Saturday, September 04, 2010

Admitting to God, to ourselves...

and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs is something a lot of folks think is unwise, probably unnecessary, and too guilt-ridden to be an effective way of dealing with errors we've made. The thing is, it works.

Years ago, I regularly attended an AlAnon meeting every week, sometimes twice a week, trying to deal with the effects of my years in relationships that were affected by drinking, drugging, food, spending, and other addictive behaviors. And I decided that I wasn't going to do it halfway, that I was going to actually get a sponsor and do the work of "doing the steps", the 12 steps that have been the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous and other such groups.

I spent about four or five years attending regular meetings and the steps became part of my life, to the benefit of my relationships. The steps were hard. They meant I had to overcome my resistance to letting people know about my secrets, telling people I was sorry and asking forgiveness, and making pridefulness take a back seat to humility. One of the hardest ones was number 5: "admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs".

But once I had done this with the entity I called God, with myself, and with my sponsor, owning up to the list of people I had harmed with my behavior and committing myself to making amends to all those I could, I found my sense of guilt greatly diminished and a sense of freedom from self-absorption and self-flagellation. I still carried the sense of responsibility for my actions; I hadn't given that up, but it now served as a reminder not to commit the same act again.

I've used this step over and over again since those AlAnon days, even though I no longer attend meetings. And it has the same cleansing effect now as it did then. I have learned a lot about my actions and their effects over the years and I rarely commit the same offense twice.

However, I find new ones to commit, as I did recently, hurting people unnecessarily and for no good reason. And as I mopped up as best I could, feeling remorseful for my stupid mistake and praying for guidance to make amends, I had a chance to sit down with my close friend S and tell her what I had done to hurt people, what I had done to make amends, and what I hoped I still could do. She was understanding and supportive, did not diminish the seriousness of the deed, but offered encouragement and questions to help me sort out why I might have taken the action I did, to get a handle on any pattern it might reveal.

And though my sorrow about the event has not gone away, my understanding has increased. I am hopeful that I might learn what I need to learn so that in the future, I will not carelessly hurt another person this way. I hope that I might find greater compassion for those who happen to push my buttons in certain ways and that I might learn more caring ways to respond.

Please, God.


Christina Martin said...

Beautiful post. Admitting guilt doesn't create guilt, it's already there. It deals with it so it can go away. A lot of wisdom and healing there.

goodwolve said...

I find that the more I am able to own up to my own role in suffering (my own, others, etc.) it gets easier. Saying I am truly sorry feels so much better than just holding onto the feelings of guilt. It is definitely a work in progress.

boston unitarian said...

Amen. I had little respect for the 12 steps until I had to live the 12 steps. Thanks for the post and
blessings, BU

Lulu Brown said...

Wow, great observations. It's funny how being able to apologize and accept responsibility for things you've done actually means you're a bigger, more mature person. And it makes you a stronger person. Well done, and I too thank you for sharing!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, friends.