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The Painful Dilemma of Powerlessness and Responsibility

Mike Mather

Amends And the 12-Step Programs

When it comes to making amends for the wrongs I have done in my 12-Step program, I can refer to my Step 4 inventory. Specifically, Step 8 involves making a list of all the people we have harmed and becoming willing to make amends to each and every one of them.

The key word here is willingness.

If I have done a thorough job with my inventory, creating the list should be relatively easy. However, it's important to note that we are not yet ready to go out and restore world peace.

Willingness is a fair word. In spiritual terms, it embodies the notions of intention and attention, which are fundamental in Buddhist practice. This step is a catalyst for moving beyond self-absorption and into the realm of interpersonal responsibility, even if it means potentially facing humiliation. If Step 6 involves separating the valuable from the worthless, Step 8 is about reintroducing humanity into our lives.

Making amends can evoke a lot of fear, so for now, our focus is on building willingness. Take some time to remember why we are doing this.

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Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash


During our drinking and/or drug use, we did many things that fill us with shame. While we have taken steps to turn our lives around through the program, spirituality, and new habits, the past and its hurts don't simply disappear.

The people we have hurt deserve an apology and some form of restitution that corresponds to the circumstances.

On a personal level, we want to confront our inner demons and acknowledge when we were wrong. This is the first step toward embracing a responsible lifestyle. With this newfound life, we can “Heal the Shame That Binds Us,” as described by John Bradshaw in his book of the same name.

“Toxic shame limits the development of self-esteem, causes anxiety and depression, and hinders our ability to form meaningful connections. This book is for those seeking the missing piece in their lives—wholeness and well-being.”

Step 4

The fourth step not only provides us with a clear view of the harm we have caused and our fears, but it is often the first time we examine our character defects. Some of these defects stem from our childhood, while others arise as we navigate adulthood in a challenging and hostile world (without an instruction manual). A man at a recent meeting sheepishly admitted that when he first came to AA, he believed that women should wash the dishes. Now, with over 30 years of sobriety, he has become one of the true gentlemen in the fellowship, embodying great humility.

Through these introspective steps and processes, I have become a better partner to my current girlfriend (or at least I hope so!). One of my exes speaks to me civilly when we meet at our son's or grandson's parties.

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Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

The other one doesn't. But I'm doing my best in that regard, and it's common to encounter resistance when trying to create harmony. Recently, our daughter passed away unexpectedly, and old wounds were too raw to heal at that time. The best amends I can make at this stage is to keep my distance.


“Freedom from the bondage of self” may sound like a peculiar phrase. I can best explain it in my own recovery story.

Left unchecked, my ego nearly drank me to death and caused significant harm to others along the way. At the precipice of death, I found a solution, a way to stay sober and live a spiritual and compassionate life. The “self” that drank excessively has been replaced by a Higher Power that provides wise guidance, as well as a fellowship that offers support and answers my questions.

The bondage I have escaped was initiated and perpetuated by misguided thoughts and habits of my former self. That self almost destroyed me and took my family hostage. It was constantly preoccupied with itself, convinced that all its ideas were brilliant, and solely concerned with self-preservation. It was selfish.

Now free from that bondage and armed with better guidance, habits, and intentions, I embrace this new life.

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Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

Buddha and St Paul

In my case, I stumbled upon a dharma class three days after my last drink and haven't looked back since. To say that this was a pivotal moment is akin to acknowledging that St. Paul's blindness on the road to Damascus led to personal transformations.

The gentle teachings of Buddhism and the time allotted for meditation to contemplate life's deeper aspects have been crucial for me. I believe that my Catholic upbringing facilitated an open heart and an eager mind. Regardless of the path you follow up the mountain, I wish you well.

The purpose of this essay is to remind us that each step along the way is significant. We shouldn't rush to put on both legs of our trousers at once; instead, we should exhale after each inhale. Mindfulness is crucial when working the steps and progressing through our personal growth.

When it comes to sharing our program of recovery from self-centredness and alcoholism with others, let's take it easy, and things will likely work out for the best, even if they don't align with our own desires.

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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