The A.A. program is one big amend, and step eight forces me to put my money where my mouth is. I said “I’m sorry” so often in my drinking days that it became meaningless, kind of like, “Excuse me for stealing your car.” Polite maybe, but utterly useless because my behavior never changed; the car was still stolen, and I was still the thief. Now that I have a conscience and am devoted to living sober, I have to clean up my wrong thoughts and actions. The harm I do today is more subtle than in my drinking days, but I’m immensely qualified to continue to cause emotional, mental, and spiritual damage to others, in simple ways. Step eight, like all the steps, has to be kept present tense. We not only clean up past wrongs from our drinking days, we continue to work it for our lifetime.
I love the St. Francis of Assisi prayer, especially as it appears in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, but I used to get it wrong. I’ve been known to pray: “that where there is wrong, I may bring right.” The correct lines are: “that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.” This is a very telling error on my part, and hits at the root of step eight. You can pray all you want for willingness, but at some point you just have to walk to your brother.
Recently my brother took Daniel snow tubing with his cousins, hours away. Before they left, my brother said, “I hope you’ll be ready to come get Daniel if he has a tantrum.” I realized that I helped form my brother’s attitude by character assassinating my own son. All people ever heard was that I’d created a monster by never leaving Daniel with anyone. I amended this by telling my brother that Daniel was chosen as “Terrific Kid” this month at school, and that his teacher has been saying lately how “awesome” and “gifted” he is. In other words, I made amends by sounding obnoxious and competitive, by tooting Daniel’s horn. I forgave my brother quickly when I realized my own part in the dynamic. And Daniel took care of this one on his own. My relatives laughed at all the funny things he had to say, and were happy that they had a chance to get to know him better. There were no tantrums, other than the one in my mind.
Is it any coincidence that a few days after the long car ride with his cousins and the “Terrific Kid” designation that Daniel wanted to ride the school bus home? The first afternoon, I met him at the end of the street in my car because it was raining. He jumped off the bus and strode past me, saying he wanted to walk home. How do we lose our children? In inches and seconds, half a pound here and there. He left my body five-and-a-half years ago, and now he’s slowly leaving my personal space too. I really don’t approve, but I’m willing to amend my behavior to try to catch up to him.
Daniel got pushed down from a table at school yesterday, then sprouted a big bump on his head. Here’s Daniel’s e-mail version of the incident to his out-of-town Daddy: “Lisa pushed me off the table because she thought that it was against the rules. But she was wrong. There is no pushing allowed in class, so she had to move her name down the terrific kid list.” Notice his focus on the interloper.
My own mother likes to tell the tale about when I climbed a mountain of boxes in kindergarten and wouldn’t come down. The teacher had to call her to lure me down. If you’re hogging the view, someone will correct you. Kids love to tattle and enforce rules. Daniel enjoys talking about the poor behavior of the two erratic kids in class, yet he rarely admits his own mistakes (like climbing on the table). I’m trying to be the adult here, to show him how to admit your own wrongs, not those of others. But he’s having very little of it lately. He doesn’t have to get it, but I do.
I’ve always found it ironic that, according to A.A. literature, our eighth step list comes directly from our fourth step inventory, that they’re practically one and the same. In the fourth step, we list our resentments and fears. We may owe an amend to whomever we’re angry at. I hate that. My latest inventory about money and work revealed anger at myself.
I shared my eighth step list with an A.A. friend and she told me to get a job. Really. Tell the truth and you might have to change something. It was so obvious it escaped me. She convinced me to hand in the preschool substitute teaching application I’d been holding for three months. The next day the director called me to work. And the next. And the next. This went on for so long that it felt like I had a job. Do something and you may get a check in the mail. It’s not the job I want, but it’s what someone sees fit for me to do for now. When you have a job, you can always get another one, another ironic principle of the universe I’d forgotten about. This step reminds me that I am no victim. Some amends are simple: if I’m mad at myself for not working, I get a job so my thoughts and actions concur.
It doesn’t hurt my pride so much to be wrong anymore. I can accept responsibility and try to change my behavior. I can do what I say I’ll do: show up, work, help, bring something to the table. I like to think that I don’t knowingly wrong others today, but please — there’s still so much about myself I’m blind to. My husband and son get the brunt of me, the 24/7 full force of my personality. When they are hurt by me, I want their forgiveness. When others hurt me, I want to be quick to forgive. I want to forgive others because only in doing so do I forgive myself.
A guy in a meeting once said that he tries to remember that the man who has hurt him is some mother’s son. I can do that. I want this mother’s son to be treated well and to be a channel of all that is good in this world and above. I want him to bring the spirit of forgiveness to the table.