I've already shared with you here my least favorite paragraph in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book).
This is my second least favorite paragraph -- but for context I'll include the paragraph before it as well -- both occur on page 80 in Chapter 6, "Into Action." This section of the book is talking about the 9th Step (and as a reminder to the new kids: Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.)
This is the set up:
And here's my 2nd least favorite paragraph -- okay, okay, it's TWO paragraphs, but it's making just one point:
After consulting with his wife and his partner he came to the conclusion that it was better to take those risks than to stand before his Creator guilty of such ruinous slander. He saw that he had to place the outcome in God's hands or he would soon start drinking again, and all would be lost anyhow. He attended church for the first time in many years. After the sermon, he quietly got up and made an explanation. His action was met with widespread approval, and today he is one of the most trusted citizens of his town. This all happened years ago.
Okay, the point that's being made here speaks to the last part of the 9th Step, "... except when to do so would injure them or others." And I have (naturally) NO quarrel with how well this example fleshes out that idea.
On a first pass of the 9th Step the "others" who might be injured which come to mind are most often our "partners in crime" -- the person we cheated on our spouse with, for example, or the guy driving the getaway car, or some such. This story opens up our vision to include what might be considered the "collateral damage" of spouses, business partners, etc. We can't throw someone else under the bus just to clean our own side of the street -- and that goes not just for our fellow guilty parties, but for whomever may have their fates or livelihood (or hearts) tied up with us as well.
But what drives me crazy about this is that, although we're talking about an amends, the man in this story doesn't finish the job! Yes, he "exonerates" his former business rival, and that is certainly the first "action" part of any amends: Owning what we've done.
But to paraphrase briefly what it says elsewhere in the Big Book, a remorseful mumbling that 'we're sorry' won't fill the bill -- and often when it comes to amends "bill" is a literal thing.
According to this story the rival was "ruined" -- that word says a lot more to me than people threw him shade at the next neighborhood barbeque. When I read the word "ruined" I associate it with a financial consequence, not just a social one -- and a big one at that. Even if it took a lifetime of tithing, the man in this story who stood up in church and owned what he did, to make a true amends (as the crusty old timers who took me along when I showed up explained it to me) you must make things right -- or as right as possible. You must make restitution.
So, at best, when it comes to this story in the Big Book, I must content myself with the idea that there is more to it than the book goes into, so that the main point, taking other people into consideration before placing them at any risk whatsoever when we make our amends, can be clearly made.
Still kind of bugs me every time I read it with a sponsee, though.
(Ask any of them -- some have had to sit through my rant on this several times now.)
Speaking of sponsees, and of making amends, a couple of years ago one of my sponsees turned himself in at Court on an outstanding warrant. He had been carrying a fear about it for years during his drinking, and after he turned one year sober he was ready to address it. We worked hard -- he worked hard -- on being willing to place the result in his Higher Power's hands, and the morning he turned himself in he was completely at peace. He had been able to get to a place of utter acceptance -- he was truly okay with whatever the outcome.
In this case he was not sentenced to jail, but it was a very real possibility at the time. But as is often the case when it comes to a spiritual path, paradoxically, being willing to go to jail -- making amends -- actually sets you free. And that kind of inner freedom -- the utter peace of surrendering not to a Court, but to a God of your understanding, is not something that can be bought in any way, shape or form -- but it is available to anyone who wants it, via working and living the 12 Steps.
Not every story has a Lifetime movie ending. I am personally acquainted with several people who, as a part of their amends, admitted wrong doing and did real jail time as a result. But the outcome of their action is that they too are men at peace -- and sober -- as a result of cleaning up what their disease helped them create.
If you're new, and these kinds of stories frighten rather than inspire, I want to rush to assure you that you do not have to do anything you aren't ready and willing to do. (And in the case of the 9th Step in particular that's what the second part of the 8th Step is for.)
AA literature and the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous urges caution, consideration and a lot of common sense in moving forward with these kinds of things. For example, in the case of my sponsee, he had certainly retained a good lawyer and followed wise legal counsel before showing up in Court. AA is not a group of crazy people dispensing advice we are not qualified to give: "Sure! Pray to God, then keep a little of this dirt -- it's from Akron, Ohio, the birthplace of AA! -- in your pocket when you appear before the judge. Everything will magically work out just the way you want!"
AA places a premium on sharing experience -- we do not shoot from the hip and offer opinions or suggestions we're not qualified to give -- or rather, we work really, really hard not to do that. Alcoholics struggle with ego on a daily (hourly ... minute-ly) basis.
The Steps are a process, a recipe for creating a spiritual experience, and there is a limitless supply of people willing to help with going through them in 12 Step meetings around the world.