Step 9: Forgiveness
Making amends may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but for those serious about recovery it can be great medicine for the spirit and soul.
for·give (fr-gv, fôr-)
I remember when I first started reading the steps – Step 9 stood out like a sore thumb….”Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Oh, how I hoped that in ALL cases it would injure them or others so I wouldn’t have to do it. Really?? Apologize to people for things I’m mortified that I did? I just wanted to sweep it all under the rug and move on. Of course, that was long before I had “become willing” in Step 8. By the time I got to Step 8, I was becoming less afraid.
Forgiving is releasing a debt. Step 9 requires admitting that I have a debt to be released. In essence, it’s about taking responsibility for my actions. After Steps 4, 5 and 8, I’ve pretty much determined what I’ve done wrong, who I’ve done it to and why I did it. That’s the beauty of these steps. Everything comes out in the open. It’s no longer dancing around in my mind haunting me, or buried in my heart where it eats me alive. It’s right there on paper. And, the magic is this – when something gets written on paper and is exposed to the light of day, the power goes away. Poof.….it’s like magic. It becomes an act. It’s no longer a soul-eating monster.
My sponsor had me write out my amends in the form of letters to the people I had harmed. I took the information from my Step 4 inventory and the knowledge I had about my character defects and wrote letters and letters and letters. I know this about taking action. When I put my intention out there and state it, whatever needs to happen begins to percolate in the universe. I’m sure as soon as I wrote each of those letters, God began to move mountains to make the appropriate amends happen. I didn’t have any financial amends or legal amends or anything pressing. My amends were mostly with damaged relationships. My sponsor said I didn’t need to run out and make direct amends immediately. I should pray about them, and, when I need to make them, the opportunity will present itself.
There were a few I did pretty quickly because I needed to get them off my chest, and they were with close friends and relatives. I made them to my parents. I made them to my husband. I didn’t go into a huge amount of detail unless it was absolutely necessary. I tried to keep it simple but communicate that I knew I had made mistakes with them, and I wanted them to know that I wanted to do better and be a better person. In all cases, it eased some of the tension between us. It felt like cleaning the slate – it felt like a debt had been paid.
For others, I just let them sit. It’s funny. I haven’t opened the letters up since I wrote them. They are cataloged in a file on my computer, and there they stay. But, every now and then, I’ll run into one of those secret pen pals on Facebook, at a party, or they will call me for some reason. I’ll get butterflies in my stomach because I know this may be the opportunity presenting itself, and I may need to take responsibility for my past actions. EVERY TIME, if the moment comes, I just know it. There is a sense of peace that comes over me, and I just say what I need to say. The most beautiful one was with my first husband. It happened just that way. He went on to make some amends to me. We talked about how we would do things a bit differently now, and I think we both felt forgiven.
There are other amends that I will never offer directly because I know that bringing it up will hurt them or others. So, I offer them a living amends. It’s an amends that says I will treat them well in the future. I will do what I need to do to make sure I don’t harm or hurt anyone else like that again. I will honor them by wishing them happiness and peace. Sometimes those are the hardest to do, truthfully. There’s one person that is receiving a living amends, and they are a very difficult person. But, when something happens that drives me crazy, I remember that I owe them the respect to make their own mistakes just like I made mine. That is my amends to them…..to offer them forgiveness.
I thought Step 9 would be a bitter pill to swallow, and, to be honest, it is difficult and humbling at times. But, the gift of Step 9 is that my load is lightened. I’ve had relationships mended and experienced closure on some that had to end. It has taught me the art of owning my actions and, surprisingly, it’s taught me that it feels good to own them, even if I regret them. It is empowering to take ownership of all of me, good and bad. It makes me feel human, and it usually connects me more deeply to the other person. After all, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And, when I own up to mine, I feel forgiven by others and God, but I also begin to forgive myself for being a fallible human being. And, the biggest gift of all – it motivates me to be a better person. When I think of saying something mean, doing something hurtful or holding a grudge….I remember…..if I do that, I’ll have to make an amends. It’s usually not worth it……….I never said it was fun!!