MAKING AN AMENDS to the murderer of a precious friend was the most terrifying prospect — next to taking another drink — that I have faced in sobriety . But it also turned out to be the most liberating action I have ever taken sober and the opportunity for which I am most grateful .
My drinking career was short but intense , complete with downing eye-openers on hangover mornings , innumerable blackouts ( including a few of the four-day-long , wake – up-in -another-country variety ) , two car accidents , and four stints in the psych ward , where I detoxed for what I pray was the last time. I was nineteen years old.
I have been sober now for almost two years , and I never cease to be amazed at how deeply the Promises come true for me as I incorporate the principles of our program into my life. However , the first six months of sobriety were enormously painful . I got little relief from the spiritual agony I was in , and , because I did not take the Steps , my compulsion to drink was not lifted.
One chilly October night , as I waited for a ride , shivering and half-heartedly participating in an after-the-meeting meeting , someone suggested that I pray the Third Step prayer and get to work on a Fourth Step . To put it mildly , I balked. I had read the Big Book and sat in enough meetings to know that taking inventory of my resentments — and forgiving those who had wronged me — would play large roles in working the Fourth and Fifth Steps . But because I was , in my mind , the epitome of an innocent victim, I saw no reason to forgive anyone, and I nursed my resentments as if my life depended upon keeping them alive.
Finally I had had enough. My spiritual agony was becoming unbearable . I didn’t want to drink again , and without fail , every AA I met with a quality of sobriety I wanted had taken the Fourth and Fifth Steps thoroughly. As one of them put it : ” If you want what I have, do what I do. ” So I sat down and wrote my Fourth Step .
Then in admitting my wrongs to another human being , I was able to see that my resentments had not just been eating my lunch ; they had been ruling my life. The people for whom I burned with hatred didn’t even know I hated them , and if they did , they probably wouldn’t care. My anger was poisoning my soul , not theirs. I wanted to hurt them and was only hurting myself. It was as if I were swallowing rat poison and waiting for those I thought were rats to die. And I was truly surprised that it didn’t work .
One especially difficult resentment was a reasonably justified one. When I was a teenager , a dear friend was murdered. He had been an important part of my life and the closest thing I had to a father. When he died , I felt as if I had been dropped into a shark tank with an anvil tied to my foot. ” Swim ! ” the whole world seemed to be saying , jeering at my confusion , loss , and pain.
His killer was found guilty , but insane , and sent to a state mental institution. Imagining the murderer in a paint-chipped ward full of drooling patients in straitjackets gave me some relief. At least she was locked up and in a terrible place , although that wasn’t bad enough , of course. The only fitting justice for her was to be slowly tortured to death with my bare hands. And not even that would have satisfied me. I wanted the killer to hurt like I was hurting , and that just wasn’t possible.
In the rooms of AA , I found a God of my own understanding , and , with his help, I was able to forgive the person who had caused me this deep pain. But forgiving is not forgetting , and the death of my friend occupied a lot of space in my mind and heart on a daily basis. Though I no longer burned with hatred , the killer was still living in my head rent – free.
I prayed for compassion and received it. One night I was struck with the realization of how lucky I am . All the mistakes I made when I was ill had been repaired to the best of my ability ; none of them had been permanent and final. The agony of being responsible for someone else’s death is a horrible thing. I learned that in the rooms of AA while listening to people whose drinking led to another’s death, usually when they were behind the wheel of a car. There but for the grace of God went I. As an active alcoholic , I was a potential killer every day. That was the truth , and like all truth , it was hard to swallow. I also realized that when my friend’s killer was restored to sanity through proper medication for her mental illness , an overwhelming and unamendable regret would be part of her life forever.
A few days after reaching eighteen months of sobriety , I knew that the time had come for me , with God’s help , to do my best to set the situation right. I had learned in AA the power of forgiveness and the freedom it offers , both in being forgiven and extending it to others. I wanted that freedom .
My friend was dead ; I could not change that. What I could do was make amends for selfishly nursing my resentment. I had burned much energy in useless anger and hatred , and the best way to set that right would be to do what I could to promote healing.
Taking a friend with more than a decade of sobriety , I went to visit the killer in the mental institution. I was clumsy and fumbled my words , but what came out was what was truly in my sober heart : “The person you killed was like a father to me. He meant the world to me. I loved him more than I can put into words. But I have come to a place where it’s okay. I used to hate you for taking him away from me , but I don’t anymore. I forgive you completely , I sincerely wish you all the best in your life , and I hope you keep getting better. I knew it would be good for me to come here to tell you that , and I hope it will help you to know that someone who loved him very much and was affected really hard by losing him has moved on and forgives you and it’s okay . ”
Grateful that my voice didn’t crack and that I didn’t get sick from the butterflies dancing in my stomach , I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer of thanks . Then , I sat and watched as the human being in front of me expressed the most sincere sorrow and regret I have ever seen . It allowed me to make peace with my loss . Now I believe that mental illness had robbed this woman of the power of choice , and my friend had died because he was just in a bad place at a bad time.
As I walked down the sidewalk back to my car , I felt the deepest level of forgiveness I’ve ever known. A 500 – pound weight was lifted from my shoulders . I felt free and cleansed . I had just found wings , and they were mine .
Holly H . Huntsville , Alabama