Guest Speaker from the UK: Joe P.
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
In November 2016, I found that the only option I had available to me was to check myself in to a rehab and I mean that literally.
There were other options available, such as continue drinking, but I knew I wouldn’t last two months the way I was. With no doubt it would have ended up with my body eventually giving up under the years of abuse to which it had been subjected with alcohol and other chemicals (the way my Mom died). The suicide I had been planning in my mind for months leading up to that point (the way my Dad died) may have also become my reality.
Either way, I knew deep down that I would cause untold suffering upon my then 2-year-old son. I knew that because I was 16 years old when my own Father committed suicide and the devastation rippled through my family like a tsunami and we never recovered from that. Fortunately, I recovered, and I am here to tell the tale.
If you are in your very early days of recovery,
or even still drinking but desperate to stop,
welcome my friend, I am writing this for you.
They said to me in the first few weeks of my sobriety that the steps are in order for a reason. But by that point that I had already written a letter to my son’s mother after having been in rehab for a few weeks apologising to her. My focus shifted from my resentment towards her to what my part in the breakdown of our relationship and the separation from my son was. Looking back, I do not regret what I did but I think now that it was more of an attempt to relieve me of the intense guilt and shame that was swelling up inside of me now that the alcohol, my emotional crutch for so long, had been removed. I also know now that this gesture of goodwill on my part did not make up the amends discussed in step 9 to my son’s mother. This was to come later, in a manner which was unplanned, and dare I say it, something which had less to do with me, and more to do with my newfound faith in a higher power.
I arrived in to rehab with enough resentments to weigh the Titanic down.
My plan was I would go to rehab and explain to everybody how unfairly I had been being treated by everybody. Thereafter, I would be offered everybody’s unconditional sympathy. Their affirmations would allow me to cut all the people and institutions out of my life who had caused me so much hurt without a guilty conscience.
It didn’t work out that way.
I was bluntly told that I was an alcoholic and unless I had been pinned down and physically forced to drink then this was nobody’s fault but my own. Not quite the loving embrace I was expecting!
I now know this was a very poignant moment for me. First, because it completely contradicted everything, I thought about the situation I was in, and secondly because it also posed an enormous challenge to my commitment to stopping drinking and staying in rehab. I think I found out just how desperate I was that day and I feel blessed to have had that moment looking back.
The rehab had served its purpose. It forced me to admit my powerlessness. It was impossible to ignore now. I had looked at my role in the hurt which I had inflicted upon others and had a burning desire to make good all the wrongs I had caused, particularly to my son, his mother, my two sisters and my deceased mother and father.
In equal measure to the burning enthusiasm for making amends to those whom I had harmed was also a great fear of doing it.
- What if they tell me they never want to speak to me again?
- What if they tell me how much I have really hurt them?
- How am I going to cope with that?
- What if they don’t believe me I am sorry?
All these worries were whirring around in my mind. I still worry about things like this to this day, but I have nowhere near the amends to make.
I completed the rehab programme on 7th April 2017, and it was my birthday on 15th April. Out of the nowhere and totally unexpectedly I received a text message from one of my sisters, with whom I thought I had burned the bridge irrevocably, wishing me a happy birthday. Instinctively I replied apologising for everything I had done and said to her admitting my faults as much as I can and retrospectively acknowledging all the things she had previously said to me when trying to express her concerns to me about the way I was living my life prior to going to rehab. Her response was unremarkable and merely suggested I need not worry about it. I was expecting her to give me a piece of her mind, and if she did, she would have been perfectly entitled to do so, I knew that.
I was no longer in rehab, but I was going back there almost weekly at the weekend to do one-hour group therapy sessions with those still in there to give me that bit of extra support and a forum for airing any concerns. During one of those groups I discussed that I wanted to build bridges with my other sister and they said I could send her a letter. So, I sent a letter to my other sister doing the same thing and offering her my heartfelt apologies for everything I had said and done. I was being allowed regular access to my son by his mother.
Life was falling in place, it seemed.
You may have noticed twice so far that I have mentioned my higher power. I feel it is an appropriate juncture in my story to elaborate on that a little more, because essentially, it is the foundation on which everything that has happened, leading up to where I am writing this for you at 06:22 a.m. in the morning before I head off to work for the day. Without these amends and my Higher Power, I do not think I would be here today. If you are skeptical about such matters, fear not.
When I walked in to the rehab for a visit pre-admission and I saw the 12 steps on the wall of one room, I said to the person conducting the visit that I, “don’t want to get involved in god.” I had grown up hearing my mom call people who had were “bible bashers” and I genuinely thought people of faith were mentally ill.
Ironically, I now know I am on the one with a mental illness, not them.
Fortunately, someone told me your higher power can be personal to you and it can be anything but ME. Why?
Because I was the problem.
I had to let go of the faith that I had in myself and give it over to something else. My first higher power was one therapist in the treatment centre I was in. This meant that when he asked me to do something I did not want to do, I made a commitment to do it because he was a “higher power” than me. That is all it is. I have no desire to complicate it any more than that here. Nor does it need to get anymore complicated than that anywhere else.
I heard when I was in rehab through going to AA meetings that alcoholism is a progressive illness. I could relate to what they were saying because I could see how the quality of my life had deteriorated slowly over many years through my obsessions to drink more and more alcohol. Yet I did not understand the part when they said that it progresses even without taking a drink until this point in my life.
Now that everything had fallen in place for me, I believed I have done enough to get over my problems with alcohol and other chemicals, especially after learning so much about what addiction is all about in rehab. But rather than continue working on my recovery I became complacent and I:
- stopped doing the things which was keeping me well.
- stopped talking about myself honestly.
- thought it was enough now to attend the odd AA meeting but, in my mind, I did not need a sponsor or to do the steps because I had been to rehab.
- already knew it all, or so I thought.
- In a nutshell, this is the progression without taking a drink that we hear others talk about.
- Because of my arrogance and complacency I started becoming spiritually unwell again, slowly and subtly.
- I started becoming more resentful at people, places and things, which the serenity prayer had told me hundreds of times was beyond my control, and
- And, I felt anxious again.
- I was plagued with the sort of anxiety I exhibited before I went in to rehab.
- Over time, I distanced myself from my fellows.
Essentially, I was a “dry-drunk”.
Eventually the pain became too great. I asked someone who I had observed in AA meetings, to be a man who had peace in his life, the person who I aspired to, if he would be my sponsor. He said yes, although I was convinced he would decline, and we set off on our spiritual journey.
Within about 6 months I was up to step 8 where I was making a list of the people I had harmed and was trying to become willing to make amends to them. Fortunately, there were a couple of amends’ which I felt comfortable enough to strike off straight away, there were some I was fearful of doing but equally eager to get done and there was one which I did not want to do at all because I was so scared, and still have not done to this day, but not because of fear but because I cannot afford to do it yet.
I did the quick ones straight away like apologies to my old landlord and take my sister out for a coffee and there were some which my Sponsor said would be ongoing like the one to my Son’s Mom who I had hurt terribly for the 4 years that we spent in a relationship together doing all the things that alcoholics do. I was praying for the courage from my higher power on two others.
Eventually the courage came. I was highly anxious about doing the amends to my son’s grandparents as I was aware of how acrimonious the split with his mother was and what impact
that had on her parents. At this point my son lived in Slovakia (I am in the UK), and I regularly travelled over there to see him and I had text my sons mom whilst over there asking if I could take them out for a meal. The reply was that they did not want to go out for a meal with me. I reported back to my sponsor unsure what to do and how to take it and he advised me I had done my part, I just must let it go now, which I did.
I am still making financial amends to companies who have the power to take me to court and make me bankrupt if I do not pay them and that would cause many other issues, so my focus has been to repay them which I am due to finish in the summer of 2020. That will be 3 full years of paying just under a third of my take home on my debts, which is the commitment I would not have been capable of when drinking.
When the invitation arrived to tell of my experiences of recovery, I was in Slovakia and I decided it would be most appropriate to focus on step 9 because that was the purpose of the journey to Slovakia each time I go back. I go there to see my 6-year-old son who, for the first couple of years of his life, was nothing short of neglected by me while I was drinking. Today the drive there to be the best father I can for him feels unstoppable. It is so strong it feels like nothing can ever get in the way, but alcohol did for 2 years of his life and therefore I must remain vigilant about doing the things that people who have got long-term recovery suggest that I do. Making amends to people is one of them.
Making amends is much more than that to me. It is one of the most rewarding parts of the whole programme of recovery offered by Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is not without a cost. The cost is I must endure some fear going through with them. But that is ok, because since I have had a higher power in my life, everything has always ended up okay. No matter how frightening it may be it always works out. I am not talking spiritually here. At the start of the second paragraph I put the word they in italics because it is an important word. My higher power sometimes takes the form of people in long term recovery, or the winners as sometimes called in the fellowships, and without their guidance I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Why then should that stop with me? It shouldn’t, hence why I have written this for you. I hope you have found it useful. Thanks for reading.
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Joe enjoys a wonderful relationship with his Son Josef thanks to his recovery and continued membership of Alcoholics Anonymous. For anybody wishing to contact Joe, he can be reached on [email protected].