Step Nine: "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
When I was first faced with working Step Nine, I thought it was all about the apologies and restitution that the Step suggested. Of course, those amends were significant; I'd done a lot of harm in my years of drinking and using. Being responsible for my brother's arrest was certainly one of the worst of these actions -- the poor guy was letting me live in his house, and I invited my friend the drug dealer to move in. While I had skipped town the night before the cops descended, my brother, who didn't even take drugs, was dragged off as the owner of the house.
At least I could call him and apologize. With the relationships I'd ravaged, it wasn't so easy. My sponsor made it clear to me that calling someone and saying, "I'm sorry for all the crappy stuff I did," really wasn't an option, mainly because it would tend more to open old wounds than to heal them. And he also insisted that all amends be for specific actions, not just general lousiness.
So, my amends stayed somewhat limited, mostly to family members, and there are still plenty of things I regret from my drinking years that I've never been able to address in this way. Nonetheless, although I may not have immediately experienced every one of the so-called "Promises" that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous lists, the process itself was transforming.
I've come to see that what happened, or began to happen to me at that time a quarter century ago, was not that I wiped out my past or made up for all the destructive actions of my addiction, but rather I became a person who takes responsibility for his actions. This, I think, is far more important than any particular amends I might make. I had been a person who avoided responsibility for his actions. I felt threatened by my own failures, afraid of being wrong, of losing face. From a Buddhist viewpoint, this is about protecting the illusion of self, the constructed ego. This self, essentially my collection of thoughts, feelings and memories, is highly dependent on the opinions of others. If others disparage me, my feelings are painful and my thoughts negative; the ego is wounded, and doubts about my worthiness arise. If others praise me, I feel good and have positive thoughts; the ego is boosted, and I think I'm better than others. With this viewpoint or belief system, admitting my mistakes is threatening because I'm afraid of what others will think of me and what that will do to my thoughts and feelings. This is the problem with clinging to ego or identity: you are constantly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life, not to mention the opinions of others.
When we make amends, and when we become a person who takes responsibility for our actions, we begin to see the freedom of non-attachment -- not believing that we are solid entities made up of our thoughts and feelings. I began to see myself in more generic terms: as a human, prone to error, but doing my best. From this perspective, I can begin to have compassion for my predicament. After all, being human is difficult. And I can begin to have forgiveness for myself; I don't want to be a bad person, but, like everyone else, I'm imperfect, so I make mistakes.
Part of my imperfection is that plenty of times, I still cling to ego -- and I suffer for it. But now that process of suffering is much more clear. I can see where the pain is coming from, and even if I can't let go in that moment, at least I'm not confused. I have to be careful, though. The ego is shameless. It will even get attached to the idea of non-attachment to ego. If I think, "Now I'm a Buddhist so I shouldn't ever cling," I'm just setting myself up for another round of suffering.
Please note: As a result of my imperfection, I've failed to keep up my Step-of-the-month blog. I apologize to those who missed Steps 5 and 8. I hope to cover them at a later date --KG