We have already done one part of our series on fulfilling the Twelve Promises, or the Ninth Step Promises as some may know them. While we would normally wait until after doing an article on Step Nine, it seemed alright to begin this series somewhat early. After all, many of you will not be quite so far in your step work before you begin to see some of the promises fulfilled in your life. Such is the case with the First Promise, anyway. The Second Promise, however, may be a bit more difficult for some.
The First Promise is all about happiness and new freedom, and in a way the Second Promise is about these things as well. The difference is that in this case, we are talking about happiness due to freedom from regret. And given how many alcoholics and addicts have trouble forgiving themselves for their past transgressions, some will not complete this promise until they are pretty deep into Step Nine. But we do not have to make amends for every single thing that we have done in our periods of active addiction, and we may begin to let go of at least some of our regrets much earlier than Step Nine.
You might be thinking that you don’t have any regrets. If this is the case, you might not stay sober for very long. Nobody enters recovery because their life is going well, and no amount of denial will be able to save the addict or alcoholic from their suffering. To overcome our past, we must be willing to look at it while being honest with ourselves. Then—and only then—will we be able to fulfill the Second Promise.
Fulfilling the Second Promise
The Second Promise states:
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”
Part of the reason we say that you may not see the Second Promise fulfilled until Step Nine is that you cannot overcome your regret in an honest way until you have started digging through the wreckage of your past and making repairs wherever possible. Remember, to “amend” something is to change it, and the amends you make in recovery are not necessarily just changes to your relationships with people. This definition is important, as it feeds into the Second Promise in a very big way. But to understand that, you will first have to understand how Step Nine changes you.
Every time you make amends to someone you have wronged—whether they accept your amends or not—you are amending yourself. You are becoming someone better, someone stronger. You are proving to yourself that you are brave enough to face situations that may be uncomfortable, and that you are willing to put your best foot forward and attempt to do right by people, regardless of whether or not they are willing to acknowledge your good intentions.
Many say that the personal growth they have experienced in recovery is the reason that the Second Promise was able to come true for them. While certainly they are aware that it would have been great for them to have never suffered the disease of addiction, many feel that they have become even stronger, more generous, and more self-sufficient than they would have been had they never entered recovery. It was only since getting sober that they were forced to look at their character defects in a major way, working their hardest to overcome them and replace them with better attributes.
In other words, people who have seen the Second Promise fulfilled in their lives do not regret the past because they have altogether replaced their guilt and shame with a much stronger emotion—gratitude. Instead of allowing their past sins to weigh them down, they are lifted in spirit by every moment that they are able to enjoy the new life they have chosen for themselves. And alongside this gratitude is a realization that we are the sum of our experiences. We cannot regret our former lives of benders and bad decisions because that life led us to become who we are today. To shut the door on our past would be to deny ourselves hope for the future, gratitude for the present, and faith that everything truly does happen for a reason. And if we begin to lose this positive outlook, the Second Promise will soon be gone from our hearts almost completely.
Letting Go of Past Regrets
As noted above, letting go of our regrets will take a little bit of effort. While we cannot technically force the Second Promise into our lives, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do a little bit of work in order to make room for it. For some, this work will be practically harrowing. Whether making financial amends, livings amends, or simply extending an olive branch and asking what you can do to make things better, you will be absolutely terrified to encounter some of the people you put on your list in Step Eight.
It can also be hard to make amends to those against whom you are harboring resentments. You may exist in something of a dual state of consciousness, feeling remorse over the way you have treated them yet resenting the way they treated you back. This means that approaching this person will take a little bit of effort. But in the end, you simply have to make your amends without bringing up the way they treated you. If they do not make their own amends, you are not required to stay in contact. In order to let go of your resentments as well as your regret, you will have to keep your side of the street clean. It’s hard to fulfill the Second Promise while creating all-new regrets for yourself.
Unfortunately, your sponsor will probably not want you making amends to certain people. This rule often applies to drug dealers, using buddies, and members of the opposite sex (or same sex, for some) to whom we have been unfaithful. Not all sponsors will necessarily take the same views on this or have the same reasons for taking the views that they espouse, so be sure to talk to your sponsor both before and after Step Eight. Do not simply launch into your amends nimbly-bimbly and expect everything to go swimmingly. The Second Promise is not for those who take half-measures.
This may give you pause. To many, the concept of not making amends to certain individuals sounds like the absolute epitome of “half-measures.” What these people fail to realize is that it is sometimes harder not to approach a person. It can be difficult to accept that someone we used to love might actually be better off without hearing from us, that to approach them to make amends would not be something we were doing for them. We would be making amends out of selfishness, simply trying to force the Second Promise and rid ourselves of guilt. In such cases, we must reach a point of acceptance when it comes to two things. First, we must accept that we simply have to let go of certain people. Second, we must accept that making amends to them probably wouldn’t do much anyway. If we are truly having trouble getting over our regrets, we must find a way of making amends to ourselves. Once we have learned to forgive ourselves, the Second Promise should be fulfilled in rather short order.
Learning Not to Shut the Door
Some may prefer the “head in the sand” approach to fulfilling the Second Promise. To some, forgetting the past is the easy route to living a regret-free life. The seemingly logical concept behind this idea is readily apparent, because of course it is—we excel at using logic and reasoning to avoid doing the right thing. But if we don’t clean up our past, it will inevitably come back to haunt us.
We must live right by others if we wish to avoid emotional disturbances and remain sober, but this is not the only reason that shutting the door on our history is a bad idea. Remember what we said above, that our past experiences help define who we are today. To shut the door is to deny ourselves the benefit of our experience. We have made many mistakes, but no mistake is unforgivable as long as we have the willingness to learn and grow from them.
Remember the part of Step One about our lives becoming unmanageable? Well, failure to recognize our character defects and how they have presented themselves in the past will likely lead us right back into a routine of unmanageable living. Even if we remain sober through this, we won’t be sober in the strictest sense of the word. We won’t be clear-headed enough to look at ourselves objectively and see that we are in need of some improvements. After a time, we will be the same people we were under our addictions, even if we are not currently imbibing drugs and alcohol. Eventually, we will come to realize that there is no point in staying sober if we’re just going to live the same lifestyle. And upon this realization, our twisted addict logic may tell us that it has become justifiable to begin using again.
The Second Promise requires us to maintain a sense of honesty, not just with others but also with ourselves. Every person, at some point in their lives, will want to run from the past. We ran from it quite frequently, back before it entered the realm of history. Every day, we ran from things by using drugs and alcohol to escape a reality that, for one reason or another, we just couldn’t seem to bear. With the fulfillment of the Second Promise, we can start opening doors that we closed years ago. We won’t always like what’s behind them, but we will be amazed on more than one occasion to find that many people are quite forgiving in nature. And while the Second Promise may require a bit of work from us, this realization is worth every ounce of effort we can muster.