The Joy of Atonement, Reparations and Forgiveness

In 1997 I failed to pay an attorney for his services because
he had inadvertently overcharged me. Not only
had I stiffed him, I was full of unjustified righteousness
over the issue. While working Step-9, I attended a 6:30
am AA meeting while on a visit back to Toledo, Ohio.
Low and behold, the attorney, who was on my amends
list, was at that early morning meeting. He warmly
greeted me and immediately reminded me of the debt
and the invoices that I had conveniently ignored. I
asked him what he felt that I owed him and he stated,
“$500 would suffice”. I told him I would mail it to him
and he replied, “I bet you have it on you”.
Low and behold again – I looked in my wallet and I had
$504. After throwing a buck in the collection plate I left
there with three bucks and a clear conscious.

Step 8 – “Made a list of all persons we harmed, and
became willing to make amends to them all.”

Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would injure them or
others.

A guided meditation to begin this process:

Close your eyes and sit quietly in a chair. Picture a
closed mahogany door above your head; now physically
lift a hand above your head and slightly crack open
the door. Visualize a narrow beam of light irradiating
through narrow passageway you created. Now, feel
the misty burst of fresh air on your face air and notice
the aroma of lilacs lingering in the air. Multiply the
warmth created by this experience a trillion times and
you have not matched even a glimpse of eternity.

We create peace with guided imagery and mini meditations.
We also create hope by the experience of living
the principles within the 12 Steps. As we transform, our
faith strengthens. By acceptance of the spiritual experiences
given to us by our Father, we no longer require
hope. True faith is the awareness that we are part of
God and by understanding this non-dualistic existence
of we interpret the non-importance of this world and
the omnipresence of God in the next.

You are now aware that God’s love and promise of
eternity is more real than the illusion of life itself. You
intuitively know that your journey will reunite you with
God – not as a servant – but as part of Him.

The sun has risen – your wall of shadows can no longer
compete with the brightness of God’s light. Nevertheless,
your transformation has delivered you to a road
that narrows and the insanity of ego will frequently
revisit your human mind. Since narrow roads are more
difficult to navigate, the ego will produce conflict and
will scream, “Go back, go back – this path is too difficult”.

Protect the brightness of the light and shelter your
spirit with all your heart. Be brave as you list those you
have harmed and became willing to make amends to
them all. Hold your head high as you complete the
next two steps on your path to total transformation.
Twelve promises are just around the corner, as well
as the new life that many before you have discovered
through the steps.

Lastly, we must always remember that every situation,
perceived correctly is an opportunity to heal. Forgiveness
is always an opportunity for peace, love and
serenity.

The reasoning behind the guided meditation at the
start of this chapter is the peace of mind it brings before
entering into such a life-modifying experiences.

If every person in the world would complete Steps 8
and 9, we would experience a major energy shift toward
world peace. All human beings benefit by forgiving
and atoning. However, they are rarely experienced
by people other than alcoholics, addicts and co-dependents
in a program of recovery. The reference to
specific word such as “all” and “whenever possible” is to
instill the completeness required to have true spiritual
experience intended by these steps.

People outside of recovery associate atonement, restitution,
reparations and forgives as words associates
with guilt and shame. For the recovering person, nothing
is further from the truth. Steps 8 & 9 are designed
to free us from our past, we are not responsible for how
others respond or react to our amends – it’s not our
business. Also, should we not expect apologies from
others during this process – we a cleaning up only, our
side of the street.

We must start with forgiveness of those who have hurt
or diminished us. We often hear people proclaim, “I
can never for this person or that person for what they
have done to me.” Forgiveness may take time; learning
to forgive is a process that must be repeated over and
over again. We may let go of one resentment only to fill
the void with another. We must be aware of the universal
law, “if I want forgiveness I must grant forgiveness”.

Always remember, we are transforming
ourselves from mere
human beings to the spiritual
entities so that we may be granted
a “spiritual awakening. In this
journey we go far beyond our
humanness into realm of “God
Consciousness” – therefore, we
must the clean up wreckage of
our past and create a new existence
bases on honesty, responsibility
and discipline.

Completion of Steps 8 and 9
indicates a willingness to take
responsibility for the damage we
created in our lives. Not only do we take ownership of
our misdeeds, we actually attempt to rectify the harm
that we have caused. The spiritual growth earned by
cleaning up the wreckage of our past is monumental in
our quest for a spiritual awakening.
Listing those we hurt and the willingness to make
amends to the people and institutions we harmed,
takes humility and courage.

Alcohol and drugs are but symptoms of our problems.
Unmanageability – the spiritual malady, the underlying
nature of our problem, requires a spiritual solution.
The process of making amends is a spiritual experience
in itself. It may be painful however, we are now aware
that the price of admission to a new life is pain.
Herb K. in his writings uses a keyword to describe our
wrongs – “diminish”.

As in:
“How did I diminish others?”
– Physically
– Financially
– Mentally
– Emotionally
– Spiritually
“How did I harm another person’s?”
– Self-Esteem
– Pride
– Ambition
– Security
– Personal Relations
– Sex Relations
– Pocketbook

These questions impose deep
impressions in our minds. We
will see precisely how hurtful we
can be as humans. Going forward
we will recall from memory
how our words and actions can
be devastating to others.

Comprising the list of those we’ve harmed should
be a review of our first step and our fourth step. We
then add any new transgressions since completing the
fourth step.

The more detailed we are about the harm we have
caused, the more relevant and effective the amend
will be. We should be aware that having a resentment
towards someone does not automatically indicate that
we owe them an apology, no more than gossiping
about someone alone, requires an amend. The question
is, “did I my words or actions harm the person or
diminish them physically, financially, mentally, emotionally
or spiritually?”

Do you place our self on the list?

We have been self-centered long enough and yes; we
recognize the harm we have done to ourselves, however
the action of self-forgiveness is part of the entire
spiritual awakening. The list referred to in Step 8 is
about people and institutions we have harmed. If you
must place yourself on the list, I suggest your name
should be the last on your list.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions do not specifically
address placing ourselves on our list, nevertheless,
the last page of under Step Eight states:

“We shall want to hold ourselves to the course of
admitting the things we have done, meanwhile forgiving
the wrongs done to us, real on fancied. We should
avoid extreme judgments, both of ourselves and of
others involved. We must not exaggerate our defects
or theirs. A quiet objective view will be our steadfast
aim. …. It is the beginning of the end of isolation
from our fellows and from God.”

STEP 8 Requires Preparation, Ownership and Courage

Many of us struggled with the fourth and fifth step.
Listing and discussing our character defects with our
sponsor or spiritual advisor was challenging. We know
Step 9 is just around the corner, and we are going to be
asked to go “face to face” with those we harmed. For
most, this is a daunting task.

Thorough preparation and much discussion with your
sponsor or mentor will make step nine much easier.
Taking ownership of our transgression and sharing the
details with your sponsor or mentor, will pave the way
to complete step nine.

Marianne Williamson on Courage…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our
deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve
the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children we do. We were
born to make manifest the glory of God that is within
us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as
we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other
people permission to do the same. As we are liberated
from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates
others.”

We learn in recovery that to be forgiven we must be
willing to forgive.

Forgiveness (what it is and isn’t)

Forgiveness is not to:
Absolve
Approve
Befriend
Condone
Deny
Excuse
Forget
Ignore
Minimize
Pardon
Reconcile
Surrender
Tolerate

Forgiveness is “a
decision to not:”
Exact Revenge

Fear
Judge
Resent
Retaliate
Seek compensation

Forgiveness is “a decision to:”
Release them – Release ourselves – Be released

Why forgive? From: A Course in Miracles

How willing are you to forgive your brother? How
much do you desire peace instead of endless strife
and misery and pain? These questions are the same,
in different form. Forgiveness is your peace, for herein
lies the end of separation and the dream of danger and
destruction, sin and death; of madness and of murder,
grief and loss. This is the “sacrifice” salvation asks, and
gladly offers peace instead of this.

Although these reparations take innumerable forms,
there are some general principles that we find useful.
Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to
any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that
we be given strength and direction to do the right
thing, no matter what the personal consequences may
be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail,
but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink
at anything. -A.A. Big Book p.79

Most of us have trouble getting started with this step.
It requires courage and humility to come face to face
with those we have harmed. Direct amends mean
taking full ownership of our past indiscretions. This
means repairing physical and financial damage when
necessary and possible. Those who have gone before
us in this journey share that in some cases it took years
for them to pay for the financial damage they had
created. So here are the questions that may come into
your mind…

“What if it’s impossible to repay the damage?

“What do I do if contacting the person could injure
or scare them?”

“What if the person I harmed is impossible to find
or has died?

“What do I do if making amends could result in me
being incarcerated?”

Remembering that Step 8 states: “became willing to
make amends to them all.” The words “became willing”
are key to this process. In some cases “the willingness”
is all that is required in Step 9. Some amends may be
impossible and others extremely time consuming. In
some cases you may be justified to move on to Step 10
before completing Step 9. Once again, ask for help with
this decision.

These quotes set the tone for Step 9. They come from
“12 Steps.org” and have been selected to answer common
questions that arise with people working Step 9.

I make amends to those that I have harmed.
I focus on the actions I have taken that hurt others.
I pay back debts I owe.
I apologize.
I write letters.
I find time to do and say things that would help
heal the damage that I have done.
I try to bring goodness where previously I had
brought discord and destruction.

After we have made a list of people we have harmed,
have reflected carefully upon each instance, and have
tried to possess ourselves of the right attitude in which
to proceed, we will see that the making of direct
amends divides those we should approach into several
classes. There will be those who ought to be dealt with
just as soon as we become reasonably confident that
we can maintain our sobriety. There will be those to
whom we can make only partial restitution, lest complete
disclosures do them or others more harm than
good. There will be other cases where action ought to
be deferred, and still others in which by the very nature
of the situation we shall never be able to make direct
personal contact at all. – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,
p. 83

Discussing each amend with your sponsor will give you
clarity for the task at hand.

Timing…

Timing is an essential part of this step. We should make
amends when the opportunity first presents itself,
except when to do so will cause more harm. Sometimes
we cannot actually make the amends; it is neither
possible nor practical. In some cases, amends may be
beyond our means. We have found that willingness
can serve in the place of action where we are unable
to contact the person we have harmed. However, we
should never fail to contact anyone because of embarrassment,
fear or procrastination.

Conflict…

In some old relationships, an unresolved conflict may
still exist. We do our part to resolve old conflicts by
making our amends. We want to step away from further
antagonisms and ongoing resentments. In many
instances we can only go to the person and humbly
ask for understanding of past wrongs. Sometimes this
will be a joyous occasion when some old friend or
relative proves very willing to let go of their bitterness.
To go to someone who is hurting from the burn of our
misdeeds can be dangerous. Indirect amends may be
necessary where direct ones would be unsafe or endanger
other people. We can only make our amends to
the best of our ability. We try to remember that when
we make amends, we are doing it for ourselves. Instead
of feeling guilty and remorseful, we feel relieved about
our past.

An affirmation for the making amends: “I am will to
keep an open mind and heart while in this process – I
will use honesty and integrity at every juncture and I
will absolutely avoid hurting others.”

“Forgiveness comes when you give up the hope that
you can change the past…” Oprah
I had two distinct experiences while accomplishing my
Step 9.

1 – I had previously not paid an attorney for his services
because he had inadvertently overcharged me. Not
only had I stiffed him money due, I was full of unjustified
righteousness over the issue. While working my
ninth Step, I attended an early morning meeting on a
visit back to Ohio. I had the attorney on my amends
list and low and behold he was at the AA meeting. He
greeted me and immediately reminded me that I owed
him money. I asked him what he felt that I owed him
and he stated $500. I told him I would mail it to him
and he replied, “I bet you have it on you.”

Low and behold again – I looked in my wallet and I had
$504. After throwing a buck in the collection plate I left
there with 3 bucks and a clear conscious.

2 – In high school there was a girl that I bullied. Bullying
was uncharacteristic of my personality and I never
understood why I had been so mean spirited to this
person. She was number one on my list of people I
harmed and in her case I was totally at fault and had no
reason or excuse for my awful behavior. After arriving
back in California from paying my ex-attorney and
fellow AA member, I decided to search for the girl I
harmed in high school. She was not popular in high
school, however I took a shot by joining one of the
“high school classmate web sites” to look for her – low
and behold again – she was one of only three members
from my high school class that belonged to the
site. (We only had 52 in my graduating class.) I sent her
a long heartfelt email apologizing for being such a jerk.
I held back nothing and asked for her forgiveness.
I was blown away when I received her response. Not
only did she
forgive me,
she tried to
minimize the
harm that I
had perpetrated
on
her. She told
of struggles
in life after
high school
and that she
had lost two
husbands to
lung cancer.
She joked that
she finally
chose to
marry again,
this time to a
non-smoker.
She shared
that things eventually turned out well and that she
truly enjoys life. She appreciated hearing from me.
After these two experiences the rest of my amends
were a piece of cake. I continue to make living amends
with my family, especially my two sons, who witnessed
first hand the damage I caused because of my chemical
addictions.

I testify that Step 9 is a spiritual experience that I would
not have wanted to miss. The Big Book states the

“Promises of AA” start coming true half way through
this step.

The Promises of Addiction versus
The Promises of AA…

Addiction Promises 1: I do not develop emotionally
or spirituality while attached to my addiction. I am
amazed at to how low I have sunk while basking in
denial.

AA Promises 1: If we are painstaking about this phase
of our development, we will be amazed before we are
half way through.

Addiction Promises 2: I have lost my freedom and I am
void of happiness.

AA Promise 2: We are going to know a new freedom
and a new happiness.

Addiction Promise 3: I will forever live the past while
trying to ignore the extent of the damage I have
caused.

AA Promise 3: We will not regret the past nor wish to
shut the door on it.

Addiction Promise 4: I will live in chaos and restlessness.

AA Promise 4: We will comprehend the word serenity
and we will know peace.

Addiction Promise 5: I was selfish, self-centered and
dishonest.

AA Promise 5: No matter how far down the scale we
have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit
others.

Addiction Promise 6: I feel sorry for myself and because
of all the bad luck I’ve had.

AA Promise 6: That feeling of uselessness and self-pity
will disappear.

Addiction Promise 7: I am selfish, self-centered and
dishonest.

AA Promise 7: We will lose interest in selfish things and
gain interest in our fellows.

Addiction Promise 8: I will be selfish, self-centered and
dishonest.

AA Promise 8: Self-seeking will slip away.

Addiction Promise 9: My whole attitude and outlook
on life sucks.

AA Promise 9: Our whole attitude and outlook upon
life will change.

Addiction Promise 10: I constantly fear that I will never
have enough.

AA Promise 10: Fear of people and of economic insecurity
will leave us.

Addiction Promise 11: I do not trust my decisions and
reality seems to confuse me.

AA Promise 11: We will intuitively know how to handle
situations that used to baffle us.

Addiction Promise 12: I have been a liar so long I no
longer trust God or myself.

AA Promise 12: We will suddenly realize that God is
doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are
being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes
slowly.

No matter what outwards appearances may indicate
in our addictions we live alone in fear and isolation. In
recovery we use words us and we, we are never alone
because we have The Fellowship and a Higher Power.
Accomplishing Step-9 catapults us into our new roles
as mature and responsible people. We gain the respect
of others and experience a newfound feeling of confidence.
No longer do we cower in fear – we have faced
our demons head on. We take full responsibility for our
actions and we distance ourselves from our past lives.