In this episode, Angela and John take a look at the amends steps, 8 and 9. John talks about his experience with direct and indirect amends, and explains why in some situations he felt that indirect or “living amends” were the better choice. Angela describes the process she used as she learned it from the book, The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide.
00:00 John S: This is AA Beyond Belief, never mind.
00:04 John: So that worked really well. AA Beyond Belief, episode 141, and I’m here with my co-host Angela B to continue our series to the 12 steps. And this episode will be discussing the amend steps, 8 and 9, where we make amends, where we make a list, I guess, of those we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all, and then we make direct amends. Angela, how are you doing?
00:27 Angela B: Good. How are you, John?
00:30 John: I’m doing fine, just playing with some new toys here that I thought might improve the podcast, we’ll see how that goes. Anyway, it’s all fun.
00:38 Angela: Yep. And entertaining, at least.
00:39 John: Yeah, yeah. So we’re here to talk about steps 8 and 9, and I guess… I don’t even know where to begin, I guess I can understand there’s a need for this. It’s almost like you would think that if any decent person, upon realizing the harm that we had done through our addiction and our drinking, might feel a need to go to those people that we’ve harmed and tried to right those relationships. I do see a need. I know in my particular case there was a lot of shame attached to the behaviors as I became aware of them and there were people I was literally afraid to look in the eye and I needed for my own peace of mind, and I guess just my own well-being, to make those amends, so I kind of did it for myself. I don’t know, I always like to kind of start with you because you seem to have had a really good grounding in working these steps with a sponsor.
01:45 John: I did, but with this step, I didn’t do a whole lot of prep work, I guess. I knew what I needed to do from the inventory, and I just talked to my sponsor a little bit before and after making the amends. And I really didn’t have a lot to do, most of my amends were over a long period of time, by changing behaviors. And I think that had to do with just where I was at in my life at the time.
02:10 Angela: Yeah, for us and the way that I’ve done them is much more, I guess methodic like the rest of the steps that I’ve done. So with, actually for steps 8 and 9, The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery book is really good. I think it’s probably the best chapters in the book for me, because it really talks about, about these steps, and about how to take a look at what your part is. They have a whole section on how to do the homework to do this step, and that’s what I usually recommend to people when I’m taking them through the steps because it really helps you to ask some questions to help you think about, why am I making these amends? What is it that I think that I need to do? What exactly was the wrong that I did? And so to start out I would just definitely recommend those two sections of it. I think it’s only maybe five or six pages long, so it’s not hard to read, and a pretty quick read, but really good, and a useful tool for thinking about these steps.
03:17 Angela: So for step 8 my sponsor asked me to make a list, so go back to the fourth step, like most people do, and not everybody on my fourth step is somebody that I would need to make amends to or that I had harmed in some way, but it’s a good starting place to get you thinking about the people that you have harmed and stuff. And then just think about it, go through The Alternative book and what their suggestions are. And then she suggested that I get a set of index cards and write out what I thought would be amends to them, what I thought the best thing would be. And then to be just looking at that until our next meeting, so that I was thinking about it, and not taking it lightly, figuring out, “Is this the right thing to do or not?” And one of the things I liked in this book, I’ll read just a little bit because I think it’s really helpful.
04:14 Angela: It says, “One of the reasons the entire program works so well is that it asks us to think and act, neither one is enough alone, we need both. When we start truly examining our harmful behavior, our load of guilt threatens to crush us. Guilt is relentless, it’s a gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving. In a subtle way, it makes us feel better to feel guilty. Subconsciously we tell ourselves it’s a bad thing to hurt someone else, so we should hurt too, our own suffering pays for that. Instead of playing the guilt game, we need to take full responsibility for what we’ve done, make our amends and let the whole thing go. And in the step, we need to acknowledge that we’ve hurt others and are honestly willing to do something about it. We don’t have to like making amends, we don’t have to feel good about making them, we don’t have to feel ready to do it, we just have to do it.”
05:07 Angela: And so I thought that… That was really interesting for me to read about that. And then it goes on to talk about how amends are different than just apologizing. To make an amend means we had to change our attitude and behaviors and keep them changed. It may mean apologizing or it’s making an eternal commitment, but it’s usually changing our attitudes and actions. And that they are unconditional, no strings attached and stuff to them. And so yeah, so I think it’s a really good section to read, to help you understand. Some of the stuff it says too when you’re thinking of steps 8 and 9, is not to have any expectations about the other person’s response, whether they’ll give us forgiveness or act out or… Usually, when I’m working with somebody, we talk about how we think they might respond, just so that it helps us be a little less reactionary when they do.
06:03 Angela: So if we thought of a couple of different things that they might say or do, then when they do one of those things we’re less likely to react in a negative way to what they’re saying. We kind of talk through what that might look like. So that helps a little bit. Sometimes a little role-playing on what we think, but writing out the list for me was helpful because some of the stuff that I think I wanted to do was not necessarily appropriate for the harm that was caused and stuff. And so, I needed my sponsor’s help to get perspective on what would be good amends for the given situation. Who were the people that I really did need to go to and talk to and who were the ones that were too dangerous for that or that it would cause more harm, etcetera. And so, I needed the perspective of somebody who’d done this before and been in recovery for longer than me to be able to make those decisions.
07:07 John: Yeah, these steps are a little different than the other steps, because I think this is really the first time that we bring another person from the outside into our step work, basically. We’re actually involving another person and there’s a little escape clause in there, “except when to do so would injure them or others.” And I think it’s wise that they have that, but it’s difficult for people, I think, sometimes when they’re newly sober to recognize the situations when they should and shouldn’t approach somebody. And I think that if you do have a sponsor or a mentor or however you want to word it, who has done it before and is familiar with it, it would be really helpful. With me, I had a pretty simple life, I guess before I got sober and in that, I was still in my 20s, I had never been married, I really didn’t have a lot of relationships. So most of my interactions with other human beings were either through work or my family. So, the amends that I made were twofold.
08:11 John: I had some very direct amends where I absolutely had to go to someone’s office and sit down and talk to them, just to let them know that… In my particular case, I went to the person who fired me from a job for drinking, and I let him know that he was right to fire me, that I appreciate the opportunities he gave me to get help, that I didn’t realize how bad of a problem I had, but I do now, and that his decision helped me get the help that I need. And it was a really moving conversation. He was very happy to see me, he was happy to see that I was sober. And the whole reason I did that with him is because I had gotten a job within a couple of blocks away from where I used to work and where his office was, and I knew that I would see him on the street and I needed to talk to him because I was so ashamed of myself for being fired and it was important. So yeah, after I did that, I would see him regularly when I went to go out for lunch or whatever, and I could look him in the eye and I knew everything was okay. And so, that was an amend I made, I did it for myself. I guess it would have been awful if he would have come back to me and said, “Oh, you were a horrible employee and all,” but he didn’t do that. I never really had a bad reaction. I don’t know how I would have handled it if I would have had a bad reaction. [chuckle] That’s a good point.
09:47 Angela: Yeah, yeah, those are hard, yeah, because sometimes people are not in a place where they can. That’s where some of the meetings that I, I guess, enjoy or remind me of my humanness are when people share about making amends that didn’t go the way that they had hoped or the person was angry or it didn’t change in any way for that person. And that’s difficult to… because part of the reason that we feel guilty is that we have done something, and then you go to try to reconcile or do something like that and then the person doesn’t accept it, you then have to accept the situation as it is. And when you’re doing these steps, generally, it’s in your first year of recovery and you’re not good at accepting things yet, you’ve just given up the tool that you used to try to accept things, and so, it’s definitely a process of dealing with that.
10:54 John: I think that the amends where you’re most likely to have a negative reaction or that that would be more difficult are those amends where you were in a relationship with somebody, a sexual, romantic relationship probably would be more… I say that not from my own experience, but from talking to people who have been contacted by someone who they did not want to be contacted by. I’ll tell you one example, I’ll never forget this. I was actually answering the phones for our central office and a woman called who was so upset because a guy that she dated and broke up with and told in no uncertain terms, never contact her again, contacted her for the purpose of making amends. And she was just, I mean, just hearing her voice, she was just trembling, she says, “Do you tell people to do this?” And I explained to her, “No, we don’t. We do not do this at another person’s expense.” But obviously, he was somebody who didn’t really realize what he did to that other person because sometimes the best amend you can make is just to leave the person alone. And I think it’s hard to do in relationships like that because you just… Those are tricky.
12:06 Angela: Yeah, I’ve had relationships within my family where I had to write a letter to do an amend, and then say, “If you would like to talk about this, how to reach me, and if you don’t contact me, then I won’t contact.” And they didn’t. And so, I’ve never spoken to that person again. And it’s kind of hard because, in my heart, I would really like to have a relationship with that person, but that’s not what they would like, and so, I have to respect that and so, yeah, it’s something that stays with me. I mean, I don’t dwell on it, usually, but part of my recovery that that was one of the things that… Yeah, it didn’t go the way in the amends process that I would have preferred.
12:54 Angela: And so, yeah, one of the things that they list in the secular guide here is some suggestions to help us avoid pitfalls for doing the step and so, one, they put, “we don’t have any expectations about what the other person’s response will be, [A] don’t expect forgiveness, [B] don’t expect gratitude, [C] don’t expect acceptance, [D] don’t expect understanding, [E] don’t expect reconciliation, [F] don’t expect the other person to respond with amend of their own. Two, we don’t make the amend as a tool of manipulation. [A] don’t renege on the amend if you don’t like the outcome, [B] don’t make an amend to get someone off your back, [C] don’t make an amend to buy time and [D] don’t make an amend to get someone’s praise or attention. Three, we don’t look for a quick feel-better fix and four, we don’t think our amend is the most important thing in the other person’s life. It’s easy to think we’re more important to others than we are.”
13:53 Angela: And so those are, I think, really helpful. I hear a lot in the meetings when we’re talking about this from people who haven’t taken all of the steps that they want to write a letter or do an amend before they get to this part and oftentimes it’s just that they feel so guilty about something, they want to get it done. But in my mind, until I’ve worked through some of the reasons for my thinking and understand that a little bit better, it’s not really helpful, because I don’t have the ability to not act in that way yet. I may have a slight awareness that I did wrong in this particular instance with this person, but I don’t necessarily know why or how to change that behavior, and so, it’s fairly likely that I may do it again until I go through the steps and are more aware of myself as a whole.
14:40 John: Yeah, you know, when you think about it, what we actually are doing here is pretty rational and we’re taking the emotion out of it. It’s just like the inventory steps, you just kind of look at the facts of what you need to do and why you need to do it, and just take the emotion out and take the expectations out, if you can, and then you just do it and just take what comes. But it takes some preparation, I guess. And for me, it took some time, it took me a couple of years before I made that first amend, actually, and the other amends that I made, actually there was one… This is something I did after I had got sober, and I had to, I had to make amends because I thought I was going to drink over it. And it was one that where… Well, I was just very dishonest at work. I had this job where I was selling insurance, and this is kind of a crazy thing, but anyway, but I stole money, and so I had and I couldn’t pay it back, and it was a real mess, so I had to go and I was ready for them to throw the book at me, but I was so bothered by this that I just couldn’t live with myself, quite frankly.
15:48 John: I couldn’t believe it that I’d gotten into this mess, so I did, I went and made amends and I said, “This is what I did and I need to pay you back.” I paid ’em back, I left the job, things were fine, but I was able to get that, I was able to get that off my chest. And I, that’s where those direct amends I made were specifically to get my, I had to be right with myself, I didn’t care, in that particular case, if they threw me in jail, I think it would have been worth it, I felt so bad about myself.
16:22 Angela: Right, yeah, yeah, I get it, yeah. Particularly, as you continue to live in sobriety, I think it gets more difficult, these steps because we… Well, for me, I think I can rationalize a lot more now because in general, I’m a better person, I’m a fairly decent person, so when I do things that fall slightly outside of that, I still can go back on… Well, most of the time I do well, whereas when I was drinking alcoholically, coming to these steps was a little bit easier because it was fresher of how much pain and the depth of the pain and stuff that I had felt and caused and so I think I was more willing to look at it to continue on to stay sober and stuff, whereas now I feel like it actually hurts a little bit more because I try to be a good person and so when I fall outside of that, it’s more painful for me and so, my natural tendency is to avoid or rationalize whatever it was, so that I don’t have to. [chuckle] But fortunately I’m disciplined enough that I generally do, but yeah, it’s one of the ones for me that was difficult.
17:41 Angela: It was one of my first ones too, was a friend’s mom and so this was difficult because when you make amends, at least the way that I was taught to do it, is that you can’t really involve anybody else. So, I wouldn’t have been able to steal this woman’s pills and things like that if my friend wasn’t stealing this woman’s pills, [chuckle] so it was really that this person put me in the place to do the same stuff that she was already doing, but for my amends, I needed to go to this woman and take responsibility for my part, and that was difficult to do, so I really had to write out how I wanted to do that and some phrases, some phrasing that I could use, some wording I could use when doing it, depending on how she might respond, so that I wasn’t in the discussion with her, bringing her daughter into it, as well. And so, so that was a difficult one, but it really was a good one, in that it turned out, she was very happy that I was getting sober and doing these things and she didn’t want to talk about the stuff that her daughter did, she didn’t want to go to a place where she would have to acknowledge that her daughter did all of these things, and was continuing at that time, to do that.
18:39 Angela: So yeah, so it was an interesting one for me to have it be one of my first ones and be able to get the perspective that not everybody is wanting to do recovery [chuckle] and their family members don’t necessarily want to do recovery. And so, negotiating how I can do my recovery in this situation, and so it was really, really a good one.
18:39 John: In my family, the relationship that I probably did the most damage to was the one with my father. He was a good man, he could be an enabler and sometimes he wasn’t, but I definitely was not good to him, I wasn’t a good son. And… But he did love me and it was really painful for him to have to regurgitate the past. He was just happy that I wasn’t drinking and that I could hold a job and not get thrown in jail. I think he was just so relieved that he did not want to have to revisit all of my past misdeeds and so forth, and I just sensed that from him. And so, I never actually sat down with him and had a conversation that, “Dad, I did this. Dad, I did that,” because I just knew… Angela, I told this story before, but when I first told him that I was an alcoholic and was going to AA, his reaction was he broke down in tears and he took bottles of booze and started pouring them down the kitchen sink.
20:29 Angela: Aww.
20:29 John: It tore him up that I had that problem. So for him, he was just happy that I wasn’t drinking anymore. So the best amends that I could have made to him was to continue having a good life. And I remember… Do you know what I used to do? When he was alive, I would… I didn’t like always visiting him. I liked to see him, but the thing with my dad is he always wanted me to stay the weekend. [chuckle] And I hated doing that because I was like… I had my friends and everything, I wanted to go see them. But I told myself, “You know, I need to be a good son. I need to do something that he wants.” And I used to intentionally stay with him on the weekends like that because I knew he wanted to and that was kind of my way of making amends to him. And I could sit there and talk with him about things and not have problems, not have to need anything from him, and that was the best thing. So, we actually were able to repair that relationship over a period of time and I consider that amends. There were times when I would deliberately do something that… Without overtly telling them what I was doing, that I knew I was doing because in the past, I wouldn’t do those things.
21:40 Angela: Right. Yeah, no, I think that’s important. And probably what part of this is about is learning to make amends in our mind and doing stuff for the people that we feel badly, that we had harmed or damaged the relationship in some way, or just not acted in our most authentic and best selves. So yeah, I hear you on that.
22:04 John: Yeah, and it still works, you still feel better.
22:05 Angela: Yeah.
22:06 John: Yeah, because I would walk away feeling a little bit better, saying, “Yeah, you know what, I showed up at Thanksgiving.” Just stupid little things like that. I showed up at Thanksgiving, I sat at the table, I had a conversation, I was polite.
22:21 Angela: Stuff that regular people should just do. But for us, we’re like, “Look at me, I’m acting like a decent person.”
22:29 John: Yeah, those early days, man, that was a big deal. Those holidays… Yeah, and I’d just walk away and said, “Yes, I’m not the needy person.” That was a thing about me when I was drinking, I was a very needy person.
22:44 Angela: Wow. Yeah, it makes me think of what we read here on the… Don’t make an amend to get someone’s praise or attention, and that’s a hard one. [chuckle] It’s like, “Please, look at me doing better.” But yeah, one of the things on here that I had mentioned is they say how to do the homework for this step. And I thought I’d read it because there are 11 questions that they suggest that you ask yourself and write down what the answers are so that you’re processing what the best way to handle these are.
23:14 Angela: And so, it says, “Here are the guidelines that help us make amends. In using them, it’s important to be precise and thorough. We mustn’t be vague, we mustn’t slide over the hard parts. It helps to write them down. Honesty is crucial.” So, it suggests writing the person’s name and who did we hurt. 2: Making memories of the harm. What exactly do we remember about the situation? 3: Feelings about the harm. How did we feel at the time, how do we feel about it now? 4: Thoughts about the harm. What did we think at the time, what do we think about it now? 5: Motives behind harmful action. Why did we hurt the person that we hurt? 6: What damage did it do? What were the consequences for the other person, for ourselves, and for the relationship? 7: Why do we want to make an amend? What are our motives for making it? 8: What specific behavior are we going to commit ourselves to? 9: Exactly what are we going to do, when are we going to do it and where? Exactly what are we going to say, when are we going to say it? And 11: What outcome do we want for ourselves in doing the amends?
24:27 Angela: And so, yeah. There’s a lot there, but I think when I was writing it down, it was particularly helpful because I could think about the feelings that were involved. So that when I went to make the amend, I had already processed all of that stuff. So again, it made me less reactive to what a person would say because I had done the work ahead of time to be thoughtful about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Another thing that my sponsor helped me with was that some of the amends weren’t an actual action. They were setting up a boundary either with the person, either face-to-face or in writing or just in our own minds. So, there are sometimes… Some of us have family members that are either narcissistic or maybe have personality disorders or other things that make doing the step difficult or possibly harmful to them or ourselves.
25:32 Angela: And so, setting a boundary of… That I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to behave in this way or have this type of relationship with you is what the amends is. So, I just had that recently with somebody who is in my sponsorship mind, I guess, and yeah, it was, it was a good reminder of that, you know, sometimes, it’s not good for us to go and take… List out all the steps that we had done, or harmed, with somebody else, if that person is narcissistic and would just use the stuff to harm us more. So, one way I thought about this is, some people who are not well, and it may not be because they have an alcohol or a drug problem, it might be a mental health thing. And then you go and you say all the stuff that you had done in the relationship that you are trying to make amends for and then they post it to Facebook, you know? [chuckle]
26:35 Angela: F you’re in a situation like that… And unfortunately, sometimes with some of us, either… Even if it’s a romantic relationship, but sometimes it’s family members. And so, doing that would not be helpful to either one’s sobriety, or improving your relationship with that person. What would be helpful in considering what boundaries you need to have in that relationship and what ways you can further those amends in a boundary form?
27:06 John: It almost sounds like making amends to yourself. And I’ve heard people say that before, but…
27:10 Angela: Yeah, yeah, it really is.
27:12 John: because you’re protecting yourself.
27:14 Angela: Yeah. And also, the other person. They can’t continue to harm you if you have a boundary there that… It’s kind of like when we go and we set ourselves up for disappointment, like in the holidays, which is where we’re at, where we’re recording this right now, is a good example of that. Expectations around holidays. Like, “I have to go and stay with my Aunt Susie for a weekend, but she’s [chuckle] very narcissistic, and drinks a lot, and does all of this, but I really feel like, because I had done this, during my drinking, that I really need to go stay with her.” And then she does something that is harmful to you. And so, it’s… You set yourself up for that because that’s… You know that’s who she is and she’s not in recovery.
28:03 Angela: And so, another way is, how can you spend time with Aunt Susie, or show her that you care about her without putting yourself in a situation that would be harmful? And maybe it’s just taking her out to lunch so that you’re spending time with Aunt Susie, but it’s before the afternoon when she starts drinking, or in a place where there’s a time limit, things like that. With some of my friends that are not in recovery, and they’re not necessarily drinking, may have other things that are going on, I would sometimes get resentful about feeling like I needed to spend time with them when I have… I’m very busy and important.
28:43 Angela: And so I learned different ways to spend time with different people, based on what is best for them in our relationship. So there are some people that I can’t spend more than four hours with because I get annoyed, or whatever. And so, I’ll go to a movie with them. Or I’ll meet people for brunch or coffee, or something like that so that it’s an amount of time that I can concentrate and truly be present with them. And then anything from the past that has been difficult for us, it doesn’t necessarily come up in that amount of time. And so that’s helpful for me, as a way to continue relationships with people that may not be on the same path of recovery as myself.
29:26 John: I think it’s interesting that that is put into this step. And it makes total sense too. I’ve had to do that myself. I call ’em… Just… I… It’s not my invention, but toxic relationships, that I… Just for my own good, I just… No matter how hard I try, it’s never going to be what I would like that relationship to be. And I think in the case that I’m thinking about right now, it’s that the other person is not mentally well. And in the past, when I have tried to have a relationship, it would just cause me stress and anxiety. And it’s just not worth it. So it’s sad. But I hate that it’s that way, but in a way, we have to be in self-preservation mode sometimes too, because we have to live our lives. And sometimes, you need to let go of some relationships that don’t work, I guess.
30:20 Angela: Right. Oh, and then these couple of steps in the book that I’m referring to, they talk about that a little bit too. And there’s a pretty good section on forgiveness, which is a difficult thing for most of us to think about, and hard to do. And so, it talks both about us learning to forgive others, and just some of that is forgiving them for either not accepting our amends, or the new person that we’re trying to become, and how to think about that and start working through that as a way of self-acceptance and personal respect, and things like that.
31:01 John: For me, a lot of forgiveness came from understanding… And again, I had a very simple life, I think, prior to getting sober, so most of the problems I had were with people that I grew up with, and my family.
31:15 Angela: Yeah, yeah. No. I wasn’t as young, so I’ve had stuff built up. [chuckle]
31:19 John: Yeah, you had stuff, I know.
31:21 Angela: Yeah.
31:22 John: I’d go to meetings, and somebody’s in their 40s or their 50s, and it’s like they had divorces, they had family, they had kids, and they had a lot of amends to make. And I was like, I was in my 20s and I really… I’d never been married. I really didn’t date a whole lot… [chuckle] I just didn’t have a lot to… I had my mom, and my dad, and whatever.
31:42 Angela: And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why I like this forgiveness section, is it speaks about neutral detachment, which is, I think, what the main thing that I found in this step, as far as how other people reacted to my amends or any of that. So the people that didn’t accept, or disagreed, or whatever, trying to get to a spot of a neutral detachment, and forgive both myself and them for the reaction, and just accept it as it is, kind of the letting go type of a thing. And for me, I usually do a forgiveness meditation by Jack Kornfield. It’s a really simple one. I think it’s only like seven minutes long. But it’s a guided meditation because I can’t generally quiet my mind that long by myself. [chuckle]
32:35 Angela: But the way that he talks through it I find is particularly helpful, because it acknowledges resentment in there for whatever is happening and that I might not be ready to let it go, but this is a process of getting myself to that point and then it also kind of, I guess, gives a not permission but an acknowledgment that it’s okay for me to hurt and to feel sad about whatever the situation is or angry or something and that not forgiving right away or just understanding immediately is okay, that this is a process, and that I can get there, so it gives me the hope of getting over whatever it is that I’m annoyed about and gives me that process to be able to do that so I can see in the future that I can get over this, even if I’m not quite ready to let go of my frustration now, yeah, and so that was part of step 9, I guess, 8 and 9, made me think of that as well as something that I use when I’m working on this part of taking responsibility for harms that I cause and continue to cause because we’re not perfect.
33:51 John: That’s true, that’s true, that’s very true. Yeah, like I say, some of my… Like that one amend I made was in my early sobriety so sometimes it’s like I thought… Looking back on it, when I was drinking my life was such a mess because I would get arrested and thrown in jail and lose jobs, so just by not drinking I was no longer getting arrested and losing jobs and so forth, and that kind of gives me this idea that I’ve changed, and in fact, I really hadn’t. That first couple of years what changed is I wasn’t getting arrested and drunk and losing jobs, I was getting a little bit more stable but my behaviors really needed to change. It took me a while to realize that, I think some people realize it a little quicker. It took me a little while, it took me… Gosh, as I said, it wasn’t until the fourth year that I got into step 4.
34:46 Angela: Yeah, and it could be an age thing as well, depending on where you’re at in life or not necessarily age but a time in life and now you’re raising kids at a certain time or if you’re in a, going into more of a professional career, you may have more motivation or awareness of other things.
35:06 John: The way I look at it during the first couple of years of my sobriety it was building the basics so, in other words, I needed to take care of food, shelter, safety, these kinds of basic life things and it took me a while to get that, I was struggling, I didn’t have really high-paying jobs or anything in the first couple of years of sobriety and it was a rough period, but it took a while to get those things squared away, I guess it’s kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs thing.
35:39 John: Right, yeah, I think that’s true for a lot of us. Some people don’t fall as far as quickly, but for me, again, I was in my early 30s and I still… That’s what I needed as well, I just had jobs, I barely could pay rent. I shared it at a meeting recently and I don’t know if I’ve shared it on here that people talked about service as being important and so I couldn’t do very much when you’re newly sober but someone said, well, you have a car, you can give people rides and I’m like, great, I’ll give people rides. Well, nobody said that it’s probably important to have registration and insurance for the car and so for the first two years I don’t think I had insurance or registration, I hadn’t gotten to the part of my life of managing the basic things at least in North America that we find important, like being responsible for a car insurance and following the rule of law, those things were still not quite on board yet.
36:45 John: Oh, I relate, I was totally there too.
36:47 Angela: Yeah.
36:48 John: Yeah, it’s not easy just going from someone who just bounces from job to job and gets out of jail, and oh, God, it takes a while, it really takes a while.
36:58 Angela: Yeah, it does take a while, yeah. And one of the things I like about this step and kind of writing some stuff out is you get to things that you probably wouldn’t if you were just on your own thinking about who you need to make amends to because generally I think when I first started it was people who had reacted to my harm or had something that it was very obvious that I had harmed them, but the lying by omission type stuff is a little bit more difficult and often hidden underneath some of these other things, but it’s still for me something really important that I have to examine because my tendency is to avoid, that’s my baseline.
37:42 Angela: Whenever there’s anything that’s somewhat scary or uncomfortable is that I’ll usually try to avoid, so oftentimes I’ll think if something comes up or somebody rubs me the wrong way or some sort of thing that I may not be able to put a label on immediately is to ignore and avoid that rather than identify what’s going on and so oftentimes I found myself in lying or not sharing a full truth because of the situation out of fear or something so when I looked at this originally and then now, yeah, those are some of the things that I think to eat away at me or have eaten away at me, tiny resentments or things that I can’t fully accept myself or say that I fully respect myself because those little things are in there, so looking at where we’re lying by omission, not sharing something with somebody I think is important too.
38:43 Angela: And so, in this step some of the times we’re thinking about that this person didn’t know certain things we did, so we need to share with them all of those things. And like you said with your father, it wasn’t necessarily true for him but with other people, it might be and so, looking at yourself, first of, “Am I lying by omission on this?” And sometimes it’s in friendship. It’s, you’re friends with somebody that maybe you were friends with them to get to something and you need to be honest with yourself on that. And so, in this book, they also talk about where we hurt ourselves. And so I think that’s what I’m thinking of along those lines is where did I hurt myself by either not being honest, lying by omission, or trying to smooth over or deny some stuff that in society may not be a necessary thing that we think about, but if you look harder at it, then, yeah, I didn’t share the truth about such and such or I wasn’t honest about my true motivations of things and I need to look at that as well.
39:52 John: I really like that book, The Alternative Twelve Step book, is that where you’re reading that from?
39:56 Angela: Yeah, there’s some stuff in the book that they can go on a more spiritual level that I’m not into, but particularly steps 8 and 9, I think is really some of the heart and soul, I guess, of recovery that has made me feel like I’m moving more in a direction of being the person that I want to be because it really has you do some looking at things in a way that I hadn’t before. And I don’t necessarily think of myself as a bad person for that. It was my resources, it’s what I was doing to survive the majority of my life. I was reacting to things and manipulating and doing what I needed to do. But learning to recognize those things is much more difficult and I think that steps 8 and 9 for me and the way that I’ve done them got to a deeper part of that, I guess, peeled the onion back a little further than I had gotten in previous steps.
41:00 John: So what would you recommend for people that are thinking about these steps? I guess, first of all, I’m thinking that they need to make sure that they’re ready.
41:08 Angela: Right. Yeah, and I think, at least the way that we do them with step 8, is really the readying step. It’s making the list and then talking about it…
41:19 John: Oh, that’s a good point, Angela.
41:20 Angela: With somebody, is that like, okay, I’m looking at this because I’ve had… One of the people that I’ve sponsored for I think seven years now. This was actually the only sticking point that we ever had going through the steps was on step 8. And it makes us both laugh because it’s essentially making a list. Usually, people struggle with 9 or 4 or whatever, but step 8 was difficult for her to actually get to why she needed to… A former relationship I think was on it. And it’s like, “Well, why do I need to make amends to these people? This person knew what they were doing. I knew what I was doing.” But she needed to know exactly what it was because it was something that was still bothering her. It was a relationship, it was a rift or something, that was getting in the way of her continuing to feel better about herself and the life that she wanted to live. So it needed to be addressed and it was in step 8 that we worked on that.
42:20 John: That’s a really good point. The two steps, there really is a reason in this particular case that you do have them broken up into two parts because there should be a preparation, there should be that period of time where… Yeah, you become willing, but you have a conversation hopefully with your sponsor or someone who can let you know if you are indeed ready and should be doing what you’re thinking you should be doing.
42:41 Angela: Right. Yeah, because in doing that, you’re writing it out and you’re looking at why am I doing it? Am I doing it just because I’m feeling uncomfortable and want somebody to forgive me so I don’t feel uncomfortable. Am I doing it because I’m trying to manipulate a situation? If I tell this person this then they’re not going to kick me out of their house [chuckle] or whatever it is. There are lots of little details in there, that can be reasons other than just your recovery for wanting to do this and that might not necessarily be wrong, but recognizing why am I doing this? Is it for me? Is it for them? Is it for both of us or is it something else? Is it another character defect that’s popping up that’s causing me to feel like I need to make amends in this way or whatever, so…
43:31 John: Well, anything else we should cover about this step?
43:35 Angela: I don’t think so. Yeah, I think you covered the living amends as far as your relationship with your dad. I think that’s one that, at least in early recovery, it took awhile for me to understand that, what a living amends is and where it comes into play and where it doesn’t, because my mind would definitely prefer to just say I’m doing living amends and not tell anybody anything about my past, you know, or a relationship just like, “Okay, that was then and this is now.” And for some people maybe that is what they need to do at first.
44:10 John: It can be tricky, you know because we can deceive ourselves. Sometimes it’s like… And I would often wonder sometimes with my dad too, but looking back on it, and especially now that he’s passed, and I was with him when he did. I feel like that was the right thing to do. But yeah, it’s like you do question yourself. It’s like, “Damn, am I just avoiding this or what?” But I don’t think so with him.
44:32 Angela: Yeah. And again, if you’re talking with somebody about it, usually that helps and sometimes that is what you need to do for a while, particularly for people who are close to us that we did hurt. Just coming to them with amends when you’ve got a month sober is not likely to get the results both to you and to them.
44:52 John: That’s a really, really good point. Sometimes that there is a timing issue and just because you’re ready, the other person might not be ready, just hold on to it maybe for a little while, until the right time is right and maybe you can slip it in a conversation or something like that.
45:05 Angela: Yeah, yeah, and that’s what 9 I think is about, of looking at that, of when would this amends be appropriate, and sometimes there are multiple amends that you need to make for a particular person or situation and sometimes you can do those in different orders, but the big thing is to be able to, I think for me, writing it out was important so that I could see it in a different way. We’ve talked about on this particular podcast before, that there’s a different process that slows your brain down when you’re writing things out so that you can think about it in a different way. So that was really important for it. And then talking with somebody else who’s been through this before, and what their experience shows on how to make amends and yeah, and that should help you decide when to make amends to who and what parts, how much of amends do you make? And for me, with a lot of family, it was setting a boundary first, was the first amends, was that we’re not going to have this kind of relationship anymore.
46:08 Angela: I have a good relationship with family now, but growing up my mom and I had a pretty codependent relationship and so for me, one of the major things so that I wouldn’t continue to develop resentments was to set a boundary that I wasn’t going to help her with certain things and so it took a little while for her to get used to that, that I wasn’t going to be that person in her life anymore. And so, now, I’m not that person for those situations. She’s gotten used to that, yeah, when she has this issue, she doesn’t call me for it. [chuckle] She has other things that she can do but, and then that helps with our relationship, so I don’t develop resentment over it. And yeah, and so that was like the beginning of some of our stuff was setting a boundary of things that would change in our relationship and that was really hard for me. This was the way that I was raised was that I’m supposed to be this person in this person’s life, and not doing that didn’t feel natural, it felt unpleasant.
47:15 Angela: And I guess this is another thing with the step we should probably mention is that, yeah, it doesn’t necessarily feel pleasant. And so, it’s one of the times that… Some of us may have felt some relief after 4 through 7, and then we get to this and it’s, feelings generally come up again that are unpleasant. And so oftentimes, I think I felt like maybe I didn’t do the other ones right because I’m not feeling good about this. Shouldn’t I feel good about what I’m supposed to do and not necessarily some of the stuff to do amends is unpleasant both in having to share or say out loud some of the stuff that we did that we’re ashamed about and trying to make right and yeah, and some of it is, it’s just yeah, not easy. So I don’t think that they’re easy steps, for sure and I highly recommend that you work with somebody on it so that you’re able to process what’s going on. And so, whether that’s with a mentor, a sponsor, another friend in recovery or a counselor, I think it’s important because feelings do come up and particularly, if you’re early in recovery, still in your first year, those are a lot of what we’re working on, going through and feeling things and all the holidays, all the steps and stuff, and yeah, I think it’s important to acknowledge that.
48:35 John: So tell me, do you have Alkathons where you live?
48:37 Angela: We do. A couple of, a couple of places, yeah.
48:41 John: When my wife first heard about an Alkathon, she thought that was the funniest thing she heard, [chuckle] but…
48:46 Angela: I know, it is a strange term.
48:48 John: But I speak at one every year at the Paseo group. Well, actually, I’ve been doing it every year, now, this is going to be my fifth time, I’ll be doing that at midnight on the 22nd. I’m looking forward to it, I always record it and I post it. This one will be posted on December 25th. Do you ever speak at those?
49:06 Angela: I haven’t spoken at an Alkathon. So the way that they usually go here is not necessarily speakers. Sometimes they’ll do speakers or sometimes they’ll intermix it, speakers, and sometimes it’s just a meeting and they’ll just do back-to-back meetings, usually on the holidays or times when it’s, where we recognize it’s more difficult. So New Year’s Eve and New Year’s and Christmas Eve, Christmas, Thanksgiving, most of the major drinking holidays, yeah, we have Alkathons and I’ve participated in them like attended a meeting or two, but yeah, I’ve never spoken at one that had back-to-back speakers or anything.
49:47 John: Yeah, the only one I ever do is the Paseo groups and those are speakers and some of them aren’t really that well attended. I’ve gotten some really weird times like 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m like, “Nobody here,” you know, stuff like that.
50:00 Angela: Right. Yeah.
50:00 John: But I go, because for me, it’s like, “Okay, it’s a great chance to do a podcast.” I don’t care if there’s anyone listening or not. [chuckle]
50:07 Angela: Exactly, I’ll get better sound quality.
50:09 John: Yeah. [chuckle]
50:11 Angela: But yeah, and you never know. There was stuff like that that I did when I was in early recovery, because I didn’t have the discipline to go to bed at a reasonable time and get up at a reasonable time and stuff, and so, yeah, so those were helpful to me. Midnight meetings, things like that. Now, if a meeting is, it starts at 8:00 PM, I feel like that’s a little bit late and [chuckle] so I really need to meet it or somebody needs to have me there in order to…
50:39 John: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. If you would like to know our site and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all, go over to iTunes and leave us a review, hopefully, a favorable one. You can also help out financially with either a recurring or a one-time contribution. You can do that by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page at patreon.com/aabeyonbelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/aabeyondbelief, and you can always visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org, and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.