Step 8

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Step 8

Postby Karl R » Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:53 pm

This month's grapevine revisits an entry from 1971 on Step 8 and willingness.


from January 1971 vol. 27 no. 8

8th Step
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. - This series on the Twelve Steps is written by twelve members of A A, each interpreting one of the Steps as he sees it.
I CHOSE this Step to write about because it's the toughest one for me. I've had one hell of a time with the state of willingness. For, in order to be willing to make amends to others, you must first forgive yourself and be ready to make amends to yourself. And I am just beginning to see this in broad daylight. Formerly, I was half-aware that I had not really forgiven myself. It was what I call gauze-curtain, awareness; you see the problem dimly, as if through a veil, but you can't really formulate it. I think that many of us in AA have a hard time with self-acceptance. And the result is misery, whether it takes the form of repeated slips, depressions or psychosomatic illness, or failure in business or human relationships.

The other night, in our local discussion group, we batted this around a little. Somebody said that the first seven Steps lead into the Eighth. The surrender, the arrival at faith, the inventory all help us to forgive ourselves and gain enough self-respect and insight to be able to make amends and really mean it. Someone else said that joining AA and being sober were the biggest amends we could make.

I go right along with this, of course. In the years that I have been in AA, life has indeed been more manageable. Often, it has been very good. I've made a lot of wonderful friends. I've had a lot of fun. I've been able to help new people, and the rewards for this effort are unending. But every so often I used to get back into moods of self-debasement. "It's hopeless," I'd say to myself. "I simply cannot work this program; I can't stay put."

The poet Samuel Hoffenstein said, "Wherever I go, I take me along and spoil everything." Really, during those long moods of depression, I felt that I was walking across a mountain range in a snowstorm without a handkerchief. But throughout each time, I'd keep saying to myself, "I've gotten this far, and I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to get drunk. I'm going to find out what causes it, if it's the last thing I do."

So I kept trying. From the very beginning, I made all the amends I could, all the way from sending someone a green branch sewn all over with ripe black olives to calling an amendee on the telephone in Paris, when I was over there a couple of years ago. This apology was for something that had happened thirty-one years before. It was accepted, Everything was beautiful. . . . Only it wasn't.

I now know that I was hung up on the Puritan mystique: Sin is unforgivable; you're going to he punished forever. Other people's forgiveness, their loving forgiveness, the friendship of people in AA and not in AA who loved me and whom I loved--all this was unavailing. I was making myself into a special case; down deep, I believed I was beyond redemption. It went back beyond all the sordid, unsavory, tawdry, illicit, and ridiculous behavior of my drinking days. It went 'way back into childhood. I now see that nobody was to blame. I am learning to release this childhood conditioning and the insecurity that contributed to my alcoholism. The people who brought, me up had hangups, too. The God of my understanding, whom I found in AA, is not a punishing, revengeful God at all. I have begun to make friends with Him and thus with myself.

Thank God, I have a mind that is capable of learning and is willing to learn. Thank God for what must be over a thousand AA meetings by now and for every word uttered by every speaker. I have always learned something. I'm lucky in my AA friends. Hundreds of evenings of talk, several reservoirs full of hot coffee, truckloads of cream, carloads of sugar, ideas enough to fill all the shelves in the Library of Congress. Love and understanding of a kind that would quickly bring peace on earth if it were generally shared. When I look back, I can see that while I was walking across Snow Mountain, sniffling and hating myself, I never once walked alone. Thank God for professional help, too. I needed it, so I went and got it. Psychiatry is not a dirty word to me. After all, if I gashed my linger, I'd he in a doctor's office in ten minutes!

It has finally penetrated my head and my heart that I have a right to make spiritual progress. I have a right to be emotionally mature. I have a right to take pleasure in my own company, and that makes me more pleasant to be with. I have a right to become willing--deeply willing, entirely willing--to make amends to all those whom I have harmed. Because I can now accept myself the way I am, I can accept other people the way they are--not entirely, but to a much greater degree than in the past. My early amends were efforts to reinstate myself, to win back approval. My intolerance and anger were always followed by crawling apology. I had an insatiable need for other people's approval. Now, when apology is in order, my first concern is to make the other person happy. I come second.

I deserve not to be as self-centered as somebody with a terrible toothache. I deserve to have the grace to laugh at myself. To me, all this is part of the amends business, I wish I could reach out to every single one of you who are having a bad time with yourselves. I wish I could put the answer right into your hands like a present in a package. I can't quite do that. But perhaps this piece has given you a clue, a signpost, a hope, and a start along the road that you want to follow.

F. M.
New Canaan, Connecticut

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (January 1971). Reprinted with permission.
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Karl R
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