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Step 9

13886324_sThis blog post was written by guest blogger, April Wright, MA, MFTI. April is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #69624 under supervision of Kathryn Tull, M.A., LMFT #44809.   April holds an active and current registration with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.   April is a member of CAMFT – a professional network designed to educate, advocate and enrich its members. If you have any questions or you would like to discuss how to enhance your spiritual connection and need support in your sober process, please contact April for a free 15-minute consultation. 

Please note that the opinions presented in the article are that of the author and not necessarily the opinions of RHN. RHN chooses to publish articles and share individual sites to evoke discussion and show all options, ideas and beliefs.

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.”

“Making amends may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but for those serious about recovery it can be great medicine for the spirit and soul.”  ~ Step 9 Forgiveness.  The Twelve Steps

“It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them.”  ~ Dale. E. Turner

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~When I think of step nine of alcoholics anonymous many words come to mind.

Forgiveness.  Releasing.  Courage.  Timing.  Understanding.  Compassion.  Fears.  Exposure.  Correcting.  Amending.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process.  It is the opportunity to pardon someone and yourself for a mistake or wrongdoing.   As part of the course of action, forgiveness involves confronting your fears.  Exposing yourself to the person, environment, or objects that you fear offers the opening to have a corrective experience.  You are able to reorganize your memories and repair those recollections.

For example, as a child you may have experienced being attacked by a Rottweiler.  You were not physically hurt but the immediate threat startled you.  As a result you froze.  This is a natural fear response.   The terror was never discussed by your family or friends.  Thus the experience was not processed and disorganized memories formed.  Avoiding the discussion of the incident caused your fears to worsen.  Unprocessed emotions transform to generalized fears.  Thus you became fearful of all dogs and avoidant of the neighborhood where the attack occurred.

By exposing yourself to another Rottweiler that doesn’t attack gives the opportunity for a corrective experience.  This allows difficult memories to surface.  You can then process them and reorganize your memories to understand not all Rottweilers show aggression.  You broaden your capacity for more knowledge and understand that the Rottweiler was protecting his territory and it was not personal.

This example can be applied to people.  Most parents, loved ones, and friends do not intentionally try to hurt you.  By respectfully approaching the person on your list, you may be able to have an open discussion, grasp a better understanding from their perspective, explain yours, and possibly have a corrective experience.  All participants must be willing to have an open mind and to listen and speak from the heart.  A positive, respectful dialogue can heal old wounds.  With a new understanding, unresolved emotions are replaced with restored transformative memories to a place of forgiveness and healing.

Courage

Courage is having the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action (English Encarta Dictionary, 2013). It takes great courage to make amends, acknowledge your part, and discuss difficult experiences.  Many emotions may arise.  It is important to have a plan to take care of yourself during this time.  One way is practicing compassion.  Look at yourself just as you would any hurt child with kindness and tenderness.   Another approach is to belly breathe.  Feel your stomach expand as you deeply and slowly inhale.  Be aware as your tummy contracts as you gradually exhale.  This type of deliberate breathing centers you to relax and lower your distress.

Compassion

Compassion is sympathy for the suffering of self and others and often includes a desire to help (English, Encarta Dictionary 2013).   Compassion is useful in daily life especially during stressful times.  Practicing compassion reduces the natural tendency of the body to resist and react to emotional discomfort.  Compassion helps you to pause, soften your body, and soothe distressful thoughts and sensations.  This allows you the opportunity say kind words and to tolerate discomfort.

Fears

Fear is a feeling of threat, imminent danger, or an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension.  The normal response to fear is fight, flight, or freeze.   The fear response is a hard-wired reaction for quick action during a peril.

Fears consist of triggers or reminders, behavioral and physiological responses; i.e. avoidance and fight-flight-freeze, and beliefs and thoughts which contain meaning associated with the trauma reminders and related behaviors.

When threatened, there is an instinct to fight against the threat or flee.  If neither fighting nor fleeing is possible, freezing is another instinct for self-protection.  All three responses are normal reactions when being faced with life-threatening danger.

During the fear response, the body reacts with rapid breathing.  Oxygen is increased in the blood stream and provides more energy.    Increased heart rate is induced to circulate oxygen to fuel the muscles throughout the body and prepare for quick action.  Digestion is slowed so major muscles groups can function optimally without any interference.

The normal fight, flight, freeze response can turn problematic when a person is triggered and not actually in danger but continues to respond as if they were actually in danger.  The fear response becomes pathological when harmless reminders of fear memories, places, and objects are erroneously associated with danger and the responses to such triggers are escape or avoidance.  Acting with avoidance interferes with adaptive behavior.  Trauma memories turn into generalized fears and maladaptive conduct.  Thus it is important to address fears in a timely manner.

Timing

Timing is important to address because the natural occurrence to process the organize memories takes at least three months after a traumatic experience.  If emotions and memories aren’t accounted for during that time frame, the perception of the situation worsens.  It is recommended to also be respectful of the other persons experience and timing.  A simple question like, “When is a good time and day for you to discuss ….?” Even asking this question can establish that you are willing to correct and have a healing experience.  It acknowledges that a hurtful event occurred, you are willing to discuss it, and you are cognizant of their time and process.

The moment in time is not only crucial but also the appropriateness.  It is important to decide which of those on your list to make amends with or not.  There may be some aspects of the event that may be too harmful to yourself or others to address.  An example would be if realistic personal guilt and shame are over-riding your fears.  During this time, it is helpful to use your guides or talk to a therapist about personal self blame.

It is important to assess the situation.  You may start by offering a small portion of your amends and testing their response.   If they don’t react respectively and positively then it is not safe to continue.   Practicing self compassion and praise is crucial for your personal growth.  While acting openly and respectfully in your approach and it is not met with the same dignity, you can then rest assure you did your part.  You did the best you could and it is their behavior that is inhibiting further growth in your relationship.  You have done your part to continue your personal development.

Exposure

Exposure to the person and environment where you may have harmed them can trigger intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness or hurt.  It is important not to avoid your feelings otherwise fears transform to overgeneralizations and suppression of emotions worsen symptoms.  Exposure helps distinguish between harmless trauma reminders and true predictions of danger. Approaching persons on your list you have harmed and the environment when the incidences occurred can promote new learning.  After prolonged exposure fear naturally subsides, understanding develops, compassion enters, and forgiveness results.

Understanding

When specific triggers of the hurtful event are avoided, rigid viewpoints and narrow perspectives are created.   Understanding manifests after thoughts, emotions, and beliefs are processed.  Processing emotions gives the brain the freedom to digest and appropriately store useful information and get rid of the rest.  When emotions are left unprocessed, memories are stored in such a way that doesn’t allow for adaptive understanding even when the information is in the brain.  Dysfunctional symptoms vanish after emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs associated with the memory are processed and understood.

Correcting

Making amends corrects the negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.  Negative thinking, judgment, and feelings change to adaptive, positive experiences.

Amending

Amending acquires good judgment to ensure circumstances are improved and not worsened.  Any attempt to repair any harm that you caused takes time and empathy.  It is important to decide a good time to make a sincere apology.  Assessing when you are ready and when you think the person you are amending is open and receptive.  It is also crucial to determine how much information to disclose.  Sometimes revealing everything may do more harm than good.  Talking with your sponsor and praying to your higher power can help you make the best decision.

Making direct amends to people on your list you have harmed wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or yourself takes a lot of soul searching, courage, and thoughtful consideration.  The goal is to recognize harm you may have caused and repair those relationships.  By using the techniques described, you can identify disturbing memories and prepare yourself with forgiveness, courage, understanding, and compassion.  Practicing these tools can help you remember you are in control of your body and mind.  You can then face your fears, expose yourself to difficult situations, and make amends with a corrective, healing experience when it is met with an open, positive, and respectful attitude.

The walk of the twelve steps is a difficult journey but gets easier with time, practice, and persistence.  A soothing way to look at the pathway is to envision a spiritual arch where your higher power is holding your hand, walking with you, and guiding you to the world of the spirit.  Picturing this image can help during difficult times and can often times provide answers when uncertainty persists.

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