Contributor: W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
— Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
When I was a kid my family lived in Germany for three years. Although I went to school on the military base and most of my activities were with other American kids, my family did live off-base in a small German town.
This meant that we were neighbors with the local German townspeople and interacted with them on a regular basis. This also meant that there were some expectations that came along with being a good neighbor.
One of these expectations was sweeping the sidewalk and curb outside of our apartment building. This chore, while not common here in the United States, was a weekly, if not daily task in the German culture. And, seeing that I was a young man with ample energy and adequate cleaning skills this job often fell on my shoulders.
The task was fairly simple. I would get out a large push broom from the broom closet, start at one end of the sidewalk at the border between our property and the neighbor, and sweep all the way to the other end of the property, gathering all of the dirt and debris along the way. When I reached the end of the property I would sweep it all into a dustpan and put it in the garbage.
I was not responsible to sweep my neighbors sidewalk, nor the sidewalk across the street. On occasion this might be done out of kindness but there was no expectation of this. I was not responsible for the mess on their side of the street.
Same goes for Step Nine; “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Making amends is comparable to keeping your side of the street clean. Throughout the 12-Step process you are doing a lot of inner housekeeping. You are taking a long, hard look at the crap on your doorstep.
You are taking necessary steps to get your house in order and clean up the messes related to your addiction. Steps Eight and Nine are about recognizing and taking responsibility for how your actions have harmed others.
Ideally, cleaning up your sidewalk and making amends to the “neighbors” will result in healed relationship and a better community…but you can’t force it. You can’t control how people around you will respond when you begin to make amends.
When you hear the phrase, “be responsible for your side of the street” it does not mean that you should mind your own business or minimize how your behaviors have negatively impacted others. It does mean that you do what you can to resolve those conflicts AND recognize that you are not responsible for the responses of those around you.
I remember leading a family session once in which my client was making amends for how her compulsive behaviors had damaged relationships and harmed her family members.
She went through the steps of naming her actions, identifying her responsibility and asking the family members how they were negatively impacted. She then asked each family member for forgiveness. Each said “yes”’ until we reached her sister who plainly said, “I don’t forgive you.”
Talk about stopping reconciliation in its tracks. The sister had a lot of pain and, at that point, was unwilling to work through it. This was incredibly disappointing and shocking to everyone present. After the family session was over I spoke with my client privately.
I reminded her of this principle by saying, “I’m so sorry your sister responded this way. That was shocking and probably disappointing. I hope she can come to a place of forgiveness. However, you have taken responsibility, attempted to make amends and ask for forgiveness. At this point that is all you can do.”
She had swept her side of the street. She couldn’t also sweep her sister’s side of the street. That was up to her sister. No amount of begging, manipulation or sweet talk would be adequate to bring about transformation for her sister.
This is not an easy place to be. It feels lonely, powerless and unresolved. But it is often reality.
As you begin to make amends to others, it is good to long for and hope for the very best responses. Take full responsibility for what you have done or left undone. Identify where your sidewalk begins and where it ends and keep it clean.
But know when to stop and know when to wait. Hopefully the neighbors will soon get their brooms out of the closet as well.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What has been your experience with cleaning up your side of the street? Have you struggled with unresolved conflict with others after you have made amends? What steps have you taken to move on with your recovery and healing?
About the author: Travis Stewart earned a Master of Arts in Counseling (2001) and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2003), both from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Travis is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri and a writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
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Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 12, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com