I have an old Webster’s Dictionary that was new when the Big Book was being written. I like to use it to find the definitions of key words from the Twelve Steps. What I found by studying these old definitions and reflecting on my own personal recovery has inspired me to make some drawings based on the definitions.
It is no exaggeration to say that my addiction cost me my business, my reputation, and my home. While addiction devastated me, my family inevitably suffered. I was sure things had gone so far down, that I could never make things right again. I thought that the any remedy for my guilt would consist solely of painful and endless punishment.
When I started the Twelve Steps, that’s what I expected recovery to consist of. Like anyone, I normally avoid pain at all costs. But if the program had to hurt me to heal me, I was prepared to endure it. Doesn’t medicine have to taste bad to do good?
I remember the first time I read the Twelve Steps. I really only skimmed them. I was jumping ahead to find the expected painful parts. My eye was drawn to the Ninth Step which read as follows: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
At last! This was surely the punishment step I had so feared and dreaded. How I came to that conclusion still baffles me today. I must have convinced myself that those words described something painful and horrible. My addiction had driven away loved ones and business associates who had once placed their full trust in me. The suggestion of going back and speaking to any of those people sounded unbearably painful.
I was afraid of the Ninth Steps. Back then, I was afraid of everything—including the very thing that would save me.
Fortunately, when the time came for me to actually work the Ninth Step, I had become a devotee of the Big Book. I no longer believed the Twelve Steps contained any punishments or “bitter medicine”. Fear is a liar, and fear lied to me about how the Steps work. Fear alone had told me the Steps had to hurt to work. But that wasn’t true, which I learned by working Steps One through Eight.
I started Step Nine with my sponsor’s help. Using the literature, I pieced together my plan for how to make my amends. I cannot lie; I had a huge lump in my throat the first time I made an amends. But that was mostly first-time nervousness—like you’d expect on a first job interview or asking someone out on a date. And like those past “firsts”, I now wonder why it ever seemed so impossible to me.
I must have done something right, because I felt a genuine shift in my spirit as I worked Step Nine. I didn’t recognize it at first, but I was experiencing the Promises. It’s hard to believe that even today, because I did nothing to deserve the gift of the Ninth Step. It really was a gift. A priceless one. When I decided to create a drawing for “Amends”, I didn’t know where to begin.
My old 1934 dictionary described “amends” this way: “Compensation for loss or injury.”
Bill Wilson didn’t need a dictionary to tell him that definition. It’s commonly known that Bill went through law school, where legal principles such as “injury”, “harm”, and “amends” are taught. In legal terms, a loss relates to money or property. An injury relates to health or reputation. It seems interesting that a program devoted to spiritual awakening would use language straight from a stuffy old law course.
I wanted to draw something that was familiar to most people. How could I depicts something as abstract as “compensating”? Putting a cast on someone’s broken leg? No, that’s a job for a doctor. Handing someone money because you dented their car? No, auto insurance does that for us now. I might show someone simply saying “I’m sorry” but that’s an apology, and the book suggested something more must come from an amends.
I thought back. When I was a kid, I remember accidentally breaking a wooden railing in our home. I felt terrible about it, but that didn’t fix the railing. My father got angry, but he never told me how I could fix it. He stayed angry and that railing stayed broken for many years, and I felt guilty about it every time I walked past it. Finally, just before we moved out of that house, my father repaired the railing. It took only part of a day, yet it relieved years of guilt for me. I now wish I had asked him how to fix it right away.
That’s what I learned to do in Step Nine. When I cause damage, I ask those I have harmed, “How can I make amends to you?” I then follow their directions, so long as no one is injured by it. There is more to making an amends than that, but that is the key ingredient as I understand it.
The past is unchangeable. Everyone has an opinion about the past, but I have never seen a factual report of anyone changing it—not in any history books or even in books about religious faith. If no one else has ever changed the past, why would I spend so much time thinking about doing so?
The past may still feel real to me. If I so choose, I can obsess about a past word or action I would change if I could only go back in time. But, real change only happens in the present. Before I got into recovery, I didn’t know that. I wasted so many years wanting to change a past that could never be changed, while ignoring present opportunities to compensate those I harmed.
When I spot a loss or injury that I caused in the past, I promptly offer to correct it in the present. Thanks to the Ninth Step, I have become very fond of the present. I see that every minute spent idly worrying about the past is one minute of the precious present I have wasted. With the help of my Higher Power as found through working the Steps, I can fully live in the present, one day at a time.
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