Thursday, March 5, 2020

Step 8&9 - Seeking Forgiveness, Restitution and Reconciliation

8-KEY PRINCIPLE: Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them. 

9-Key PRINCIPLE: Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed. 

These steps in recovery are daunting yet amazing when done with the Spirit and humility. These are the steps that in the beginning a lot of people rush in to and want to get over with as soon as possible. It seems like the best strategy in the beginning, "clear the air" and "talk about the elephant in the room". While that is an accurate and natural response, however I learned the hard way and found actually made relationships and feelings worse. I eventually found a more honest, real, rewarding and sustainable approach. 
Back when I was VERY early in recovery I had this list made. I had just finished my 5th step and was feeling light as a feather. I had admitted all of my mistakes and faults to Heavenly Father and Priesthood authority and was ready to become right with society. I had sat through countless individual, group, and family counseling sessions, hearing the liberation and release of destructive feelings people had felt when they made amends. I wanted to keep the freeing feelings I felt from confession going. I had just felt the redeeming power of the Atonement of Christ in my life and knew that I was ready to "show" people or "prove" to others just how much I had changed and how much I was past these awful transgressions. 
Here is where I didn't check my character weaknesses. Of course I wanted to apologize to others and say sorry for any pain I had caused them. Deep down I was still the same Lizzy, who is a very caring and compassionate person. However, I had an extremely huge sense of needing to fit in and feel loved. I am a people person I DO NOT like when I know someone has ill feelings toward me or think that they are angry with me. There is a small part of step 9 that is all about a living amends, which is ultimately “proving it”. In the beginning I truly believed this was a cop out and a justification to not have to face the music. However, with a little wisdom and failed amends I realize that there is a real power to having some consistent clean time to allow others in my life who I care about to trust me again.
So back to the timeline, early in recovery despite the guidance from my counselor, Rick and the proven words from the 12 step material, I decided to start knocking out these amends. The silly part my experience at this time was solely pride based. I didn't even allow these people to tell me "no" they did not want to hear what I had to say. I just started showing up at people's front door, calling them out of the blue, and writing letters. I figured that "cleaning up my side of the street" meant that I shouldn't have to care AT ALL about their reaction or feelings. Turns out these amends weren't taken well. I am not surprised looking back and knowing what I know now. But I was so stinkin' jaded during this time. I even built resentments toward people I HURT! It was foolish, selfish, and completely full of pride. I also learned that with restitution and reconciliation it is very important to never justify actions, behaviors, or thought processes, which of course I did at this first attempt.

Fast forward to when I was ACTUALLY on step 8 and 9 mentally, emotionally and spiritually. There is a huge reason that step 8 and 9 come after 4 and 5, then after 6 and 7. Step 4 and 5 rid me of all the repugnant, awful, heavy mistakes. Where I could look at myself in the mirror again without disgust and where I rebuilt my self-worth. That process of writing down everything I had ever felt any shame over then allowing someone else to hear those things out loud allowed that weight to be lifted. I had priesthood authority take out the heavy rocks I couldn't get rid of alone. Ultimately step 5 is where I truly felt the cleansing power of the Atonement work in my life. I found the Savior and what He truly did for me in a very raw, tangible way. Step 8 and 9 come after steps 6 and 7 because that is where I began to see the little mistakes I was making and beginning to sincerely and diligently making the next right choice. The weight wasn't so heavy anymore but I learned that I needed to make daily changes to become more like Christ, which if I’m honest with myself should be the way I live the rest of my life. I also started to see the good in my life but more importantly in myself. I learned that Christ was there for the good and the bad. He is not just my Redeemer but also my Supporter and Comforter. This is where I learned that because I was trying to humble myself to a point where I could rid myself totally of my character weaknesses with no avail without the Savior’s Grace and His power. 
The reason that I feel those initial amends didn't pan out as I desired was because I didn't know true humility and I wasn't fully being led by the Spirit. Once I had those two key elements these amends on my list were easy. They weren't easy in the sense that I felt like I would gain full forgiveness or become a complete saint in these people's eyes. They also weren't easy because they were all totally accepted, because they weren’t. I learned that some people to this day still have ill feelings toward me. 
They were easy because I knew in my heart of hearts that my amends, apologies, and love for those people were real. They are ongoing and I am constantly trying to right my wrongs. This is where I learned the proper place for living amends. I learned that in time people would maybe see the way I was living my life and their hearts could be softened in their own timing, by the power of the Savior and the will of Heavenly Father. 
They were also easy because I was in a place of full forgiveness toward others. When I tried amends while I was still using or in really early recovery I wanted an apology for their hurtful actions and words. I expected that it would be a two way street and we would both say I am so sorry, hug and everything would be "normal" again. However, the natural man doesn't work like that. The most important part of amends for me was realizing that things would never return to “normal” rather if God’s will is to have people in my life then the new normal would make that possible and a reality for both us. 
There are people that I will never be able to make amends to and I will forever live the best life I can, without any intentional harm to others essentially in their name. While that leaves me without any direct contact and communication, it does leave me with peace knowing I am doing everything I can to keep my side of the street clean. In the end that is OK, because after personal revelation I know that is enough.
After my change of heart and lots of redirection in my life I went into my amends almost expecting to hear negative feedback, unforgiveness, and zero apologies. I didn't use the list of persons I had harmed as a check list. I allowed the Spirit to guide me. In every daily prayer and meditation I involved those on my list that still needed an amends from me. I asked God daily for the opportunity to present itself when their heart was softened to hear what the humble part of me was ready to say. 
Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways, it was pretty insane how magical it all was. Every single amends presented itself to me. Whether it was running into someone at the gym, getting random social media messages, having a heartfelt conversation with family or friends these opportunities allowed me to be open, honest and vulnerable. No matter how these amends happened, they were all presented by God and they were always received well. There are people that I still wish I could have a deep heartfelt conversation with, but I also have peace that it is still OK and hold hope that eventually I will get the chance. I don't feel as though I am not right with society anymore. I know this because there isn’t anywhere I feel like I need to avoid, there isn’t a person I wouldn’t talk to face to face, and there isn’t a pit in my stomach when I think about anyone. 
These truly are the most amazing steps, because I feel like I defiantly allow a tornado to cause some major wreckage from addiction. However I also feel like the way I lived my life even before addiction never allowed me to be comfortable everywhere, with everyone and in every situation. I am forever grateful for these amends because what a freeing feeling it truly is to be able to face anyone at any time and unapologetically be myself. God and Jesus Christ are so good. 

I recently recorded a podcast where Brian and I were interviewed (comefollowmeforus). I started to share some heavy stuff from my story and as I was saying things that I used to cringe inside about when I would talk about them, I felt peace. I am now clean 4 years and that's the first time I didn't cringe when talking about my story publicly. Maybe I couldn’t care less about what other people think, which is mostly true. Maybe people care less about my story since it's been a while, which is also probably true. OR MAYBE the fullness of the Atonement has worked in my life. I am going to go with the last option.
As I reflect on why steps 8 and 9 were so difficult for me in the beginning and why they didn't truly work for a while it dawned on me that I was part of the "culture of the church". I was always trying to fit a mold of what I should be, what I should look like, how I should act and react, how I should gossip, who I should like, what I shouldn't like, this list could go on and on. By trying to fit that mold, as you know if you have read the part of my story about postpartum depression, I was hardening my heart. Seeking forgiveness and seeking restitution wasn't ever going to happen for me or anyone if I kept trying to fit myself into a mold of something I would never become. I had to strip that part of myself layer by layer and unleash this vulnerable, open, raw version of myself to allow others to truly see the change of heart I knew I had experienced. It didn't matter whether they excepted this true version of myself because they were used to the people pleasing, fake version. All that mattered ultimately and still does is that I am portraying the truth and living in a manner that displays the divine potential and spirit that is the real me. 
The Atonement is all encompassing, it worked for me in the depths of the trenches. It worked for me in the first part of my recovery when I wasn't going to church, being with family or showing up fully for my loved ones. It worked for me when I decided that I wanted the Gospel in my life. It worked for me when wanting the Gospel in my life was hard. It worked for me as I was working toward getting my temple recommend back. It worked for me as I was trying to figure out how to rid myself of my imperfections and character weaknesses. Bottom line is it has and will work for any and all situations. It will work on any emotion, feeling, or behavior. The Atonement of my Savior Jesus Christ worked and works so perfectly for me. I can't think of a more beautiful thing that it can and will work for than bringing two of Heavenly Father's children back together. 
I thought I would never be able to be imperfect or flawless in the world around me. But here I am unapologetically living completely imperfect with the gift of the Atonement. This beautiful reconciling power allows me to show up as I am, and humbly ask those around me to accept that version.