Living Amends VS. Direct Amends
I have found that the more times I do the steps and come around to Step Nine, the less I have to make actual amends and the more I make living amends. Living amends means that you don’t actually go to someone to admit your wrongs and apologize. Instead, you work on changing the defect through your actions.
For instance, if I continue to exhibit the same behavior with someone, then continuing to apologize is meaningless … like the wife-beater who apologizes and then hits his wife again a week later. What I need to do is work on willingness to have my Higher Power help me change my behavior and release the defect.
When You Can’t Make Direct Amends
Of course, there are other cases where you cannot make direct amends for any number of reasons, such as:
- The person is dead or you have no way to find him or her.
- The organization no longer exists.
In such cases, work with your sponsor to release the amends, maybe by writing a letter and burning it. Or, if you harmed a company or institution, you may have to find an indirect way to make amends. For instance, let’s say you worked for a company that no longer exists where you took office supplies home, like pens, not thinking about the fact that this was stealing, you may decide to donate office supplies to another organization. Or make a financial contribution somewhere instead. There are many creative ways to accomplish an amends when you cannot do it directly.
Letting Go of Resentment is Another Way We Work Step Nine
The other side of making amends is truly letting go of hating others for how they have wronged us. Someone brought this to my attention recently when I experienced it in a powerful way in my life.
Usually, we call this forgiveness. But I did a lot of research about forgiveness and discovered that for me, forgiveness is not accurate. When I forgive, in some way, I am placing myself above the other person, as if I am the better person. Who the heck am I to think I am better than you?
Another way to explain this is using the concept of Karma – or the consequences of our actions. Even if I “forgive” you, you still have to experience the consequences of your actions in some way or another. I’m certainly not in charge of that nor do I have the power to do so. That is between you and your Higher Power.
I release my anger at you, my resentment about what you did, for my recovery, for my spiritual growth, for my peace. Then, the other action is to replace the anger and hatred with love and compassion in my heart even though you wronged me. If I can do those two things, I am free.
An Example of Letting Go
So here is an example of that concept in action. That ex-husband I mentioned above did something truly reprehensible after I made amends to him. Basically, he kept a great deal of money that was owed to our son while only paying child support for a brief time and making my life miserable about it. When I found out the truth a few years ago, I was livid. Couldn’t shake it.
I worked and worked and worked on it. Prayed for him and his ex-wife who was complicit. One way I dealt with it was not allowing my ex into my life any longer. A relationship with him was toxic for me. The ex-wife had disappeared years earlier expressing venomous feelings for me that were inexplicable because I had considered her a dear friend.
But my son will be graduating from college this year and his fervent wish is that his father and I share dinner after the ceremony. He insisted that we speak again to make peace before we actually see each other.
The irony is that I had shared something about the situation with my son earlier, but his reaction was quite different from mine. He insisted that no amount of money was worth ruining his relationship with his father. And he couldn’t care less about the money.
Well, if my son didn’t care, why should I, right? But still, I felt like this resentment was strangling me, poisoning me and a part of my relationship with my son. I continued to pray and work on it.
A few weeks ago, I agreed to call his father. I still thought I had the resentment, still believed it had a hold on me. But I picked up the phone and made the call.
And shockingly, the minute his father answered, it all fell away. I felt love and compassion for this man. Wanted to cry with relief and the love I felt. And we had a nice (short) conversation focused on our son and being there for him.
I talked to my DA network about this and someone said two profoundly accurate statements:
1. Forgiveness (or letting go of resentment and feeling compassion) does not equal reconciliation.
2. Silence doesn’t mean holding a grudge.
I think my son hopes that his father and I will be friends, but that won’t happen. He is just too dangerous for me. Far healthier for me to keep him at arm’s length (or further). I don’t hate him anymore (though, believe me, I could work myself up into a frenzy again if I chose to do so). And I feel free about it for the first time in years.
Integrating Step Nine Into Daily Life
The facts of what my ex did are still true. But how I feel despite those facts are what has changed and what has freed me to give my beloved son the gift that he really wants for his graduation. And still, I can maintain good boundaries and not allow someone to continue to cause me harm.
When we take responsibility for when we are wrong and promptly admit it as well as sincerely release resentments and replace those feelings with love and compassion, we are truly living in recovery. Add to that maintaining appropriate boundaries to prevent ongoing harm (and resentments), and you can feel confident that you are sincerely working the Ninth Step as an integral part of your life.