I’ll start by a thank you, to all those who have been waiting for me to finish these, for your patience. As with many recovering people I tend to get swept up in the events of life from time to time. That’s probably true of everyone actually. I’m happy to report the reason I’ve been away from this writing has been positive. Growth, new people, service in other areas and even the ever elusive economic security. So with that said, on to the other big inventory step.
(standard disclaimer: read the literature before you read this, while I like what I’ve written it’s an add-on for people with atheistic questions and concerns. It is not a replacement for meetings or program literature. I also assume a lot of knowledge from AA ‘big book’ and the 12 and 12. So, ya know, go read them first. If you’re reading this you have an internet connection and can access the free copies on AAs website.)
The chapter five blurb “how it works”, often read to start meetings, addresses honesty as a key element several times. I noticed that it puts a particular emphasis with honesty with ones self. I think the primary function of completing step 8 and it’s companion step, 9, is to further unify the warring thoughts and feelings of the psyche. For those of us that have created a lot of overt wreckage, read; slept with best friends wife, drove their car through a police station, lost jobs, ex wives and the like, this step has a more obvious effect. It lets people know you’re sorry and are willing to make amends. People appreciate this on some level even if they do initially respond by regretting you are still alive, much less happy you’re in a program of recovery.
But let’s back track to step 8 for a moment and focus only on it. I can say very little about it from a purly atheist perspective. Do it with ‘god in your corner’ or with your sponsor, or your group or the flying spaghetti monster, the step itself operates the same. You make a list of the people you had harmed. I’ve hear that making three columns really helps break the ice on this step. It can be pretty intimidating. So I’ve been told and heard from others, that making a “for sure”, “maybe” and “Fuck them, I’m never apologizing” column and dividing your potential amendees into them can help get you going. Once this list is begun, the internal process of healing begins. I believe that, in me, a process of wanting to wipe the slate clean and feel free crept in. Those people I had camped in ‘maybe’ started migrating over to ‘yes(for sure)’ and that a couple names I’d buried in the tomb of wishing them dead made it over to ‘maybe’. Some even made the Lord of the Rings-Epic trek all the way over to ‘For sure’.
As I look back on it now, I realise the process of cleaning house I started by looking at myself in step 4 had gained momentum. I was starting to feel better, and that health and lightness became more important to me than anything; even my long held grudges. As I continued making my list, and simultaneously doing some amends, I realized I was putting my health first for the first time in my life. And that was one of the first moments I was able to feel real gratitude. Now, the wild west of….
My history with addiction came after several years in a program that helps people who grew up in alcoholic homes. So I had actually been regularly attending 12 step meetings for awhile before I ever got clean and sober. (I know, it’s weird to me too, but it happened.) I mention this because that, combined with being a more depressive drunk that stayed home alone and was overall pretty timid, I didn’t piss a lot of people off through my actions. Most of my amends were for inactions and not showing up to stuff people wanted me at, rather than showing up at things people rather I didn’t. So most of my amends went well, people were happy I was still around and getting healthy. I know this isn’t going to be everyones experience.
Even with my supposed ‘difference’ I took this oppurtunity to farm the experience of other members. As a side practise, I saw this as an oppurtunity to ask the advice of people I didn’t share beliefs with. It was great, their experience was as valid as mine and ‘God’ never came up. Well once or twice at the end where they offered me a bit of a prayer when they’d run out of real info. But that was okay. I laughed at the funny parts and thanked them, I got some great information on how their amends had gone and I felt more at ease going out to do the ones that scared me. Eventually I got them all done, and as ever, I leaned on the fellowship to help me through something I was too scared and overwhelmed to do myself. As a bonus I got to flex my tolerance muscles by drawing on everyone instead of the non-theists I tended to favor for advice.
I’ll throw this in because it’s something that I think comes up for those of us with atheist beliefs. Strictly you could be an atheist and still believe in karma (or something else like it that ends up with you thinking stuff you got away with will come back to bite you). As such you may be tempted or even encouraged by others to turn yourself in, sell your house and give them all the money or something of the like. I will step entirely out of the realm of 12-step literature and offer my own opinion and some advice here. There is only one thing I needed to do with the things I had done: make them right with me. I had one amend that was quite severe in my mind and had no way to make direct amends. Even if I had, the process of doing so would have been catastrophic to my well being. If you have such an amend to make, I would encourage you to look at the big picture and realistically evaluate if your recovery is best served by going to prison, being vilified by your friends and family or whatever else, making that kind of amend will require. This is one of the dark corners of morality that theists are all too quick to say ‘God will take care of’. My personal belief is that you are more use out in the world, earning money for a charity associated with your crime, than in prison trying to wait out your guilty conscience. Above all I encourage a recovering person to do what they feel they must but never without thought.
The various stories I’ve heard throughout the years boil down to this. If you can’t make amends without hurting yourself, make indirect amends. “Injuring them or others” includes you! Give money to the family or loved ones of the person you owe amends to. Make donations in their name to a charity they would have supported, anonymously if necessary. If none of that presents itself, I’ve heard over and over that helping the newcomer and continuing to recover from the disease that caused you to act selfishly can be amends enough.
Whatever you do, this is a step and thus it’s primary function is to serve in healing YOU. Even the seemingly selfless step 9 is all about removing the guilt and shame that might later serve as an excuse to drink or use.
And finally a quote from Starship Troopers: “Figuring things out for yourself is the only real freedom anyone really has. Use that freedom.”
Thank you for reading.