There are twelve steps in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Each of them has their own truth, their own spirit. Their own degree of difficulty. You learn, if you are a member of any twelve step program, that they are written in this order for a reason.
There are many who enter the program, beaten and spent, more than willing to admit that their lives have become unmanageable. For many, almost immediately, there is this sense of euphoria, as if a huge albatross of a weight is suddenly lifted, and for the first time in as long as they can remember, they didn't take a drink today, and they they can, in fact breathe. Really breathe. Many of these, filled with the fire of release, fly immediately from Step One (admitted we were alcoholics and that our lives had become unmanageable) to Twelve (basically, carry the message of AA to all who suffer).
Many times, in their newbie zeal, they tend to carry the mess, rather than the message. They are welcomed back with open arms and open hearts - if they make it back. Doesn't always happen that way.
There are others who enter the AA dance competition. There is the Waltzer - the person who bounces between Steps One, Two and Three. They can admit their powerlessness, they are willing to find a Higher Power, but the willingness to trust that Higher Power, to turn their will and their lives over to the care of that Higher Power (whom some choose to call God, some call Ralph and still others haven't quite found a name for Whatever-It-Is, but are willing to go with it anyway) - that is beyond them. So they waltz, stuck.
I was a Two-Stepper myself: one-two, one-two. On and on and on. I struggled mightily with the whole idea of a God (whatever God's name might be) who could restore me to sanity. Who could protect me or save me or keep me from picking up a drink. I've written volumes about my struggle; I won't bore you (again) here. Feel free to browse the blog. Better - reach out to me and we can talk.
I got over it. Thank God. I finally figured out what worked for me, and I leaped. Sure enough, God caught me on the other side.
I did the inventory thing> Several times. It's not that I didn't get it right the first handful of times I did it. Rather, as they say in the halls of AA - more was revealed. The longer I stayed sober, the longer I continued to work the program, stay honest, do the steps - the more I figured out who I was, and how I used that to bludgeon myself and the world around me. Funny - for years, when I swore I had no God (even in AA), I always managed to do steps Four and Five (personal inventory, then admit it - to God, myself and another human being) right around Yom Kippur. That was not an accident. My life has always been about the struggle and the search.
As I said, every step has its own degree of difficulty. That degree changes by person, by time, by spiritual state. Six (get willing to have God remove the defects of my character) and Seven (humbly ask God to remove the defects), for this Jewish girl, generally make me falter a bit. They always strike me as a little too Christian, a little to magical. Thankfully, I get over it; it never hurts to ask, right? And when I ask, in that instant, I am made whole again. Boom. That I pick up my defects almost immediately thereafter is on me, not God.
Then came Eight and Nine. Again and again, every time I did the stupid steps, I got here (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I can be an awesome dancer at times...). I breezed through them pretty quickly the first couple of times. Especially Eight - made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. How easy is that? I mean, I had the list already, didn't I? When I did the inventory thing in Four, I had the list.
Ok, so maybe I forgot a person or three. Maybe there was a bill collector - someone who had the temerity to want his money at a time when I wanted to keep all of mine - who fell off the list. Accidentally. I swear. Maybe because I was bending the light differently, trying to live more mindfully, trying to keep my side of the street clean, I found more of those folks whom I had harmed.
So I built the list. Again, how tough could that be? To become willing? A little more challenging, but doable. Around about five or six years sober, I was working my program hard. I was in some kind of a spiritual crisis, some place of stuckness and fear, where my brokenness was all I could see, but my experience with living a sober life told me (creamed at me, pleaded with me) to get unstuck, to make the leap, to find all the broken pieces and move. And I knew, because I'd done it before, and my sponsor told me, and all the millions of other recovering alcoholics who'd gone before, they did, too, and I was willing, if even for an instant, to trust them all, and to trust that whole God-thing, and to know, that if I did the steps, in order, with an open heart, things would change. My life would change. Wouldn't be perfect - but it would be different.
So. The Eighth Step. My sponsor and I would talk - "Ready to make the amends, Stacey?" she'd say. Almost, I'd answer, and then find eleventy-seven thousand things I had to do before I could make the amends required in Step Nine. Really - my parents weren't in a hurry, were they? Or my brothers? The rest of the family? We were all good by now anyway - weren't we? Holidays, birthdays, sometimes no reason at all, we'd get together, with no shouting or tantrums or slamming of doors.
And secretly, so secretly that I kept this from myself even, for months, I was waiting. Waiting and watching the clock and the giant scoreboard in my head. Because, you know, I may have ruffled some familial feathers and all, may have borrowed stuff with the intention of giving it back, may have been thoughtless and unkind and mean. But, you know, so were they.
Fair is fair. I'd make amends, just as soon as every one of them, any one of them, made amends to me.
I went to meetings. I met with my sponsor. I spoke and prayed and meditated. And I waited. And I was broken and weary. Every day. And I wanted it to stop. Please God, just let this pass.
And one night, doing nothing in particular, it hit me. How simple. How profoundly simple. And difficult. I called my sponsor, immediately.
":I have to forgive them, don't I? In order to make amends, to ask for their forgiveness - I have to forgive them first. And not ever expect them to make their own amends. Right?
"Yup," said my sponsor, and I could hear the relief - that I had gotten this lesson, finally, that I would finally be able to act and move - to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
That's the lesson of forgiveness for me: I cannot ask for forgiveness until I have forgiven. I cannot ask for forgiveness with the expectation that it will be given to me, that I'll get the relationship back exactly as it was before I broke it. That I have to pray, really hard, for the willingness to be that loving, that vulnerable in front of another human being.
We all have our parts to play in each other's lives. We are all bound to mess up. And that messing up - even unintentional, can hurt like a sonofabitch. And we need to clean up our messes, fix the hurts and leap, with all the humility and vulnerability we can muster. And when we do - there is grace and hope and possibility, and we find - each other.
(c) Stacey Zisook Robinson