I am working on Step Nine in my program right now, making my amends, slow but sure. Recently, I discovered that I tackle my amends like I tackle most things – with too many words. So many things I want to take back. Behavior that I want to explain. Why did I do it that way? What was the underlying experience that led me to the pain I caused another? I wanted to lay out each and every amend like a chemistry diagram, cause and effect, action and reaction. But pages and pages of explanation and description and apology have weighed me down and I find myself holding back again.
What I didn’t see was that even though I could identify my responsibility in the harm I caused, I was still hanging onto the backstory as if it somehow minimized my culpability. I grew up with enormous expectations, I was affected by an alcoholic spouse, etc, etc. While the story of how I got here may be enlightening to me and help me understand myself, it does nothing to excuse responsibility for my own behavior. On an extreme level, it's the "Twinkie Defense" in a murder trial.
Truth is, my amends need to be cleaner than they are. Instead of explaining why I tried to control something and then apologizing, I need to edit all the superfluous words away and simply say, “I meddled and I’m sorry.” No explanations, no excuses, no outline of the mitigating circumstances that led to my behavior. If I am a responsible adult who demonstrates some modicum of emotional sobriety, then I have to be willing to let go of the explanations and stop being the victim of my own storyline.
If I continue to carry my history into and through these amends, it allows that history to have a place in my future by suggesting that others should excuse me because of it, and that’s not the clean slate I want for myself. I want the kind of clean slate that allows me to edit the word “because” out of my amends. One that takes full ownership of my actions.
So I’m working through my amends one more time with an editor’s eye and a sharpened red pencil. I am striking out all the explanations of why I did things, and any passage that minimizes my accountability. None of that matters. I did what I did. I need to stand in my truth today. True ownership of my behavior, and willingness to change, can only be achieved when I can make amends without telling the backstory.
This morning, I took a pass through the amends letter I’ve been working on to my husband. Suffice it to say that I bled all over the page and four paragraphs were edited down to two sentences. It was enlightening, really. Too many words, not enough ownership. It’s not chemistry. It’s just acceptance, but somehow, that’s an infinitely harder subject for me.
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