The ninth step of AA – Tim Cheney, co-founder of Chooper’s Guide, shares his thoughts. Tim’s thoughts on the first 8 steps of AA are linked below this post.
The following is a guest post by Tim Cheney who has been in long-term recovery for over 30 years. He is the co-founder and managing partner of Chooper’s Guide, a web-based treatment and information resource for addiction, and owns and operates an apple orchard in Maine. He is active in the recovery movement in Florida and nationally and has been active for 28 years as a volunteer and advocate for substance abuse and child abuse.
The Ninth Step - Crossing Over by Tim Cheney
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
A famous and well used acronym in recovery is HOW – Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness. These are said to be the core and essential ingredients to travel the road to recovery. These for me were the foundation of the bridge I was to build and cross to shed my self- hatred, shame, guilt, despair and every other negative, self-defeating and life draining emotion that I had nourished during my active addiction. This bridge I must cross to put my past behind me. The previous steps had taught me to admit and accept and take ownership of my disease, trust God and become willing to clean house. First I had to understand that I was an addict and alcoholic, that I could not recover on my own, that a power greater than me could and would restore me to sanity. I was told that my higher power did not have to conform to the understanding of others. I then, much like a store keeper of perishable goods, had to make a thorough written inventory and then I had to assemble the rotten goods, accept my losses and put them out in the garbage. Through this process I was also careful to take stock of the goods that had been hidden on the back of the shelves that were still good. These were in sealed containers labeled essential self with no expiration date. These were the items that we all have and share as human beings – an innate and eternal goodness that will, if nurtured, sustain us through our lives.
Only in the eighth step was I introduced to the concept of the impact my disease had on my external world and society. My willingness had led me to the edge of the cliff and forced me to look at the imaginary bodies that littered the trail of my past life far below and beyond. It is said that an addict’s or alcoholic’s emotional development is arrested when we first pick up or start using. If this is true, which I believe it was for me, then my perceptions were those of a wounded, anesthetized child who had become partially blind from living in the darkness and isolation of addiction. These images were shadows of my past, ghosts in the distance viewed through a veil of self-hate and shame that had been stockpiled through the years of my active addiction. Time and substances had distorted the reality, and in many cases the severity, of the collateral damage. As written in my eighth step article, I believed I was the 20th century rendition of Attila the Hun and that any form of forgiveness was beyond my wildest dreams. The completion of the Ninth Step symbolized the crossing of my bridge. I had recognized the need to become willing as it was only logical and I understood that willingness for me was the prerequisite to action that would endure. This was to be my gift to myself if I could only believe that I deserved it. Even today, after all these years my ghosts, some of which are hard wired, will return to haunt my emotional world. The difference today is that I know they are ghosts which strips them of much of their power. I call this place my existential badlands.
Now, it was time for the rubber to meet the road – show time – and I was scared and embarrassed. I focused on the outcomes and forecasted rejection and anger from my list of perceived victims. And so I set out to make my amends mindful that it was not to cleanse my soul at the expense of others and heeding the words of Ben Franklin who warned to “never ruin an apology with an excuse.” I have never been a great admirer of the word ‘sorry’ and frequently have said that it is the smallest word in the English language as is meaningless and empty without action, which to me means change. Change meant changing my thoughts, my words, my motivations, my actions, my behavior and ultimately, overtime, my character. I longed for a sense of belonging and an understanding of what my role was to be in life.
Approximately twenty seven years ago I had heard a man who had been sober for many years, share at a step meeting on a Saturday morning on the do’s and don’ts of the Ninth Step and how caution and consideration for the recipient of the amend was paramount. He told a story of how he eagerly, in his first years of sobriety, went forth to make amends to his wife for his infidelity and spared no details as he sat holding her hand on the edge of the bed. He had not checked with his sponsor and had taken rigorous honesty to a point well beyond compassion and had left his wife crippled with despair. As Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked – “Apology is only egotism wrong side out”.
Much of the wisdom of the 12 Step programs is derived from paradoxes. The essence of the Ninth Step to me was the realization that “it is in forgiving that we are forgiven”. This meant that I had to forgive all the victims on my eighth step list (many derived from my fourth step) that I had harbored resentments towards over the years so that my actions could be justified. But perhaps my epic epiphany was that in order to forgive others, I had to first forgive myself and that was a choice only I could make. That was and occasionally still is my biggest challenge. It was after I came to understand that if God could forgive me then who was I not to forgive myself that I began to understand that self-forgiveness was the key. The words of Jesus from Luke 23:24, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, have given me comfort over the years for it has given me the insight and compassion to realize that just as I had to truly forgive myself to forgive others so also must others do. I am not unique.
Overtime I internalized the knowledge that the willingness and the subsequent action of making the amends rather than the outcome of the amend are the critical ingredients of a successful Ninth Step. Only by following this path and doing what I believed to be impossible at the onset have I been able to cross the bridge, one amend at a time, and leave the past behind. The ghosts still linger on the other side and occasionally call to me in my dreams and in the early morning hours but today I know that they are ghosts with no reflection and that I have a choice to banish them. I will hopefully always will be vigilant and remember to look back but I no longer will stare. It was only by taking the Ninth step that I was able to cast off the shackles of resentment, anger, guilt and shame that I had I stored in those urns and step forward into the present. The intangible pall that had permeated and polluted every pore of my soul vanished. The curtain lifted to the thunderous ovation of the world and the grateful tears of my lost soul. I had rediscovered my essential self and stepped forward to play my role in the human race. The “greatest show on earth” was on.
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.
- Reinhold Niebuhr
To read Tim’s thoughts on the first seven steps, please select from below: