Book Excerpt

Emotional Sobriety

From Chapter 4, A Program of Action

A Benchmark in Sobriety

When I arrived at the Eighth and Ninth Steps, I found I had an unusual amends to make. I needed to make amends to the entire town I grew up in, for various acts of juvenile delinquency. There was no way of finding individual firemen, policemen, or citizens I may have involved or harmed twenty years before. But I still wanted to make amends in some way.

I first tried writing a letter to the local newspaper, outlining my transgressions of the past, and declaring that I wanted to apologize to the town. The editor refused to publish my letter, saying that such a letter might actually encourage other young people to misbehave.

So I turned the whole thing over to my Higher Power and went on about the business of living in sobriety.

One day, after about a year in the program, I sat down on a park bench to rest. It occurred to me that someone ought to paint the bench, spruce it up. I thought about doing it myself, but I realized I would need a whole bagful of tools, besides the paint, to do a good job. It was too much for me to deal with. So I turned it over to my Higher Power.

Another year had gone by when I sat on another bench in another park and I thought, "Somebody ought to paint this bench!" I realized that over the preceding year I had acquired most of the tools I would need. All I needed to buy was some paint and some brushes.

I bought the needed supplies, assembled my tools, put them all in a large shopping bag, and began to paint park benches. I took it one day at a time, painting one bench at a time.

Over a period of three years I painted about thirty benches in three parks. Some of the benches were getting tough use and those I painted twice. I used a rasp to smooth out coarse edges and sandpaper to roughen the surface of the smooth, weatherworn boards so they would take the paint. I did a priming coat and another day a finishing coat. It took about four hours' work altogether to do one bench.

I want to say that I enjoyed the work. It wasn't drudgery for me. I was outdoors, in the parks, out in the sun and the wind, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels, and sometimes interacting with people in the park. I never told anyone, outside of AA, that I was doing this to make amends. I just said that it needed doing and I enjoyed doing it. Some people asked if this was required court-ordered community service, and I said, "No, I'm just a volunteer."

Then came a day, after about three years, when it occurred to me that I was done. I had made my amends to the town. I didn't have to do it anymore.

Several years have passed. I still use those parks as a place to sit and rest. Occasionally I see a bench that needs painting and I remember the work I did. But I don't do it anymore. Now the town does it.

If you can't figure out how to make amends, just turn it over to your Higher Power. In time, there will be an answer, there will be a way.

—Jack A., Montclair, New Jersey