This daylog is eighth of a series chronicling my path through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. I’ve been recording my personal journey because it helps me to clarify my thinking to write it all down. This entry marks Step 8.

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I imagine that if you’re reading this and you’re not terribly familiar with 12-Step programs, it might not be clear to you what family or friends of an alcoholic might have to make amends for. People in AA, NA,--those with chemical addictions which have lead them to injure others—sure, they probably have done things in their past for which amends are warranted. But what about the loved ones of the addict?

Many people, when they show up at Al-Anon, want to be told how to fix the alcoholic—what they can do to control the person who they think is causing them grief. What they learn is that Al-Anon asks each person to keep the focus on him- or herself, to examine his or her part in the family/ relationship dynamic, and do what can be done to change his or her attitudes and actions for the better. To me, Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps represent a path to a better way of life. The Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature (CAL) describes how alcoholism is a family disease, a disease of relationships, where “our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions, and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it.”1 It’s tempting to dwell on what has been done to me, to wait smugly for the amends I feel I have coming to me, but that’s not really helpful or healthy in terms of my personal growth. Resentment, it has been said, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. By examining my own part in dysfunctional relationships and becoming willing to do what I can to make things better, I can clear my conscience, get rid of guilt over past actions, and move forward, mindful of a healthier way of living.

Two years ago, when I was new to the program, my sponsor talked to me about the concept of beginner's mind: the interest, enthusiasm, and motivation expressed by someone just starting out in a new endeavor. Back then, when things were particularly unsettled at home, I had a lot of incentive to “work the program”, to do what I could to better my living conditions. It is part of my own human nature that, now that things have improved and my life and relationships are in a better place, rather than being encouraged by the changes and eager to keep pressing ahead, I start slacking off. Especially since Steps Eight and Nine (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others) seem particularly daunting to me.

Oy. The mere thought of making a list, having to think about people I have harmed, knowing that in doing so I’m putting myself that much closer to Step 9—having to make the amends--is enough to cause some major procrastination. I’ve been giving myself time, willing to accept the idea that I’m working through this program at my own pace, confident that eventually I’ll get to it.

In Al-Anon you hear about the three A's--Awareness, Acceptance, Action. First one becomes aware of the reality of a situation, then later comes acceptance without denial; still later comes the desire to act, to move toward change. Look before you leap and all that. Step Eight is primarily a step concerned with the first two A's--the action comes in Step Nine. The funny thing is, back when I wrote out Step Four, I wrote a list of people whom I had hurt or wronged. The list that follows is pretty much that same list, but it took more than a year for me to get to the point where I wanted to work on Step Eight.

Let’s talk about amends for a moment, shall we? It does not necessarily mean an apology. Webster 1913 defines amends as “Compensation for a loss or injury; recompense; reparation.” fugitive247 does a great job of explicating Step 9 elsewhere on this site. What it breaks down to is this: I’m supposed to focus on what I did, even if the other person was somehow at fault. I can make indirect amends by writing a letter but not sending it, making an anonymous charitable donation, or doing volunteer work. Perhaps I just need to change my behavior from this point forward, and/or stay away from those I have harmed, working to not make the same mistakes in the future. Part of what I’m doing is looking for harmful or unhealthy trends, and working toward correcting them. It helps to remember that these steps are designed to propel me forward, into healthier living, since writing my list spins me backward to family and childhood dramas.

The list

The literature suggests, and they tell you in meetings, that the person making the list needs to include him or herself on it. Over the years I may not have taken the best care of myself, might have put myself in harmful situations or not removed myself from them, and therefore I owe myself amends. So, okay, I’ll start there; me. (The very fact that it takes me so long to do something that I know is good for me probably qualifies me for my list.) I'll try to do better in the future.

This is a pretty public forum for a private exercise, so forgive me if I don’t list the whys and wherefores that go along with each person’s inclusion on my list. Trust me; they’re there for a reason.

Continuing the list:

  • Mom and Dad. It’s interesting, when I thought about this in some detail, I realized the times that I have hurt or upset my father the most are times I put myself in danger, acting in ways that were potentially harmful to me.
  • My sister. I don't want to talk about it.
  • My brother. I find myself wishing we were closer. I don't think I've done much that harmed him, but it would be nice to be a bigger part of each other's lives.
  • Significant others, past and present. I know who they are, and what should be said. I was too demanding, ungracious, emotionally needy. Etc. My first sponsor said that in making amends to her ex-husband, she did not list specific wrongs, but rather wrote him a note apologizing for not having been able, at that time, to be a mature participant in a loving relationship (or words to that effect). I think back now on some of the things I demanded, ways that I behaved, and cringe. But hopefully I can learn from them, and move on.
  • A close friend from college : I was intolerant about his religion, too persistent for answers he didn’t have yet; too blunt. Too ready to be bold, shocking, wrapped up in my own life, in ways that trampled his feelings. I embarrassed him. I’m very grateful that he’s still in my life, and need to make sure he knows that.
  • A few short-lived romantic interests : I was interested in too much intimacy, too fast, and then just avoided them when I later changed my mind. Very immature.
  • Bosses (authority figures; could include professors) :Lack of respect; poorly phrased (and public) objections; not enough tact.
  • Students. I have been, on occasion, impatient or sarcastic, used an angry tone when it was not them I was angry at; acted unfairly. There have been times that I’ve been too wrapped in my own concerns to give all I should.

The literature suggests that we divide our list into three categories--"amends we are willing to make, those we may possibly make, and those we cannot imagine ourselves ever making." I am relying heavily right now on the idea of changed behaviors as a form of amends, because (for the most part) the act of talking to these people about my past transgressions scares the shit out of me. The literature continues " time and healing progress, most of us find ourselves gradually becoming willing to make even those inconceivable amends, because we learn that we owe it to ourselves to do so. As with the rest of recovery, becoming willing to make amends is a process that takes time."2

This is scary stuff. I found the next quote particularly helpful:

"We ask for courage and remember that we do not really need to like or want to do something in order to be willing to do it. Willingness is all that is asked of us. With willingness and a desire for increased recovery in our lives, we turn to our Higher Power to help us move on to Step Nine." 3

So I'm praying for courage and willingness, and trusting that they will come in due time.

1 from the Al-Anon/Alateen Suggested Welcome, read at the beginning of meetings. Reprinted from the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual. 2How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1995, page 59. 3Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1997, page 84.

Related musings: step one | step two | step three step four | step five | step six step seven

When did I lose my innocence? I don't mean in any sexual way. When did my heart lose it's purity?

I was browsing my elementary school's alumni website, looking at the people that I shared formulative years with.

That was the last time I remember thinking things hadn't gone horribly wrong. That was before my mother left, before my parents divorced, before high school.

I feel lost right now.

I remember the days when the yellow schoolbus picked me up in front of my house and I would spend an hour riding to school with the other kids. I remember the clique-i-ness of it all...the killer social circles. I remember competing to get the backseat of the bus. I remember when I realised that I was one of the "big kids." How things changed then. I realised I was growing up. I was aging, getting older. And this was at 13.

I used to spend my lunch breaks in the library. Reading set me free. I could be the princess living with dragons. The soldier on the eve of battle. The girl who realises that she isn't who she thinks she is when she finds her face on the side of a milk carton. I got called a nerd for that, but I don't regret that so much, I learned a lot about things then. But not so much about people. I still think my people skills are a little stunted.

I never was one to get close to my peers. Not then. Not in high school. I never went to prom. I was made homecoming queen in my freshman year of high school but when they announced me, I was outside the dance watching my first "boyfriend" vomit on a tree. That was the last dance I went to. I think I realised that I didn't believe in romance. I like to hope, I like to dream, I love the idea of romance but I think that no man is capable of it. At least no man I've ever met.

After Matthew died, I believed a little, when I found he had photos of me amongst his belongings, his belongings that looked so pathetic without their owner. That wasn't romance though. I don't know why I mention this. For some reason it comes to mind.

During elementary and middle school, I used to love to go down to the kindergarten classes and talk to the kids. I loved hearing their games of pretend. It made me remember when things were as complicated as who would play the bad guy and who would play the good guy. Or whether the slide was too hot to slide down. The kids were so cute and so smart and I miss the lunches I would eat with them, or the chats we would have on the bus ride home. I was always able to find things to relate to with people both younger and older, but never the same age as I.

I wonder what I would have turned out to be like if my parents hadn't been cheap and sent me to the public high school. I got depressed by the extremely low standard of the education and just gave up. I didn't see the point in striving for excellence when no one else seemed to care.

The schools I wanted to go to (and got accepted into) were schools whose libraries were filled with books, not pathetic shelves with gaping holes. Books that weren't dated from 1914 and not in a good vintage way.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to help people. Would I have gone down that path had I been provided with the proper tools? I don't know. No one does.

What decisions turn out to be life-changing ones? Sometimes the ones that seem like the matter have no consequence, and the seemingly unimportant ones come back to haunt you.

I used to fantasize about being a doctor, living in the suburbs, with a husband, a few kids, a nice house, and a few dogs milling about.

It's funny how dreams change as you do.

    I kissed my lover tonight,
    and it was a kiss to end all kisses.
    It's a profound connection that we share,
    one that I hope lasts.
    It's hard to say for sure,
    because I don't really know her all that well.
    I've found that it seems to be my pattern.
    I connect on a physical level first.
    I am joyful to have this connection with her.
    I am glad to be able to give and receive pleasure with her.
    I will gladly give my gifts and I will gladly receive hers.
    Oh, to be in love again.
    I will not think too much of it,
    I will just experience it.

Last night's passing of Hunter S. Thompson brings back so many memories. I may not be able to remember where I was when I heard of his death, but I remember vividly the year I first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was 1986, and I kept buzzing around the office of our senior technical editor when I was working at M/A-COM Linkabit in Vienna, VA. Anne had degrees in English lit, which fascinated me, because although I was well versed in the black arts, I had an abiding fascination with English literature, and adored Anne's effortless inserting into casual conversation quotes from Shakespeare, Marlowe, poets, nouvelle writers.

One sunny day, when she was dropping bon mots in her usual scattershot style, she dropped a quote I didn't recognize:

I've never advocated drugs, alcohol or violence, but they've always worked for me.

I said: Hold it. Who said that? She looked at me like I was a bug. You've never read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? No. Have you heard of Hunter S. Thompson? No.

Dead silence.

The price she paid working with illiterate engineers is that none of us got her jokes. (We were sure they were jokes, and we were sure they were clever, but we never did get them, really.) She sighed, opened a desk drawer, reached inside, and drew out her dogeared copy, broken spine (this was the official Steadman illustrated paperback), and said, "Read it by Monday. You have four days."

I read it in a day. I laughed until I cried. It was the funniest, most outrageous book I'd ever read.

It seems that everyone outside of the sciences had read this, and everyone inside had not. I did a little experiment: I began dropping quotes from the book. Most of the fun guys responded favorably. Most of the take-themselves-too-seriously crowd did not. Ahhh! A litmus test for future friends! Excellent.

A young college puke from U Va named Dan Lyons was intrigued. I lent him my copy. He was going on a skiing trip out west. When he returned it, he laughed. "Thanks, man. What a mindblowing read." It was beat to shreds. He explained that all four of his friends read the book over the course of the week. Two actually finished it on the red-eye to Colorado. Dan said the plane was dead quiet, because everyone was asleep, but he could tell when the reader had gotten to the passage about the experimental tires, because he'd burst into maniacal, uncontrollable laughter. It happened with every one of the guys.

Alicia and I became friends when she happened to see my copy on my desk top. She was a journalism chick who did tech writing for kicks now. It was hard to see why she wanted to hang with us. She was a knockout, always properly dressed and made up, but for some reason she liked engineers. As soon as she saw FLLV, she recited long passages from memory, verbatim (I checked, of course). We were instant friends.

Jay and John and Brian and the many others who got it: this is why we're still friends. Sasha, I love you in spite of your racial handicap. I made my book club read it. Brian and I saw the movie the very first afternoon it was released. Friends of friends of my friends have read it now... the book is viral.

I'd read FLLV perhaps ten times now. Every time I go through it, I'm thrilled with Thompson's absolute command of language. Every sentence is a treasure trove, every chapter a book unto itself. The more I write, the more I begin to realize how perfect the book is.

Once you get started on the Thompson oeuvre, it's hard to stop. The natural tendency is to push it as far as it'll go, for good or for ill, which is exactly what Hunter would do. You'd have to read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, the account of the Nixon-McGovern campaign of 1972. (I thought Dick Nixon was the most hideous president in U.S. history, until George W. Bush was re-elected. The similarities between the two men are creepy.) The Great Shark Hunt. Hell's Angels. All were good, but none were perfect like FLLV.

Most recently I enjoyed HST's screeds on Page Two of the ESPN web site. Thompson was a rabid sports fanatic. His online columns had their usual mix of fact and craziness, with a side story of insane bets and shooting guns off the front porch... very entertaining.

I thought he'd live forever. I'm sorry he didn't.

I'm not sorry he committed suicide. If there's something he hated, it was staying too long. He hated complacency, and feeling sorry for oneself. He probably figured he'd check out by his own hand. That's gonzo.

We'll miss you. RIP.

This is a little story I wrote last night. Figure I'd put it somewhere people can read it.

The beginning was a little boy, saying to the void, that's what MY creator would do. He described the world he lived in. What he said is in this story.

There was once a little ape-boy, who started laughing for no apparent reason. His father asked him what he was doing. The boy said that 'I was thinking what would the world would be like if I could do it the way I wanted. And I figured out that it's already the way I'd do it. That made me happy, so I laughed.' And that's where it all began, and that's where I'd end it.

Then the boy's eyes began to fill with tears, and he shook like he'd been hurt. The father asked what was wrong, and the boy said, 'I thought some more, and it made me sad. Because it meant that I would never get to see it all.' This was the first laugh, and the first sorrow.

That's the story. There's more of it, but I think that's the only part that really needs to be shared, and besides, it feels like there's a lot more I would need to write on it, that I would need to know, if I tried to do all of it. There's something I'd like to put down, though, another thing I thought up. I wrote it in my book as 'This is my promise. I will keep you all alive. And I have a self interest, because everyone, no matter who, can show me something.'


-that’s what the headline reads.

Hunter S. Thompson was found dead in his Colorado home by his son. He shot himself Sunday, February 20, 2005.

I don’t know what this means to me. I am at a loss of feelings.

I was watching Fear and Loathing On the Road to Hollywood, on of the special features on the Criterion Collection edition of the Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas movie, and Hunter S. Thompson said that Raul Duke (his, I guess you could loosely say, pseudonym) was always trying to find a way to kill off Thompson. I suppose he won.

Thompson was one of the persons I looked up too, he gave me a sense of hope, or maybe a sense of freedom. I didn’t look up to him because he was what’s left of the sixties counter-culture, I wasn’t alive back then, and I‘m not into the drug scene or anything. I looked up to him because he was able to have fame and privacy.

Privacy means a lot. The people I do look up to are the people who are famous yet still are given privacy. People like Bob Dylan or J.D. Salinger or Woody Allen (maybe I shouldn‘t say Woody Allen because of that whole thing with his step-daughter), I could say even Johnny Depp.

What do I do when everyone I look up to is dead?

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