Saturday, 7 May 2016

Making amends to yourself

It is very fashionable to make amends to yourself, because, after, isn't it yourself you've harmed the most? Sometimes the authority cited is the later AA literature, for which, read: more evolved.

Let's leave aside the fallacy that, when two ideas are presented, the latter is superior because it was presented afterwards; let's also leave aside the opposite fallacy, namely that the original idea is superior with all later ideas somehow watered down or bleached of significance.

Let's instead examine principle.

First of all, what is the intention behind Steps Eight and Nine per the book Alcoholics Anonymous? It is clearly to resolve relationships that are damaged because we have harmed people and not righted the wrongs. It is self-evident that an amend therefore requires a relationship to obtain. It is furthermore clear from the instructions that the amend takes the form of an admission of wrong and a sincere expression of goodwill in attempting to right the wrong.

With these facts in mind, it is perfectly evident that an amend cannot be made to oneself, unless one is minded to have a conversation, say, in front of the mirror.

It is true that we did harm ourselves. If we were indeed to right that wrong, how would we do it? Well, we would stop drinking, start relying on God, seek God's will to determine the most effective deployment of our time, energies, and talents, and mend our fractured relations with others. In other words, the most effective way to rectify the harm done is to do what we have already committed to doing, namely to take the Twelve Steps.

The first element of making amends, the conversation, is simply not possible without an absurd charade with only one participant.

The second element of making amends, the practical follow-through, is already covered by the fact that one is taking the Twelve Steps. To be of service to others, one necessarily must look after oneself; to make the most of one's life, one necessarily must seek God's will (or, if you like, a humanist equivalent).

The making of amends to oneself is thus a substanceless proposition.

What is equally interesting is the psychology behind the proposition of making amends to oneself. When the idea is presented in meetings, it is usually accompanied by a presentation of all sorts of other ideas such as making amends in God's time not one's own time (for which, read: never), not making amends to exes, not making amends until your motives are entirely selfless, not making amends to people who are just awful, etc. One cannot of course know precisely what another's motivations are, but it is striking how the concept regularly seems to be accompanied by a downplaying of the harm done to others and the overt purpose of Step Nine, plus a renewed focus on self, as though the problem in the past is that we never put ourselves first enough.

It may be the case that we neglected ourselves physically (I feel sorry, for instance, for dental hygienists treating a newcomer AA who has not had his teeth fixed in years), but this was not because we were so selflessly devoted to meeting the needs of others to our own detriment that we failed to look after our own lives; no, the reason we harmed ourselves was because we were bent on more imperious and even more selfish motives that self-care: personal gain, relief, euphoria, and oblivion. Even the genuine martyrs among us had selfish motives: manipulation, punishment, control.

The answer is not, therefore, the cultivation of self but the recognition that if you're in a devil of a state yourself you won't be of use to others, so, to be of use to others, which is the real purpose of Step Nine, you need to attend to the basics of self-care. In other words: put your own oxygen-mask on first before helping others. The mistake, to extend the analogy, is to conceive of the placement of one's own oxygen mask on first as the primary and only objective. Whilst others are suffocating around one, one can lean back, close one's eyes, and enjoy the flow of oxygen-enriched air.

The psychology of the self-amend is thus questionable. By all means, decorate your life with pleasant things and certainly do look after yourself, but don't use this as an excuse to tick the 'Am I taking Step Nine?' box while neglecting the actual substance of Step Nine.

1 comment:

Bonnie McCririe Hale said...

Interesting perspective...well said. Thank you.