“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Al-Anon’s Step Eight
I have stalled out in my program several times over the years, most recently just as I started to make amends. I made lists of the all people I had harmed and began writing letters to them. I only sent one letter to its intended recipient, and I have been mulling over the rest, stuck in a quandary over whether or not I was doing the whole thing properly.
I heard in the literature and in meetings that I would need to put myself on that list. I would need to make amends to myself for all the deferring, badgering, compromising, and belittling I had cast upon myself over the years. It sounded like a nice gesture, so I put my name down, and went right back to working on everyone else.
Recently, I asked my sponsor to help me get through my amends. I wanted to tackle my husband first and she said Great! Let’s go big, right out of the gate. As I began reading her a rough draft of the letter I wrote to my husband, it felt heavy, laden with apologies and acceptance of responsibility. She listened patiently through page one, squirmed in her chair during page two, and stopped me dead in the middle of page three. “Wait a second,” she said. “Something’s all wrong here. Get your amends list out. How many people are on it?” I told her. “Where are you on the list?” At the bottom. “Ahh!”
In listening to the amends I wrote to my husband, she sensed something fundamentally wrong in my thinking. Something I needed to get under my belt before I could proceed. She told me to move my name to the top of the list, don’t pass go, and don’t even try to make amends to anyone else before I had made them to myself. I was a little angry at first. I mean it’s my list, how dare she shuffle it without my permission, but I trust her, so I went home and started an amends letter to myself. It began, “Dear Me….It’s been brought to my attention that I haven’t been very kind to you.” I had to fake it in the beginning, but pen to paper was followed by two solid days of tears. I had been forcibly discombobulated.
But it changed everything. And I mean everything. Without taking a close look at my relationship with myself, without making amends to myself first, I would have continued to approach everyone else from that old unhealthy position. It was hard to become willing to make amends to myself, because I knew that once I did, everything would feel unfamiliar. And it does, but that’s what change is all about. There are many people on my amends list, but there’s only one person who has a relationship with all of them, me. And that’s why it was important to put me at the top of the list. Not to make myself more important or more special than anyone else, not to placate myself, but to prioritize change in the one common denominator there is to every other relationship. Change the common denominator and every other equation looks different as a result.
There is a passage from an ancient Buddhist text that I return to over and over again when I need to focus my perspective. It says:
“To cover all the earth with sheets of leather.
Where would such amounts of hide be found?
But with the leather soles of just my shoes
It is as though I cover all the earth!”
(Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva)
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