There's a person that I know, that when he gives a share on the Twelve Steps, every time he gets to Step Eight and Nine, going into the subject of amends, says like a mantra: "The only thing worse than accepting responsibility for some version of harm that we've done, and apologizing for it, is doing the same damn thing, doing it addict-style and having to apologize for it 10 more times, cause we keep doing the same inappropriate things, and not getting different results!" I can relate!
When I was 13 or 14 years old, I'd said "I'm sorry," so many times, my brother turned to me at one point and screamed... "You know something you piece of shit... you are totally F'n sorry!" Sheepishly I asked him, "What do you want from me?" Paul screamed back... "Changeeeeee! Changeeeeee! Changeeeeee!" It totally reminded me of Sam Kinison, and in truth completely understandable, as I progressively wore my Mother, and brother down. It was strikingly similar to our father's alcoholism. That said, he definitely drove home the point.
Given the above, when it comes to Step Nine "Amends," we really could be mindful and sensitive to the potential needs of others that we're directing our amends. We could ask:
1) Do I understand the difference between restitution and amends?
If we don't, we could stop right there. Danger Will Robinson! People often mistake restitution for amends, which ends up causing new harm to people. They are very much NOT the same thing. Restitution is some version of compensation for something that occurred on a specific date, time and place. Amends has more to do with how we are or were in the past as people… and how we plan to live forward in a healthy way. Restitution has a strong connection to guilt. Amends has a strong connection to shame as the dominate theme, though elements of guilt are definitely mixed it.
2) When we show up on there door-step... are they prepared?
Initially I was looking at it only from my side of the table, because I was seeing it as a method of relief from personal guilt and shame. In fact, my sponsor literally said to me at one point, "If you're thinking this is 'Forgive and forget - you're sadly mistaken. This is bigger than that. It's about how are you going to show up in integrity, instead of old-behavior wherein your tendency was to be physically present, but emotionally distant."
3) Could they end up thinking or feeling emotionally ambushed?
Its a kindness and healthy to check-in and see if it would be okay to meet somewhere on their terms, where they feel comfortable to have what I call an open-ended discussion... which could be an opener to exploring what healing harm could look-like. In my experience it's essentially not to "Find," or try to do a bunch of "Quick fixes," and hurry through the process. In one instance I'd said to a former girlfriend... "Because of not being emotionally available... distant and aloof... off in my world, I'm not sure what healing looks like for you. That's not for me to say or define. It could take you some time. When you have an idea about that, please let me know, and we can see what a respectful healing could be like."
That can be difficult, because in our own mind we have tendencies that will either lean towards being the hero or the villain of every story. It can be counterintuitive to act and live against that impulse. This is why having a sponsor, mentor, sincere friend, to help harmonize our view and understanding of experiences is indispensable. Healing is an inside job, with outward support. That's key.
4) Are the things that I am about to say, or tell them potential triggers to being re-traumatized.
Part of my story as a teenager was suffering with clinical depression. I also managed to survive five uncompleted suicide attempts. These weren't just traumatic from me. Those moments were incredibly traumatic for my family. I had to realize and respect that fact, especially when it came to "What does healing our relationships look like."
TMI is a thing! There's a literal line in Step Nine that people ignore... dare I say plow through. Rehashing the past is rehashing, and sadly sometimes re-litigating the past. Many times Despite sharing one past, there can be two or more very distinct experiences and points of view of our history. A great example is my family. With my Mom there was the way she'd experienced disappointment with me, and then there was my brothers, my sister, and then my dad.
In such situation, that might be more than a conversation among ourselves. Sometimes, that's everyone sitting down with a professional therapist for a few session, because there needs to be an objective person to hold space, that's not a member of the past experiences that was lived through. That can be huge, and lay a new foundation for recalibrated and healthier relationships. I can say how thankful I was when a therapist said... "Yes, when he was a teenager he did all that stuff. But as time as moved, he's grown and moved on too. Perhaps you as a family could heal your grief over that time, and give yourselves and him to experience a kind of rebirth. That's allowed."
It's my hope that this opens the view on "Amends." These are the conversations that tend to get passed through and by with shallow understanding. Shallow usually results in transactional. What we're about is hopefully transformative exerience, much in the way a caterpillar, transforms into a butterfly. One substance, but two every different ways of being.
一Dignity and Grace