I dreaded Step Nine. I could not imagine how I could possibly go to people to make amends for the things I’d done wrong. All I ever wanted to do was to sweep those things under the rug or into a dark corner of a closet with a hidden door that no one could ever see – least of all me. I wanted to forget and set behind me all those things that I’d done wrong. They just hurt too much to look at. Opening them up in front of my victim? No way!
But this method of dealing with them just didn’t work. No matter how much I tried to hide them, they were like Freddy Krueger, showing up by surprise in absolutely terrible ways. Mostly, they showed up in my own thoughts as nightmares that I had to deal with on my own. They fed my character defects. They drove my actions, in insidious and sick ways.
Step Four had helped. Looking honestly at my actual wrongs, and the character defects that drove them, had shaved them down from nightmare size to reality. But Step Nine really put them to bed.
I learned that making amends was more than just a casual, flippant “I’m sorry,” although those words were always part of it. And I consulted with my sponsor about each amends before doing it. We planned together what to do, what to say and how to say it.
The general pattern was:
I’m improving my spiritual life.
I wronged you, and here’s how. Very specific, not including all my baggage. Just what had I done wrong to them.
I know that it harmed you, in this way. Again, very specific.
I am sorry for having harmed you.
What can I do to make it better, at this date?
(And also include time and opportunity for them to talk about it.)
I went to my father. I had loved him and hated him all my life, but for 20 years I had mostly avoided him. I told him I had found a better spiritual life and was trying to clean up my wrongs. I apologized for having avoided him, and for not giving him the love and care due to a father from a son. He was touched, (as much as he ever could be touched,) but brushed it off. I asked him if there was something I could do to make it up. He brushed that off, too. But even for that, I found enough humility to forgive him. Having forgiven him, I then spent the next 9 years visiting him frequently, having contact with him as he gradually failed, and creating the son-father relationship that we had both wanted. I was there by his bed when he died, the only one of his children who was. Making amends to my father for my failings turned my own life around. It gave me possibly the biggest gift I had ever had – a deep satisfaction in my final relationship with him.
I went to a past boss. He had been up for promotion some years earlier, at a time when I was focused on acting out and was not doing my job. He never got that promotion. When I made amends to him, he was only months away from retirement, from the same position in which he’d been my boss. I told him about my spiritual life. I apologized for not doing my job properly during that time, and I acknowledged that my failure to support him probably had some small contribution to his not getting that promotion. I told him I thought he had deserved promotion, and how sorry I was that I didn’t do everything I could to help him get it. He was in tears, there in his office. I asked him if there was anything I could do at this late date to make up for it. He told me that I just had.
I had embezzled travel money from my employer, a matter of some thousands of dollars, by extending trips on the company budget to meet with partners for sex. I had calculated in Step Four exactly how much money was involved. In this case, I couldn’t go directly to the company, so as to avoid harming my wife, if they decided to prosecute. And the company probably wouldn’t know what to do with the money if I just gave it back to them. So, after consulting with my sponsor, I added interest and then rounded the number up and made a large donation to a new foundation that would serve the kind of work that company did. My donation actually got that foundation started. The foundation president wanted to publicize the donation, but I refused to let him do so. To this day, ten years later, he is still the only one who knows where that money came from. Again, I have a deep satisfaction within – not only for helping the foundation to get started, but also for having properly discharged my wrong to my employer.
Most of my amends were much simpler. I apologized for what I’d done, and that was sufficient for them.
Some of my amends were just a surprise to the target. They had no idea that I was carrying guilt for wronging them. Most simply shrugged and said, “That’s okay. No problem.” I had been carrying anger, resentment, fear, and self-loathing for years. They’d just been getting on with their lives.
I have one amends still unmade, to that boy who invited me to play sodomy at a summer camp when I was 11. He was a year older, and for many years I saw him as a perpetrator. But hey, he was only 12. My wrong? I accepted his invitation. And thereby did incalculable damage to us both. I’ve not been able to find him. (I just tried now, once again.) I’m meeting with my sponsor this week, and I think I’ll bring this one up with him to ask his advice.
Every one of the amends I made has been healing. I am thankful for every one, and for what they have done inside me. Far from being a burden, or a terrible emotional turmoil, each one has been smooth and complete, with caring for the person.
Step Nine is truly a marvelous Step.