Promptly Admitted It

Before we leave off the tenth month and the Tenth Step reflections, I was reminded by a group member of a very important point in Step Ten: “…and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it”. It’s not just a case of offering an apology and moving on. I must offer amends to the person that I have offended. The difference between the two isn’t so subtle.

The Apology:

An apology is a heartfelt ‘I’m sorry’ for what I did or failed to do. A true apology doesn’t make excuses or explain circumstances. Rather, it is an admission of my failure to act as I should have acted. For all its heartfelt emotion, an apology end there. There is a hope for forgiveness, but it is not necessary. I’ve done my part; it’s up to the other person if he wishes to accept the apology or not.

The Compensation:

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There are three elements to making amends. First, an amends should begin with a sincere apology. Secondly, it should also includes some form of compensation to make up for what was done. The repentant thief asks for forgiveness for what he stole and offers to pay back what he stole plus some extra compensation, perhaps interest earned or some agreed upon terms of recompense to make up for what was taken.  It might include repair or replacement of broken or damaged items. It is a demonstration of remorse for what was done.

Perhaps when it’s something physically tangible it´s easier to make amends: return the money, give back the car, pay for a new window. When it’s something intangible then it is more difficult to make amends. How do I make amends for taking away someone’s peace of mind, abandoning them, or ruining a relationship? Reparation for damages isn’t quite as cut and dried here. Some discussion might be necessary to resolve the terms and nature of the amends.

The Commitment to Change:

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A beautiful bouquet offered after a heated argument might be enough the first time, but if the pattern continues, the person making the amends might just get a facefull of flowers after the third or fourth time. That because part of amends also includes the idea that one’s behaviour has been amended or changed so that it won’t happen again in the future. A boss might be willing to accept the amends of an employee who abuses his expense account the first couple of times, but no matter how sincere or honest the apology is after the third screw up, it’s likely not going to be accepted because it’s obvious the behaviour hasn’t changed. So the third element in amends has to be a commitment to change, that I won’t do the same thing in the future. Amends involves a change in life patterns and behaviours. This is ‘living’ your amends.

I have times when I am more successful than others with making amends. I sometimes slip back into old patterns of thinking and acting. I try not to focus on these times as much as I look to the times when I’ve earned a checkmark in life. I recently read that it’s better to: ‘look to the gains, not the gaps’. If I focus on my program I am going to make some incredible wins. One way of doing that is by getting over the screw-ups as quickly as possible: apologise, compensate and change are the three elements of this amends. Making amends is an incredible life win; I have done what is under my control to make up for the offence. And I can move on with my day, celebrating my gains and living my recovery.


When We Were Wrong

There’s no shame or harm in changing your direction. In fact, it’s often absolutely necessary if we are to survive and remain sane! Isn’t that what we are praying for in the Serenity Prayer: courage to change the things I can? Whether it is a minor course correction or a major shift in my life direction, I need to step out of my comfort zone and make those changes. If I am to be happy, joyous and free, then I must be willing to change and do what I must as I trudge the road of happy destiny.

I read a few days ago again that an airplane is off course 90% of the time. Wind is constantly blowing that metal tube about, shifting it’s position. There are often cloud banks and storms the the pilot can avoid by navigating around them. The pilot or autopilot is constantly making subtle changes in order to keep the airplane safe and to bring it back on course to its destination. And though it may seem a miracle, it lands on time and where it was supposed to land.

It’s not a miracle, not really. It’s a result of the constant attention of the flight crew. Those constant course corrections nudge the plane back on course. A constant check to see where it is headed. That’s what Step 10 is all about: course correction. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” This is our regular measure of where we are and where we are headed.

Especially early on in the program, it is so easy to stray in our thinking. Everything is new: sobriety, sharing, slogans, steps and sponsors are part of a whole new vocabulary in our lives. It seems there is so much to learn and at the same time so much to forget.  The good news for newcomers, as I was told early on, is that you can start to practice any step that has a “1” in it right from the beginning, so steps 10, 11 and 12 can be worked while you’re still on the first step.

It need not be complicated, and you probably already do it to some degree.  At some point in the evening we can go over the day and pick out what went well, and what didn’t.  If we need to, we can talk to our sponsor about it. It may well be that we had acted like a jerk to a friend or coworker and tomorrow we can apologize.  No need to take on the sins of the world here, just a simple, “I’m sorry, I acted like a jerk yesterday.” is all that is needed.  It doesn’t even matter whether the apology is accepted, because forgiveness is not the goal, clearing our conscience is! Keeping our own side of the street clean early in sobriety is a good way to practice the program principles. It helps to keep us true to this new direction we are headed.

And to be honest, even after years of sobriety, a slight variation in thinking can gradually lead to bad decisions that lead back to the bottle, the pipe and the syringe. Meeting rooms are full of people who were absolutely certain they “had” the program before and suddenly they found themselves back where they started, even after more than ten or twenty years sometimes. A spot check inventory helps to keep us in touch with ourselves, our program and our Higher Power. Like any other terminal condition, I must take my medicine which is the practice and the living of all of the 12 steps of our program, every day. I can’t let up; there is no “free” day here.  It’s one day at a time, one day, everyday.

♥  ♥  ♥

Please like and share this blog, not to stroke my ego, but for those who need the courage, strength and hope to start and continue their journey down Recovery River. I would appreciate it if you would sign up and follow as well.  My intention is to post Mondays and Thursdays.   Please comment and offer suggestions.  I’d love to hear from you.



The Wreckage

I’ve learned in my program that I need to clear away the wreckage of my past. Part of that wreckage is the damage that I did to other people, especially family.  In the movie When Love is Not Enough, the Lois Wilson Story, Lois’ character says that on average four people are pulled into the vortex of an alcoholic. The word vortex, the spinning fury of mayhem that pulls what is around it into its empty centre, is quite appropriate. We lie, we cheat, we manipulate and we steal from these people while we are in the vortex, often discarding them along the way. I am reminded of the Tasmanian Devil of old cartoons.  That is pretty much what we did.

Lois Wilson was the founder of Al-Anon Family Groups program for the family and friends of alcoholics.  She, being the wife of Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, knew what she was talking about having lived through the destruction that her husband’s alcoholism caused in both of their lives. She also knew of the struggle to find her own sanity in the midst of chaos and conflict. If her statement is true about how alcoholics and addicts affect the lives of others, then the rooms of Al-Anon should be overflowing; they aren’t.

I suppose it must be extra difficult to admit that the insanity of an addict’s life rubs off and that they are as powerless over alcohol and drugs and their loved one.  It’s the alcoholic who is sick, not the spouse or partner. It’s hard to admit that one’s attempts to help a loved one have never been successful. It’s also hard to see that AA or NA is doing what love and devotion couldn’t accomplish alone. The wife of a friend of mine in the program openly states that she was as sick as her husband because of alcohol, but she was unable to see it until she went to Al-Anon, ostensibly to try to get help for him. Once there, she discovered that she needed help as well.  Today they both travel their path of recovery.

I remember hearing a speaker at a meeting talk about having an argument with his wife because he was late coming home from work one night. She had been worried about him and he was angry because he had been in recovery for almost a year at the time.  His sponsor chastised him, telling him that he had made so many promises to her that he had broken, that he had lied so many times about where he was and when he was coming home, and had manipulated her for so many years, that she had a right to think that he may have slipped.  Even after a year, two years, or ten years, members have relapsed, so a partner’s worry is not without cause.

One of my sponsees came to me a while back.  He’s fairly new in the program and was complaining about his wife. He felt that she was not understanding enough about his disease, always asking him where he was going and who he was with. He felt like she was treating him like a child and not the sober adult that he felt he was.  His wife’s concern was genuine and is quite common. How many times had he broken promises to her? How often had he lied to her about where and with whom he was with? How often had he told her that he wasn’t going to drink or use only to find him dropped off on the front porch unable to stand let alone find the front door? No, he was the one who needed some understanding of where she was coming from and that while he may be sure he’s on the path of sobriety, she has every right to her uncertainty.

It is so much easier to see how our addiction has affected our own lives. It is not as easy to see how it has affected those who made the decision to love us. And it does affect them just as deeply and profoundly. I do not presume to speak for members of Al-Anon. I only know what I have heard from them. One told me that it was one of the most difficult thing he ever had to do was admit that he had allowed the alcoholism in his family to affect him as deeply as it had and that it took so long for him to realize that he too needed help to live.

We cause great swaths of destruction and leave a path of wreckage behind us. All of this can be cleared and the vortex toned down to a tolerable swirl. It takes time. Addicts and alcoholics know it takes time to go through their program and find happiness, joy and freedom.  Those whom we have deeply affected also need time to heal. There is hope for all of us affected.

♥  ♥  ♥

Please like and share this blog, not to stroke my ego, but for those who need the courage, strength and hope to start and continue their journey down Recovery River. I would appreciate it if you would sign up and follow as well.  My intention is to post Mondays and Thursdays.   Please comment and offer suggestions.  I’d love to hear from you.


Photo credit: Jennifer Rice