The Ninth Step – reclaiming life
“We are achieving freedom from the wreckage of our past.“
When we start the Ninth Step, we’ve reached an exciting stage in our recovery. The damage done in our lives is what led many of us to seek help in the first place. Now, we have a chance to clean up that wreckage, amend our past, and reclaim our lives.
We’ve spent a long time and much effort preparing for this step. When we came to NA, facing the debris of our past was probably the last thing we wanted to do. We started doing it privately with a personal inventory. Then, we opened our past up to the scrutiny of a select, trusted few: ourselves, our Higher Power, and one other person. We took a look at our shortcomings, the source of much of the chaos in our lives, and asked that all those defects of character be removed. Finally, we listed the amends needed to set our wrongs right-all of them-and became willing to make them.
Now, we have the opportunity to make amends-to acquire freedom from the wreckage of our past. Everything we’ve done so far in NA has led us here. At this point in the process of our recovery, the Ninth Step is exactly what we want to do. With the Twelve Steps and the help of a Higher Power, we are clearing away the rubble that for so long has stood in the way of our progress; we are gaining the freedom to live.
Just for Today: I will take advantage of the opportunity to reclaim my life. I will experience freedom from the wreckage of my past.
As always, I started my morning out with the Just for Today daily meditation and today’s reading reminded me how beautiful this process is. For anyone at all familiar with 12 step fellowships, I’m sure you’ve heard of the dreaded 9th step – making amends. When we get clean, it seems so daunting. How will we ever make up for the harm we have caused?
Thankfully, the steps are in order for a reason. Having written, worked and lived the previous 8 steps, it built a strong foundation for me to face the fear of taking responsibility of my part in situations – no more and no less. I am able to separate what’s mine to own and what’s not, and then clean MY side of the street. It doesn’t matter what I think someone else did to me to “deserve” the harm I caused; all I must do is worry about my own actions. Through surrendering in the 1st step, finding hope in the 2nd, turning over my will in the 3rd, looking at my patterns in the 4th, sharing those with my God and another human being in the 5th, looking my character defects in the 6th, learning that it’s okay to be me in the 7th, and finally writing a list of those I’ve harmed in the 8th…the 9th step kind of wrapped it all up nice and pretty in a bow for me and gave me the ability to look myself in the mirror, make peace with my past and move forward. The freedom I’ve experienced as a result of this is immeasurable.
“We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Making an amends doesn’t simply mean apologizing – it is rectifying the wrong and changing the behavior. There are too many people on my amends list to talk about them all and still some people that I have yet to make direct amends to. But, the ones I have made reinforce why I continue to walk this path and live this way of life every day. When I went over my 9th step with my sponsor, we decided to choose a person that would be a relatively easy amends to make first. I chose my sister. Not because I thought I didn’t have a lot to make amends for, because there was a lot, but because her and I have this bond, an understanding that no matter what we’re there for each other. So already knowing that my sister had forgiven me for anything I could have done, it made it easier to have a conversation with her about it. Her and her husband came to visit me while I was living in Florida and we had a moment alone on the beach after dinner and ice cream one night. It was dark outside, our feet were in the water and I probably got real awkward when I told her I wanted to talk to her about something. Since I knew she had already forgiven me for most things, the one thing I wanted to talk to her about was the one I hadn’t yet forgiven myself. The first time I got arrested, we were together. I think I mentioned this in a previous blog. I remember when they pulled us of the car and I looked over the top of the car as my sister just spilled her guts about where all the dope was and what all we had and how she needed help. And I remember being so mad at her, like how could she just give it all up so easily? But she had reached her bottom. And she was ready for something different.
We were taken to the Dungeon as it was called, the city jail, and put into a holding cell together. A CO came down the hall, yelled our last name for release and as she walked to the cell door, he said, “No, not you. The other one.” And I walked out of that cell without another thought about it because when I’m using, it’s all about me. I was so high that I didn’t even know this happened. It wasn’t until much later when she recounted her experience, that I first learned about it and since then I couldn’t shake it. My sister, my soul mate, my other half, the one that has been there through literally everything with me, and I just walked away from her. I carried that guilt for a long time. Now you might think, well that’s all part of the game, she should have expected something like that. But, it didn’t matter that she had a part in her ending up in jail that night, what mattered was that I make amends for my part which was how nonchalantly I walked away from her. Not being the kind of person that would abandon her is how I make living amends. She knows I will be there, no questions asked, anytime she calls and needs me. And being able to look her in the eye and sincerely apologize to her gave me a feeling I’ve never felt before. We both shed a few tears as she hugged me and told me it was already alright.
It sounds out there and quite cult-ish, but the best way I can describe it is that the skies opened up and God very clearly told me that I was becoming the woman he always meant for me to be. And in that moment, it was like everything made sense; I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It gave me the courage to continue on through my list.
The next amends I made was one in which an opportunity was presented to me kind of unexpectedly. There was a girl that I had been really good friends with in grade school and high school and when I was using, she got me a job where she worked. While there, I stole from her and the employer. Rightfully so, she was livid. She told my mom about it, which of course I lied to my parents when they confronted me and I think (if my memory serves me correctly because let’s be honest, it was all a big haze) she posted about it on Facebook. After I got fired, we didn’t talk for a long time, probably about 6 years? So, my 10 year high school reunion was coming up and I wasn’t sure if she was going to be there and if I would be able to have a moment alone with her. I remember laying eyes on her for the first time that night and the nerves ran through my body. Feelings of inadequacy and being scared that she wouldn’t accept my apology. I was telling Jeffrey how I was feeling about it and he told me to walk through my fear, that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if she accepts it or not, I will be able to walk away with my head held high that I took responsibility for what I did. She was sitting at a table with a few other people and I walked up and asked her if we could go somewhere to chat for a second. She said sure and followed me to another table. I don’t even remember what all I said, but I do remember how she made me feel. She graciously and with dignity told me she forgave me. She had some experience with someone very close to her struggling with addiction and it gave her compassion that not a lot of people have. We made plans to hang out, but haven’t yet, so if you’re reading this…please, let’s get together. I think of you often. ❤
There was someone else there that night that is on my amends list – my high school sweetheart. I took advantage of him and accepted money from him that was supposed to be for school but I used it for drugs (obviously). I had previously made an attempt to talk to him about paying him back and it stung when he said, “It’s not about the money. You hurt me.” But, he wasn’t willing to have a conversation with me and I had to accept and respect that. My sponsor told me that the best amends I can make him is to make it easier for him to forget I ever existed by not contacting him and not actively trying to pursue any sort of relationship with him. So that’s what I did. That didn’t exonerate me though, I still needed to make a financial amends to him so I sent him a check every month until I paid off my debt.
The funny thing about that night was that as I was leaving, someone came up to me and was like, “Hey, I was hoping you would be here tonight. I need to give you this money for the night that I robbed you.” Wow, does this process come full circle. I’m not sure if this kid was actively working a 12 step program, but it was someone I ran around with during my using days and he was supposed to go get me dope but just took my money instead – again, all part of the game, nothing I could be too surprised about. But, ten years later, for him to do this on the very same night that I was able to make an amends of my own… that was pretty cool. And again, that feeling of being exactly where I’m supposed to be washed over my body and God whispered to me to keep on.
The next two daunting amends I had to make were to my mom and dad. Again, I wasn’t scared because I was scared they wouldn’t accept, but because of the amount of harm I had caused. I stole thousands and thousands of dollars, jewelry, time and effort from them. I stole their baby girl from them. Because I was using, they weren’t able to have the relationship with me they deserved. The first time I actively recognized them as separate people rather than “my parents,” it was kind of a shock and I said to my sponsor, “Oh, I hurt them in different ways. I have different amends to make. They are not one person.” He looked at me and laughed, like, “Duh.”
Since I had been clean, I began making indirect amends simply by not using. My mom told me that the only time she got any sleep when I was using was when I was locked up or in treatment because she wasn’t lying in bed waiting for a sheriff or coroner to call her and give her bad news. And the way I make indirect amends for that today is by just showing up. I no longer have to screen her calls wondering what check she found out I forged, so I answer when she calls. And if I can’t answer right then, I get back with her as soon as I’m able. And today she knows that if I don’t answer, it’s for no reason other than I was busy in the moment. I no longer have to avoid her. But most importantly, I give her access to my life. I allow her in and let her participate in my life. And it’s the most rewarding thing being able to be my mother’s daughter. Talk about a love that’s unconditional. No matter how far gone I ever was, my mother never gave up and for that she is a saint. So, even though I’ll never be able to financially repay her for the things I’ve taken, I was able to say to her verbally and through the way I live today, “I’m sorry.” If I’m ever half the mother she is, I know I’ll be a damn good Mahm.
And my Dad. All I’ve ever wanted was to make my dad proud, for him to approve of me. He is a tough love kind of man. He pressed charges on me for felony fraud for forging checks. And that’s what I needed because that allowed me to start on the path to recovery by being on probation and eventually sent to treatment. When I graduated treatment, he was there and he cried at the hope of what my life could become.Even with some clean time, I was still scared to disappoint him. When I bought my house, I didn’t tell him about it because I was afraid he would be mad and tell me what was wrong about it. And I remember when we finally did talk about the house, I told him about that fear and he told me that he’s always going to be there for me and help me achieve what I want, even if he doesn’t agree with what that is. He took my hands in his hands and told me that he IS proud of me. Kind of like my Higher Power, my dad always knew I was capable of becoming the woman I’m supposed to be and although I still deeply value his opinion, in that moment I understood what an irrational fear it was to think I don’t live up to his standards. I realize that it is an unrealistic and unfair expectation to put on him, and myself. Seems ironic, but the real way to make him proud is by living with integrity and true to myself. And that’s exactly what I’d been learning to do.
The rewards are tenfold. I get cute texts like this from my Dad and it just melts my heart.
A lot of people don’t do this but at the top of my 8th step list was myself. I caused an immense amount of harm to myself, so why not learn to forgive myself, too? Just to name a few – I didn’t take care of my body, I contracted Hepatitis C from sharing needles with other addicts, I didn’t work steadily, I lost relationships with people. The way I make amends to myself is very easy. This includes things like doing the dishes even when I don’t want to, putting that last load of laundry in, sweeping the floor just one more time, grabbing the vacuum now rather than putting it off for later. I do these things because when I was using, often I lived in complete squalor. So, to have my own home, and to appreciate it, I must take care of it. And in turn, I am taking care of myself and allowing me the opportunity to forgive myself for the way I lived before.
I remember the day that I chose to share a needle with another using addict knowing that she had Hepatitis C and not caring if I got it. All I cared about was getting high. And I also remember the day I was sitting in treatment and the doctor confirmed that I did indeed test positive; I was shocked. Shocked because, “how could it happen to me?” We think we’re invincible when we’re using and the reality is that we’re not. So when I got clean and had a good job with good insurance, I made an effort to see what I could do about the prognosis I was given. I went to the doctor, jumped through lots of hoops and tests in order to be able to take the 12 week treatment that cost $120k. Good insurance was key because I was able to apply for and was granted a coupon that would cover my $6,000 deductible. Once that was met, the rest of the treatment was covered in full. So, I really paid very little in order to be able to take the Harvoni which ultimately cured me of my disease. I no longer have Hepatitis C.
I’ve had a few jobs since I’ve been clean, but each one was always better than the last. And by that, I mean more money, better benefits, better work/life balance. I am not of the belief that my work must be my passion. It is called work for a reason. I go to work to collect a paycheck. Would I like to marry the two things and get paid to stay at home with my dogs and write blogs all day? Yes. Is that reality? No. So, I’m very fortunate that while I enjoy being a Financial Analyst, I’ve stopped associating that as my identity, because for a long time that’s what I did. I know now that I am much more than my work. Who I am shows through in every part of my life – from how I treat my dogs to how openly I share with complete strangers on my blog. But I guess my point is that even though I don’t get paid to do what I love, I know that the job that does pay me provides us with the financial security I want in life and for that I’m grateful. Now let’s just hope I don’t lose that job for blogging on company time. 😐
And the relationships I’ve lost, those are probably the hardest things to forgive myself for. The way that I make amends for that today is that I am all the things I was not before. I have become a good friend, a good daughter, girlfriend (now fiancee!), sister, employee. If I want good relationships in my life, I must give as much to the relationship as I get. To be a good friend seems like common sense, but for addicts it isn’t always. Living life screwing people over every single day, not trusting others and not letting people in for fear of it being used against me lends to a tough time starting to do those things just because I’m clean all the sudden. In order to start trusting others, I had to become a trustworthy person. In order to have meaningful relationships, platonic and otherwise, I had to be willing to get vulnerable so they could in turn share with me. I had to become the kind of partner I was seeking. What I noticed was that the healthier I became, the healthier people I started to attract into my life. And those are the people that are a fixture in my life today – the healthy ones. If you don’t bring value to my life, you are not part of it. End of story. I don’t have to beat myself up anymore for things that are not in my control. What I’ve learned is that not everyone is going to be on this journey with me until the end of time. And that’s okay. The ones that are supposed to be here are.
Though I still have some people left to make direct amends to, I know that God will present the opportunity to do so when the time is right. But, until then I will continue living with integrity and dignity and will work on not adding any new people to that list. Just because I got clean doesn’t mean that I don’t still cause harm today, but with a continued awareness of it, the amount of harm I do cause is greatly reduced and usually dealt with head on. I guess my Unsolicited Advice for the day is simply this: Forget about what someone did to you, swallow your pride, and take responsibility for your wrongs. In asking others for forgiveness, I’ve been able to forgive myself, and that is true freedom. Freedom from my past and freedom to build a future.
Some extra cute pictures:
Dad babysitting Kilo while Jeffrey and I were on vacation.
A day out with the two most important women (and bebe Jacob) in my life.
Lizzy and me being the complete weirdos we are.
My Dad is the cutest.
When we first got clean, we went to support a fundraiser at the treatment center that saved both my sister’s and my life. Women’s Recovery Center ❤