Saturday, June 12, 2010

Step Nine - Let it Begin with Me

So much of the Alanon program is about simply changing the way that we look at ourselves and the world. But it isn’t really all that simple to do. We carry with us such deep seated paradigms about right and wrong, about God and all those other important life topics, that it usually takes something drastic to actually uproot our old thinking. It takes the emotional equivalent of being hit over the head with a baseball bat to get us to see that there really is another way to view things. The good part for us is that alcoholism is one hell of a bat and after it takes a few swings at us, we may be lucky enough, and courageous enough, to seek out this shift in thinking. And Alanon guides us through that.

I used to be very resistant to some of the language I heard in meetings. One such phrase was “making amends” in Step Nine. For me, “making amends” meant to make apologies, which implied an admission that I had done something wrong. In my old thinking, this was paramount to setting myself up for excommunication from the universe and I simply wasn’t going to go there. I see now that this step is not about making apologies and being forgiven for my wrongs. It’s about openly acknowledging exactly how I have conducted myself, in as honest a way as possible, so that I can take down the protective barriers I have created between myself and others.

I act badly when I am in fear. I think most people do. I engage in a vicious circle of self-protecting behavior that achieves nothing other than to build walls between myself and others. So much energy is spent focused on this fear, and on making sure I come out on the correct side of the righteous fence. The only way to change this is to remove the fence, and stop with all the judgment. And it starts with me.

Step Nine allows me to openly communicate the ways in which I have behaved badly, without anticipation of forgiveness from the person I’ve harmed. This is not an exercise in apology. It is an exercise in me accepting myself, out loud, truthfully and without judgment. The act of saying these things openly to the ones I’ve harmed helps to break down the walls that I specifically constructed with them, usually out of fear. If I can learn to do this, being compassionate with myself and who I really am, then maybe one day, I will be able to accept others without judgment as well.

I read recently that spiritual awakening is not a process by which we become so good and so pure that we ascend to the top of some mountain in goodness and light. Spiritual awakening is when we can go down into the reality of life, unafraid, and discover the kind of love for ourselves and for others that will not die, despite the reality of all of our shortcomings. And it begins with me. Only if I can do this myself will I be able to accept others without trying to control them and make them into something they’re not.

Step Nine puts that type of action in motion. It says, “I just don’t want to pretend with you any more.”


  1. an eye opener :) i tried making amends with my alcoholic loved one n the response i got was ,'did i not tell you it was all your fault !" and i cried so much that day ... was so clumsy at making amends then!
    That was ten years ago , mercifully i know better now and i run the exercise through my sponsor first and every time, i get to understand this step better, for my amends with myself continue !

  2. What can I do to "make amends" with my alcoholic son? He could care less and I don't know what I am supposed to be "amending" for.

    He's the one that is an abusive alcoholic, and is angry at me. He didn't care when I told him I had joined Al-Anon and was going to work the steps and he had no response other than "good for you" or some nonsense. And then no email for the past three years but anger and hatred.

    So what good does "making amends" when all I did was bear him, raise him, support him as much as I could his whole life. Nothing was ever good enough. But I am still the one grieving. He is my son and that bond can't be broken, at least with me.

    I know I am supposed to "love him from a distance" but I just wish there was something else I could do. I miss him and don't understand his complete rejection of me after I dared to mention his drinking one time. That was the end of me.

    And EVERYTHING seems to be blamed on the mother now. I was stunned to find out that I "must have abused him somehow" to "make him drink." I come from a family of Irish Catholic alcoholics and I don't drink. And my son does, despite growing up knowing the danger of it. How can this be my fault too?

    1. The biggest relief I found in Al-Anon was that I was not to blame for my husband's drinking at all. I do not make him drink. I constantly remind myself of the three Cs: I didn't cause it, I cannot cure it and I sure as hell cannot control it.

      I think we cannot understand the alcoholic's behavior. But we have to learn to not take their actions personally. My husband does not drink to piss me off. He wants to be the husband he used to be, caring and loving and supportive, but he is unable to be that person. Because he is trapped in alcoholism. Going to open AA meetings helped a lot in opening my eyes to that sad truth.

      In reality, you son is right when he says "good for you". Because that is what Al-Anon has been for me. Good for me. It is not about my husband at all. You may not be able to make amends to your son at this time. Because the resentments and the pain and the anger are too big. I believe that that is okay.

      Of course the bond between you and your son cannot be broken. You love this alcoholic very much. And it is absolutely okay to grief and be sad. But there is also a lot of good and beauty in the world. And Al-Anon has opened my eyes to that again. I am very grateful to this program and I hope that you will find some relief, too. My heart goes out to you and all others suffering from this horrible disease.

    2. Just happened upon your entry today when looking through some 9 step work for my own stepwork in recovery... though it's been a while since your post, I felt compelled to share with you.

      I just wanted to ask if you were working with a sponsor and if you had a good support system of alanon friends (in addition to online community)?

      I very much heard myself in your pain - myself from just a few years ago. I definitely felt the same way about the term amends, and felt a helplessness like what I heard in your share.

      What made the biggest shift for me was really intently (and slowly) working the steps in order with a sponsor. I had to take my time, and she gently let me do so. I found that once I reached step 9 - after being very thorough in steps 1-8 with her - I understood it in a light I could not before. And while I am now working my own amends, I understand that portion of the step that says '...except when to do so would injure them or others', and sometimes 'others' includes me.
      My sponsor helps me navigate the waters of what is mine to amend for, and what simply is not. I learned through the previous steps how to identify where my own responsibilities lie - and often in my case, my actions were always focused outside of my own responsibilities - and that caused me a lot of suffering over the years.

      All the best to you. You are not alone!

  3. I'm working this step now...or trying to at least. Found myself googling for a template or something other than what I've already read and talked about to give me some fuel to move forward. And here I am, thank goodness! I've gathered the gems from this post to allow me to step all the way in. Thank you. xo