When I was newly sober, having a list of amends to make was like having a big pile of bills to pay. And I hate that feeling: a stack of checks to write and a list of people and places I owe. It’s just always on my mind, lingering in the back row like somebody murmuring behind you at the movies. When I stopped drinking my conscious woke up and I start hearing the voices of remorse.
And then there was that one time when I was in high school that I stole a whole bunch of books from the public library. It was way back when shoplifting was easy. Go in with a nearly empty backpack, load it up with Hobbit adventures, and walk out. Just be careful and it was really that easy. I didn’t feel any guilt at the time because for whatever reason in my head, the world owed me.
And then some time later when writing my 8th Step list my sponsor and I came up with a dollar amount that I owed them based on how many books I stole. That particular public library was in a different state so I wrote them a check and stuffed it in an envelope along with a letter saying, “I stole some books from you guys several years ago and here’s a check that I hope is compensation.”
Or something like that. It was short and sweet because the best amends are. If I get wordy I tend to want to justify, and my goal was to “pay the money back.”
In the days after mailing the letter I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know if I’d have charges pressed against me or I’d go to jail or whatever. When I put myself out into the unknown I never know what’s going to happen. My mind goes to all kinds of silly places and because I’m me, I assumed jail was in my future for most of my amends.
But I never heard back from the library folk. They just cashed the check a couple of weeks later. And I got on with my life. Another bill off the list and another mess cleaned up.
And that’s how I made all of my amends. As I could, when I was able. Wrote the checks. Paid the debts. One by one.
“There’s no pillow is soft as a clear conscience.”
When I go to sleep now, if anything, I can always be grateful for not having amends to make that I know of. I’ve settled my books as best I can. And it feels good being able to walk into that library now with a clear conscience. That I have nothing to feel bad about. That I’m putting my best self out there instead of being a selfish jerk.
When I was drinking I hurt a lot of people and did a lot of bad things. If you’re alcoholic or know one, you know how it goes. I wasn’t unique in the things I did, just par for the alcoholic course.
And it’s no wonder I drank the way that I did based on all the wrongdoings I had done. All the garbage I had piled on top of my soul. I hated looking at myself in the mirror when I was brushing my teeth. Couldn’t stand looking at the face staring back at me. That caused all that pain. Standing in front of the sink was my least favorite place to be.
After making my amends I was finally set free from that burden, finally set free from my past. Fully able to live in the present.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to jail but being released, walking out the door, feeling the fresh air all around, knowing last night is behind you… Well, that’s what making amends is like. It’s a fresh start and a new day ahead. No police, no handcuffs, no fear, and no looking back. Sentence served and restitutions made.
And now when I look in the mirror I generally only see these long eyebrows that I have to pluck.