Becky was annoyed with her Carson Community Based Flexible Support (CBFS) Outreach Worker, Shayla. Becky had been going with Shayla to her Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step meeting three days a week, as agreed, for six months. Becky had not taken one single drink the entire six months. Becky had also apologized to her husband and her kids for all she had put them through. They were still mad at her and Shayla said there was more work she probably needed to do on repairing her family relationship. “I said I was sorry—!” insisted Becky, “What more do they want?
The eight and ninth step of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Steps reads that a person in recovery from alcoholism needs to ‘make a list of all persons they had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.’ It also suggests that the recovering alcoholic ‘make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.’ Well of course there were things that would hurt, Jim, her husband, so she wasn’t going to answer his questions about who she hung out with when she was drinking. And it would hurt the kids to answer their questions about why, when drinking, she had told them, “I choose the bottle, not you!” So Becky wasn’t going to talk about that stuff. They can’t go and ‘take my inventory for me’ thought Becky. Wasn’t getting sober enough? Why was Shayla bothering me about this?
All Becky’s family seemed to do, now that she was sober, was complain. Her husband was saying that first they’d lost her to alcohol for years and now they’d lost her to her new friends. There were secret AA meetings and secret AA chants and special AA coffees and private AA phone calls and special AA coins they gave each other. It was all excluding the family again, just as her drinking days had.
But Becky wanted a closer family life, and so, for six more months, her Outreach Worker Shayla worked with Becky to design a card for her to use called An Apology Map. On it, they figured out how Becky could take those eighth and ninth steps—the steps to making effective amends.
- Hear them until they are done. This might take months or longer. You took years; they will need as much time as they need.
- Tell them what you did with no excuses, even the hidden things.
- List for them the ways you see that it hurt them. They can add more.
- Tell them what you regret, what you apologize for, what you failed to do. Don’t leave out anything either one of you mentioned.
- Tell them what actions you will take now that are different than what you had done.
- Find meaningful acts of kindness and responsibility that will make their lives easier and will make them feel important.
- Ask for forgiveness and know that they might not give it to you for a long time, or ever. The choice is theirs.
On the evening before the one year anniversary of Becky’s sobriety, Shayla coached Becky to take that final leap—to ask her husband Jim for forgiveness. After this, she would focus on the children and others in her life. Telling the truth and hearing Jim’s pain these past weeks had all been so overwhelming and the last thing in the world Becky wanted to do was talk more about it. But Shayla practiced with her and cheered her on.
The words were so much harder than she’d thought they’d be. How could he forgive her? But she kept her chin level, just as she’d practiced, and she asked for that which she thought she herself could never give. As the words came out, they shook in her mouth with the force of how very much she wanted Jim to love her as he once did.
Jim hung his head and told her through his tears, “I couldn’t forgive you—even though I wanted to—until you asked me to right now.”
Feelings of great solemnity and whimsy broke open the doors in Becky’s heart as they both cried in relief; she hadn’t realized how it was that her own shame had barricaded her away from others all this time.
She and Jim went together to the AA meeting the next evening for Becky’s one year anniversary. Shayla made the coffee.
By JAC Patrissi