Most people who go through the 12-steps are most afraid of step four: doing a personal inventory of one’s resentments, fears, and harms. However, I was different – I was not afraid of doing this. I knew all of the bad things I had done. What I was fearful of was step nine: making amends to people I had harmed. Admitting my wrongs to myself was one thing, but humbling myself enough to face someone that I hurt and admitting my wrong-doing was something else. It seemed much more intimidating. After all, I did not enjoy being vulnerable with people, and when making amends, vulnerability is important. Vulnerability is what demonstrates to the other person that I know what I did wrong and that I honestly want to make it right.
Fortunately for me, I have a sponsor who holds me accountable and pushes me to do things that I need to do, even when I don’t want to do them. Although I was afraid of making amends, my sponsor asked me to trust her and the process and to continue moving forward with my steps. So, I did, and what was revealed was that the one-step that caused me so much fear was the one step that freed me from the baggage of my past.
Healing Resentments Through Making Amends
“Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” pg. 64 Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous
I remember reading over this section with my sponsor as if I just read it yesterday. I came into sobriety convinced that I was not resentful at anyone. In fact, I truly believed everyone else harmed me and I was a true victim of circumstances. It was not long before I sat down to truly inventory the events that unfolded in my life and realized I was the common denominator. I continued to place myself in the position to be this victim. Furthermore, I came to realize that I was festering with resentments that I held onto for over 15 years. The beauty of working through the 12-Steps is the unveiling of the truth. Putting pen to paper, I realized that I had resentments that ranged all across the spectrum – from the mean girls in middle school, to perpetrators of actual harm, and all the way to my parents for not being the parents I believed they should have been.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous dives straight into the dangers of an alcoholic harboring resentment. Explicitly describing how dangerous resentments are for the alcoholic, my sponsor guided me through why resentments are essentially a death sentence for an alcoholic such as myself. She explained to me that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. I remember thinking about how dramatic this metaphor seemed, but she was right. Looking back, I saw how I perfectly victimized myself by holding on to situations that didn’t play out the way I believed they should have. The end result was me drinking over these situations while the other parties involved were carrying on with their lives, not taking a second look back at what happened. The solution for a substance abuser is spiritual in nature, and resentment blocks them from making a connection with a Power greater than myself.
I began to make the connection that all of the so-called “harms” I felt were done to me, were actually resentments I held against others regarding harm I actually caused to them. As it turns out, I hurt so many people in my life, before I was drinking and for a long time throughout my drinking career. Unfortunately, it is said, “you hurt the ones you love the most.” This rang so true for me. Looking back, I caused the most chaos and damage to the people I loved the most. More specifically, I hurt my family more than I hurt anyone else in my life. Not only did I hurt them through the chaos of my addiction, but my expectations and erratic behaviors caused a ton of trauma and pain for each member of my household.
For years, I truly believed they were all irrational. How could my addiction possibly affect them? After all, I was only hurting myself, not them. All of the evidence was laid out before me and I could no longer deny the truth. My addiction led to my parents losing sleep, spending resources trying to get me help, lack of trust, and lasting traumatic memories of not knowing if I would be alive to make it to the next day. The truth is, my parents did the best they could with what they had. Given the circumstances of my ravishing addiction, they were the true victims. I was unable to experience healing from resentment until I began to make amends to the people I hurt the most.
Reuniting Broken Family Relationships
When it came time for me to make amends to my family, I truly had no idea where to even begin. I am so grateful to have a sponsor who held my hand all along the way. Not only did she help me clearly identify my part in all of the dysfunction of my family, but she also had years of experience in making amends.
It is important to note that in Alcoholics Anonymous we are taught to not make amends when it is at the expense of the people we have harmed. In other words, we cannot merely make amends to clear our own conscience. Every amends we intend to make must be discussed with our sponsor and prayerfully taken into consideration before we implement action.
I truly believe my relationship with my family was in a peaceful place because I was no longer under their roof causing chaos. This was a solid starting point for the foundation upon which I was able to consider making amends. Before even thinking about making amends to my family, my sponsor and I sat down and wrote out all of the things I had done that may have caused harm. My sponsor stressed the importance of starting with “I was wrong for…” rather than overloading them with the “I’m sorry…” that they relentlessly heard over the years. It was also important for me to give them the space to add anything else that I may have forgotten or left out. Lastly, it was my duty to ask them how I could make things right.
I sought out to make amends with my parents in person. The whole flight home, I can remember replaying how the conversation would go and how we would indefinitely wind up arguing over some small detail I forgot. The truth is, I couldn’t have been more fearful or more wrong. Greeted with huge smiles and “You look so great!” compliments – things were not as tense as I expected.
I waited for the perfect time to sit down with my parents and discuss all of my shortcomings and all of the harm I caused them. I remember their tearful eyes as they heard me recount the darkest days of my life. Almost immediately the guilt and shame fell to the wayside as I courageously admitted all of the things I had done to cause pain for them. The simple acknowledgment of these things was not unnoticed. In fact, I reluctantly posed the daunting question “What can I do to make things right?” To my surprise, I was met with so much grace as my parents responded “We do not want anything from you, just keep doing what you are doing. Do not give up, stay sober, and continue making us proud.”
Much like the biblical story of the prodigal son, I was welcomed home with open arms. It was as if I never committed any wrongdoings against my family. One of the most important aspects of making amends is changed behavior. For years I apologized over and over again for the same behavior. True amends do not come to fruition until you have mastered the art of changing the behavior that caused harm in the first place.
Today, I have a great relationship with my parents. My family no longer has to tremble when they hear the sirens passing by on the street. My sister trusts me to spend time with my nieces alone, without having to worry if I will be under the influence when I arrive to fulfill my commitment. Most importantly, I am no longer the daughter and sister I used to be – I am a woman of dignity and grace. I say what I mean and I do what I say I will do. I maintain my commitments and keep my promises today. There is something revolutionary found in the act of making amends in recovery to the ones we love – especially our family members.