Monday, January 01, 2007

Making amends


Isn't he a cute little fletcher? We had a great night here in Missouri. We organized a New Year's Eve party and I organized the beverage committee, which despite my fears and the initial difficulty of getting people to agree to take a shift, went without a hitch. This fear, like 99 percent of my fears, never materialized.
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Because it's been on my mind lately, I wanted to talk about amends and how we make them. When I had quite a few years, I was living in LA and went back to Oakland to visit a few friends, where I spent years three through seven or so. I ran into an old acquaintance, who, the last few times I'd seen him, had been really rude to me. I didn't know what I did so I just figured I must have offended him somehow.
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This trip to town, I saw him at a Sunday morning meeting and he came up to me after the meeting really friendly and apologized for being so short with me. I didn't ask him why, but he offered, saying "I just heard from some people that you were really selfish!"
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I was flabbergasted. I just didn't know what to say. All I could imagine was that it must have surrounded my divorce, which took place in Oakland in year five. This particular man was involved with one of my good friends who had strong opinions about my marriage, so I immediately suspected that she must have told him that I was selfish.
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I was crushed, both at what he had told me (of course, there was a ring of truth in what he said, as there always is when people make these sideways "I love you/you are a bad person" attacks), and at the suspicion that my good friend had judged me and talked out of school, contributing to the whole mess.
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I talked to my friend I was staying with, who had been my wasband's sponsor and knew me for years. He told me not to worry about it, because that's the way this particular person often approached people; he was known for these types of attacks. In other words, "Don't take it personally."
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It bothered me for some time, and whenever, in the past ten years, I saw this person (which isn't often since I don't travel there much anymore), I avoided him like the plague. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
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In my early years of recovery, I didn't know how to make amends. My sponsor was never specific about how to tell people I was sorry, so I figured it out the best way I could. I would find the people I needed to talk with, tell them in great detail that I was sorry, but only after explaining in greater detail why I had wronged them, allowing them to clearly see what I felt they may have contributed to the situation.
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For example, I might say "I'm sorry that I snapped at you at the service meeting over the way I was handling the meeting minutes. You see, I'm very sensitive to that because as a child, my mother constantly criticized me and you triggered all those childhood feelings of inadequacy." (I called this the "You stole my tinker toys" defense.)
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However, when I had seven years a good friend I worked with at the WSO, Deb M., who knew more about the Steps than about anyone I've ever known, set me straight.
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"Here's how you make amends," she told me. "You simply say "I was wrong; I'm so sorry." Then, of course, you determine how or if you can right the wrong.
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I realized after Deb taught me this that it isn't an amend if you tell someone you were sorry by pointing out any part they may have had in the problem. It's your amend, not theirs. Amends, as Meg Moran reminded me with her comment today, are an exercise in humility.
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I may understand perfectly well why I acted like I did. The other person may have been acting badly, as well. They may even have a huge part in the whole mess. However, there is no reason for the other person to know your life history or what "triggered" your feelings. That is your issue to resolve and your responsibility, not theirs.
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Amends are a powerful way to transform relationships. The simpler the words, I have found, the better. People will read into our words many meanings, so when I make amends, I use the KISS principle and "keep it simple." Making an amend is supposed to make the situation better, not worse, so be careful!
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Have a great day! Remember, it's the start of a new year and you can do anything differently you'd like, starting now.

2 comments:

Meg Moran said...

This is just a great post...and the kind of post that I will forward (and archive) for those who will benefit. (that is afterall how it works in this fellowship thank god) I too had trouble understanding ammends in the beginning. In fact I ran around saying I'm sorry to anyone who would listen....afterall there was so much to be sorry for!!! It took me years to understand the true concept of "living ammends" and the practice of humility when making our apologies. Thank you for sharing you experience strength and hope.

SCoUt said...

Great post. Thank you.
Peace,
Scout