no return, a place where the highway turns into quicksand. This is the intersec-tion between awareness and realization. There is nowhere else to go and no one to turn to. There are few options left. Bridges have been burned. The lies and promises have morphed into mountains. It is the serendipitous juncture where a beaten down alcoholic finally admits that they have lost control and need the help of others.
For many, hope and liberation have been found in the framework of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), providing a valuable lifeline and a second chance.
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded AA in Akron, Ohio in 1935. The program is an international “mutual aid fellowship” whose stated purpose is to enable its members to “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.” The often-replicated AA 12-Step program offers an organized plan of recovery, viewed by many as a program for spiritual and character development.
That respected program instructs that it is not enough to simply stop drinking. There is more work to be done. Many times the al-coholic in recovery is overwhelmed by thoughts of past behaviors and may not be able to enjoy their present day sobriety. It is an obsession that refuses to go away. This arduous mindset produces what Fred Holmquist has termed “sober suffering.” We suffer regret for the past as though it were in the present. We carry the fear and pain of yesterday with us on our daily journey.
AA offers a solution to this and, although the entire twelve steps are considered equally important (in that they all must be taken), steps eight and nine have particular meaning to the recovering alcoholic. If we are to be truly free of the demons from the past, we must con-front them and begin the process of offering amends and restitu-tion. These steps require the alcoholic to make a list of the people they have harmed due to their drinking and to develop a plan to make amends to each one. Only then can we live peacefully and fearlessly in the present, living a life of joy and tranquility.
Making a list
The two steps are closely interconnected. Specifically, step eight reads, “Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became will-ing to make amends to them all.” And step nine says: “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Working these steps allow us to look into our past and to see where we have been at fault. It also presents an opportunity to repair the damage, if possible. This journey will be uncomfortable, embarrassing and painful as we begin to compile a list of all the people we have physically, emotionally or financially damaged. It is important to keep our self-importance and ego in check as we undertake this test.
The AA publication “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” acknowledges “Step Eight” as having the potential to create a new beginning. The book concludes that “Step Eight” can be “the beginning of the end of isolation from our fellows and from God.” In other words, that step can rescue us from our egocentric prison as we reconnect with the brotherhood of man, and celebrate an important support system.
Steps Eight and Nine offer escape from a past lifetime of poor choices and negative consequences. Trapped in addiction, the al-coholic dwells in a fetid junkyard crammed with shattered promises and relationships. Addiction harms, not only the alcoholic, but nu-merous others who suffer the addict’s disappointment and betrayal. That betrayal is not easily forgotten, nor forgiven.
There will be people from our past who will refuse to accept our apologies and our amends. “Let go of the outcome,” advises Mi-chelle Farris. “Keep focused why you’re making the amends. It takes guts and integrity to acknowledge past behavior. Often, you’re alone in this but the integrity you show can change the nature of your relationships.
“If the other person isn’t ready, or the friendship ends, remember that there may be reconciliation down the road. You had the courage to face your fear. That level of integrity is a valuable trait that will make your relationships healthy.”
“Do it for yourself,” says Tamar Chansky. “You’re apologizing not to get a particular outcome,” he says, “but to do the right thing from your side and clear your conscience.” This will help you keep your equilibrium if the other person is angry, or if you find that what you did had less effect on the other person than you thought. If the person minimizes it, you can simply say, ‘I’m really glad you feel that way, but what I did has been weighing on me.’ This attitude will also help remind you that even if the other person bears some blame for the problem between you, your responsibility is to take care of your side.”
Profound Positive Effect
Making amends is a dynamic, ongoing process. It is an act of contri-tion, written from the soul, with brutal honesty. As we take respon-sibility for past behaviors, we render a commitment to change. By making amends, and not simply offering apologies for past transgres-sions, the alcoholic strives to make things right and to restore justice, damaged or broken by the addiction. Amends can be made directly, “whenever possible,” or symbolically depending upon the situation.
Making amends can have a profound positive effect. It can restore the status quo and order in our lives by acknowledging past wrongs and attempts to correct those actions. It’s all about maintaining order and equilibrium, about balancing our ledger. Making amends breaks the chains of the past, allowing us the freedom to live in the present. Making amends provides a positive surge of self-confidence realizing that the very act of making amends will be one of the most courageous challenges we will ever attempt. It is something not taken casually, but with full support of our sponsor and Higher Power.
Lastly, making amends is something that you do for yourself. Although it impacts on others and on our relationships, making amends is an individual process of discovery and empowerment. As we attempt to become the best person we can be, making amends can change our life for the better.
Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music blends facets of the miraculous and supernatural into a psychological profile of survival. Learn more at www.shepptonmyth.com