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.