When you die what will you take with you? No, I don’t mean what will they put in your casket. What grievances, resentments or regrets still live within you? I think the clinical term is baggage. How much baggage have collected over a lifetime? What If I were to tell you there is a way to leave a clean slate when the world is done with you. Would that be something you’d be interested in? Reading this back the tone is like some sort of infomercial hawking a miracle cure for your woes. It is not. It is free but takes work. And it will leave you with a clean slate freeing you of any burdens of carrying all that excess baggage that gets in the way of enjoying what life you have left.
Speaking from experience, I carried a ton of baggage in my life starting with hatred towards my father in my late teens and through my mid 20s. I couldn’t stand being in the same room with him for more than five minutes. Also, my mom, with her focus on sports and what I thought of as her neglecting her duties as mother. I got the short end of the stick and held one long mother of a grudge. Resentments towards my brothers, friends, girlfriends, managers, the government and even corporations stacked so high becoming overwhelming created a dirtied slate of anger in which I viewed the world.
It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I discovered, or rather succumbed to the disease of alcoholism. This is not about how I got there, rather about something that is connected to Alcoholics Anonymous called the Twelve Steps. I have come to learn that as much as I want to think life is about what is on the outside, it really is an inside job, and the twelve steps helped me to realize this truth.
NOTE: There is no requirement that one has to be an alcoholic to do the steps. But I will say that most people are addicts in one way or another and can benefit from doing all 12.
Now I will not go into detail about each step, rather talk about the steps that eventually led me to a cleaner slate and mending the relationship with my father, mother and the remaining long list. Beginning with my father, remember five minutes and hatred, after doing the steps our relationship got to the point where he would visit me for long weekends in New York City when I was living there. Thankful for having the time together he ended up dying far too early. I was able to say my goodbyes free of any residue of resentment, only love. When it came to my mom, I eventually realized the benefits of having been raised by such a unique and driven woman who lived a life of adventure and risk and how that has influenced my life. But I am getting ahead of myself.
There are four steps I want to highlight out of the twelve. The first being the 4th and 5th step, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” “Admitted to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Now don’t let the GOD word freak you out, there is no prerequisite as to what kind of God. In fact, you can come up with your own version and even change the word. Essentially these two steps are taking you inward and reflecting on the life you have led and the choices you made along the way. It’s a time to get honest with oneself and face what Jung calls the “Shadows” in our lives. We all have them tucked away far from the light of day. The 4th step you put on paper with some details and the 5th is telling another human being so you can let them go. After doing my first 4th and 5th step I felt lighter and elated. The baggage accumulated over my lifetime up to that point was lifted and that slate became a little cleaner.
Moving on to steps 8 and 9. Step 8, “Make a list of persons you have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9, Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Basically, apologize ‘if you can” for your actions that caused that person(s) harm. The “if you can,” means, that you are able to by not causing the other person harm by bringing something up from the past that may cause undue emotional trauma.
I made amends initially with my parents on separate occasions for what I had put them through with my drinking and anger and no expectations other than to admit and apologize for what I had done. What came about as a result was a dialogue that began between my parents in which we started to mend our relationships. After going through a long list and amend making, it began to spill over into other areas of my life as I learned how to treat people in a kind. loving and accepting manner. Not always perfect it is a work in progress.
I am grateful for the steps and having ventured inward, because after the loss of my brother and dad I needed to be there for family during those painful times. If not for making the amends I don’t know if I could have done it.
Fast forward decades later of not having a drink and living by the twelve steps, as far as I know I no longer have a list of amends to make and a much cleaner slate. But, if you are reading this and you are one of those I missed, get in touch, I have something I want to say.