Sealed & Delivered
When I was new to the program and would hear “How It Works” read at the beginning of meetings, I tried desperately not to listen when they said the Eighth and Ninth Steps. I had so many amends to make. The guilt and shame was too much for me. I’d sit there and think of anything as a distraction—make a grocery list, admire the shoe styles of those seated around me, repeat the Serenity Prayer—anything so I wouldn’t be reminded of the amends I needed to make.
One of the most glaring amends on my list was returning money for a local publication I had and sold ads for. I did not deliver on the printing or the distribution in the way I had promised. In the end, the publication was printed but was of poor quality. And I was too busy drinking to do much work to distribute it around the community. I did drop copies off at a few bars though, leaving a stack on ice machines and magazine holders or tables or wherever I wandered in my drunken state. But that was all I could do.
I loved when my sponsor and others told me to do the Steps in order. That gave me a bit of a reprieve. Taking those first seven Steps would take some time. But then at the very next AA meeting they’d read the Steps again and I would hum “Lalalalalala” in my head to drown it out until they read past it to Step Eleven. Ahh…the serenity of meditation and prayer.
I had no money when I got to AA. I had no bank accounts, no regular job, no credit cards—nothing. I was an artist, and self-employment was the only job I could hold at the time. And I didn’t do that very well. But I painted and over time I practiced and began to do better work. I even managed to sell some work, but only enough to earn a meager living.
I attempted various regular jobs. These only lasted a short time. I would either get fired or quit and start another low-paying, unskilled job. Early sobriety was tough for me, but I began to learn to depend and rely on a Higher Power from the very start with all my problems. AA meetings, fellowship, sponsorship and God were my lifelines.
Finally, it was time to do my Eighth Step. I made an appointment with my sponsor. When I told her about the publication I had had, she suggested I write a letter to all those who had bought ads and promise to refund their money to make things right. I was willing to do what it took to get this off my back and out of my brain. I owed thousands of dollars to individuals and businesses. I didn’t know where I would get the money. I had to trust my Higher Power. So I wrote the letters to everyone I owed. Soon I was stuffing them in a bag and taking them off to the post office, which was six blocks from my apartment. I was scared as I could be.
As I passed trash cans on each block, I considered throwing the bag in, but I didn’t. I even thought I might run into an AA member on the street and they would give me a big hug for doing this big amend. That didn’t happen. But I did run into Boxcar Ted, from my meetings, and I told him I was doing one of my Ninth Step amends. He said he’d buy me a club soda after I came back from mailing those letters. That chance meeting gave me my final push and the strength to go into the post office.
I stuffed the letters into the mail slot and tucked the empty bag under my arm and left. It was in God’s hands now. A strange relief came over me, along with the fear that I had just put myself in great financial jeopardy. By sending those letters, I had “told” on myself. It was one thing to tell a supportive sponsor what I had done, but it was quite another to tell the people out there in the world that I intended to give back money I didn’t have. I kept reminding myself that I was willing to go to any lengths to stay sober, and I tried not to think about it the rest of the day.
On the way home, Boxcar Ted and I went to a cafe for a club soda. He told me stories about making his amends. He knew I was shaking with fear, but that I was glad it was up to God now. The deed was done, except for the waiting and paying the money back.
Every day after that, I looked through my mail. I just knew bad news was on the way. I began praying for the strength to complete this Step as best as I could. After several months, surprisingly only one request for a refund had arrived. It was from a non-profit organization asking for the return of $25. I had the money and sent it right off. That was it? What a miracle. I couldn’t believe it.
A year later, I was living in a rented basement apartment. The landlady who lived upstairs hired a carpenter to construct a deck on the back of the house. The carpenter was working there for days, and one day I introduced myself to her. She looked at me for a minute then repeated my name and asked if I was the person who had sent a letter about a local publication a year or so ago.
“Yes, that was me,” I said sheepishly. She began to beam.
“I wanted to meet you,” she said. “I was so impressed that any business would actually offer to return money.” She shook my hand vigorously. I walked away from that encounter amazed that my previous character defect had somehow been transformed in sobriety into a character asset.
The best news of all? I can now listen to “How It Works” without trying to tune out Steps Eight and Nine! I really do have a new freedom and a new happiness.