When I’m teaching about the steps to recovery to patients and families, I talk about the ‘the working steps’. I describe them in pairs, where the even numbered step is the thinking step and the odd numbered one is the action step. So the pattern is: think, do; think, do; think, do. In even steps we become willing, and then we finally, humbly ask God to remove our defects of character. Only God knows which ones need removing (or are removable) and which ones we will need to keep working on. We’re still human–we don’t get issued halos and wings at this point in sobriety. That’s part of the humility–we don’t get to get rid of all our defects. Some will linger, to keep us humble, and because, I’m convinced, underneath every defect of character there is some kind of blessing. Think about it: the flip side of selfishness is learning good boundaries of self care; underneath the defect of blaming others is the asset of accepting personal responsibility; underneath the defect of resentment is recognition of both our own limitations and those of others, giving us permission to be human. If we lose our defects, we never find our assets, so there will always be defects God refuses to take away.
To my way of thinking, it is recognition of our continued defects, and the search for assets, that begins our work. The ‘think’ steps, require us to look back and then look forward, to what we’ve done and what we need to do to ‘undo’ the consequences of our actions, or in other words, clean up our messes. But because we’ve still got those defects of character, we need to be aware of them so we don’t go create more messes. I tell substance abuse patients to start with amends to themselves by looking at those shortcomings. What do they need to be surrendering to God daily? How will this awareness help them work their treatment program? Is this an issue they need to be covering with their sponsor, or with a professional counselor? Next they need to consider amends to their Higher Power. What are they going to do for their spiritual aftercare? Continue or repeat their steps with a sponsor? Use a daily devotional like “24 Hours a Day” or “Daily Reflections?” Commit to attend a 12 Step Meeting each week to work on their spirituality? Or find a church/temple/synagogue that helps them grow in their chosen faith? Only after all that do they need to begin to consider who else they owe amends to, why and what they want to do as an amend.
I freely admit, amends are either the easiest thing to do, popping off my tongue quickly, or the hardest thing to do, squeezing out between clenched teeth of resistance. I’m human, with my own flaws (Come on, you know that, and it’s not just me, just think about your chaplain or the ones you work with in substance abuse treatment–we know ourselves as evidence of “progress NOT perfection”). I don’t like admitting my own mistakes. I can handle the small things easily, especially if I’ve offended someone accidentally and they let me know about it right away. That kind of apology/ amend is easy. But the bigger amends are much more than an apology. I was taught what makes an amend different than an apology is, an apology is words with a change in action promised, whereas an amend is changed action followed by words of report. In a good amend, I’ve already got something to show that I’m different. At the very least, I’m (hopefully) now working a substance abuse treatment program of recovery, I have gone to treatment, I am going to meetings, have or am working steps, and most important, I have admitted my powerlessness and the need for help (whether that’s from AA, NA or Al-Anon, and always from God). If I’m not in active, sober/sane recovery, I can’t do an amend. I have to stop, go back and get that solid, then come back around. And most important in all this, I don’t want to have to face people until I’ve regained my own self respect, and gotten the full, unrestricted help of my Higher Power. I need back-up, and I want the best before I face the hurt, anger, and hardest of all, the love and forgiveness, of others. But with that back-up, I can face anything, and anyone. And with a life-slate now as clean as it can be, I’m finally ready to get busy with my maintenance.
About the author
Chaplain Drea Walker-Skye, MA., M. Div, LPC Learn more at http://www.valleyhope.org or http://www.valleyhope.org/drug-rehab-alcohol-rehab-aboutus.aspx
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