Making Amends

Eric Spofford

CEO, Granite Recovery Centers

“Being a drug addict, I loved things that felt good. I had this natural order about me that was a false operating system that I had been relying on for years. If it feels bad, it is bad; if it feels good, it is good. That almost killed me.”Eric Spofford, CEO Granite Recovery Centers Facing one’s past is a big part of the 12-Step process. There is a point in time when a person needs to begin to make amends. This process can be anxiety-producing for many. I asked Eric Spofford, CEO of Granite Recovery Centers, to sit down and have a conversation with me about this process. “Would you say a bit about the amends process and why it is so crucial in the recovery process?” I asked Eric. “Absolutely.” Eric began. “We need to get right with the world around us to get well internally. Addiction has a lot less to do with drugs as it has to do with a maladjusted internal condition. 12-Step work is about getting right on the inside, it’s about having a spiritual experience. Recovery is not so much about sobriety as it is about change. We harbor the shame, guilt, and remorse from our pasts, and the disconnection from the people around us. When you look at the principles of steps 4 through 9 writing an inventory, looking at our resentments, our fears, our sexual conduct, and sharing that with another human. Getting completely honest for the first time. With that inventory, we look at turning it around and seeing where my fault was, where did I show up, what is my skin in the game. Or as we say, my side of the street. Then you look at Steps 6 & 7, that are really about change. Steps 8 & 9 are about listing the people that we have harmed and making amends to all of them despite personal consequence. Only to be avoided if to do so would hurt others. That entire process is about connection with other people. If you want to know God, get to know his children.” “It seems like a scary, perhaps intimidating process.” I stated. Amends is the 9th Step, which means by the time we get to it, we have already taken 8 steps. To look at making restitution and amends to everyone we have ever harmed, when we are brand new to recovery would be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. By the time we get to making amends with each step that we have taken, more power has come in. There has been a change and it prepares us for the next step. So, if I hadn’t taken a 3rd step, I never would have written my 4th step. If I had not spent the time and did the heavy lifting and all the writing of my 4th step, I would have never read my 5th step.” Eric continued. “This guy who was incredibly influential in 12-Step culture, Don Pritts, said that by the time you have taken the 7th step, if someone hasn’t ‘caught fire’ then it is not working. It is important to know by the time we get to amends, we have already had a major experience in recovery. We have already become very different people. And we have begun to experience the world and people and emotions very differently. This is a 12-Step program and amends is a huge part of that. And that experience that we’ve had and those feelings of joy and happiness and all of that coming back into our lives (or for some of us experiencing positive emotions for the first time), will be temporary if we do not continue the process through our 9th Step.” “Eric, you just mentioned two key things. One is harboring negative emotions and the second connection. How does the amends process help with the emotions you have been harboring?” “When I was an active heroin addict, I was very harmful. I thought nothing of stepping on the toes of people to get the things that I wanted. The root of addiction being self-centeredness and selfishness. My actions were solely self-serving. I lied, I cheated, I stole, I manipulated, and I harmed. Every time I did that, stepped on the toes of one of God’s children, it put a block between me and them. It put a whole big pile of shame guilt and remorse back on my plate, that I carried with me, even though I was unknowing about it for a long time. All of that contributed to my spiritual sickness. The worse my behavior got, the sicker I got. When I go out and I start to clean this stuff up, that shame, guilt, and remorse, comes off my side of the street. That person gets to heal. The spiritual block between me and them, and perhaps others, so many other people are involved in this. One of the magical things about amends is that dissolves this giant thing that separates you and me and others. Now, we are connected and that means I am connected to a little more in this world. It feeds my spirit, and I start to come alive.” Eric explained. “Eric, it’s often said the fear and anxiety of an event can be so much greater than the actual event itself. Would you give us an example of an amends that went completely differently than you anticipated?” “You know in the Big Book it says that nine times out of ten an amends will not go as we think.” Eric continued. “The day I got sober, is what I look at now as divine intervention, God using what he had available. What God had available the day before December 7, 2006, my sobriety date, was a big ole police department. As a result of my addiction, I had committed a crime, which was armed robbery. The next morning, because I knew the gig was up, I fled. I left Maine and came back to New Hampshire. That is how I got sober. I earned my recovery from there. I did all the heavy lifting it took to get better. But for the first year and a half, I had this overwhelming anxiety. I had a warrant out for my arrest for armed robbery, which was a drug deal that went bad and some other drug related misdemeanor charges. I thought when I made my amends to the Portland Police Department and judicial system, that I was going to get locked up. At a year and a half sober, I had been dealing with the anxiety and spiritual pain on the debt that I owed for my actions on the day before I got sober. I was presented with a proposal by my sponsor, ‘Eric what is more important to you, your physical freedom or your spiritual freedom?’ And given the experience and power that I had received from doing this work, my spiritual freedom was far more important to me. I was ready to go to prison. I packed my life up. I had a dog, that I gave to my dad. I had a bunch of letters from people that supported me and I drove to Portland, Maine. I walked into the courthouse and was directed by a clerk to go to the courtroom to see the Prosecutor and turn myself in. I was at peace with the fact that I was going to prison, but nonetheless going to prison. When God shows up, there is no mistaking it. I went to the courtroom and I said a prayer. I opened the doors and started walking down the center aisle. About halfway down a guy grabbed me by the arm. It was a guy I knew from recovery. I wasn’t real interested in him at the time because I was trying to take care of things, yet he was real interested in me. I told him I was sober and there to make an amends. He asked me to take a seat. He said, ‘Eric, you probably don’t know this, because we don’t talk about it much, where we met. I’m actually an attorney, a criminal defense attorney. And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to look through that paperwork you have and it might be a good idea to let me talk to the prosecutor on your behalf.’ I was floored. I get chills talking about it. He took the folder and spoke with the prosecutor and they looked at me and walked out of the room. They took forever, it felt like I was sitting on that bench for days. They came back and pulled me into a little conference room. They had called the people who had written letters on my behalf. And they got testimonies about who I was as a human being a year and a half sober. The Prosecutor said to me, ‘Mr. Spofford, it is not often we see a guy of your type come in here having changed his life already. And it is quite apparent to me that you have. The guy in front of me now, is not the same guy that committed those crimes.’ I walked out of that court house with a plea deal that kept me free. I had to pay some money and I had some things to do, but I didn’t go to prison. I was willing to, and the willingness was there. I drove back to New Hampshire and I was going back to people who did not think they would be seeing me for a while. I had some calls to make. And that amends went nothing like I expected it to. “ “Eric, that brings up an interesting point. I know when you got sober, you had nothing. You were sleeping on a mattress on a floor.” “Just blankets actually.” Eric stated. “You didn’t have the money, even if you wanted to, to hire an attorney. You walked in, doing the best you could as a man in recovery, and making amends the way you needed to, and go to prison if you had to. And by the Grace of God, this person was there to help you. That is very different than a family member, hiring an attorney, trying to get their loved one out of trouble.” I said. “I see many people and we treat many people who have court cases and they have hired attorneys. The difference is, I was not going in there, at that moment, like I had done many times in the past, trying to beat the case. The change that I had through the Step work that I had done; I could not go in there and lie. I committed those crimes and I was willing to clean that up. Whatever it took.”

Advice on the amends process…

“What advice would you offer someone who is about to go through the amends process? What is important?” I asked. “To do them and complete them. There are a lot of people who avoid amends entirely or only do some of them. They have had such an experience they think they are okay. They avoid the hard ones, or the ones they fear. I had what you lump into three types of amends. I had the amends to people that loved me and I felt safe. The amends that I was terrified of. And then I had this bunch of amends that I didn’t think were a big deal. The most powerful amends that I made, that had the most impact on me spiritually were the ones that I felt were insignificant and the ones I was terrified of. To make an amends, as an addict, after I was thinking I was some gangster or something, for a candy bar I stole, was humbling. I owed thousands, and thought I could not make the amends because I did not have the money. To then give them the ten or twenty dollars and say I can do this every month until the debt is paid, also, incredibly humbling.”

On Families…

“One thing that is very important in making amends that I see happen far too often in the 12-Step community is running right back out to the people that love us. We want to make amends to them first and early on, and I would say, don’t do that.” I asked Eric to explain his statement. “For most of us, we’ve made so many grand promises of how things are going to be different. You haven’t earned making that amend yet. How you start to make amends with family and people we are close to is called a living amend. That is not to say we avoid the face to face conversation. For me, I would go and see my dad. Instead of me, asking him for things, asking him for help, complaining about my life and spreading negativity; I would ask him how he was. I would try to help him around the house and focus on him. I tried to change the tide of our relationship, (me being the taker), by trying to demonstrate what I could pour back into him. I showed up consistently. While being consistent, I was making my other amends. Very difficult ones. I gained experience making amends and it was through that process of making the hard ones that spiritually I knew it was the right time. I had earned the right to go to my Dad and have that conversation. I started making amends when I was four or five months sober, I did not make amends to my father until I was fourteen months sober. The first principle we teach new people is stop hurting people. Even with the best intentions, you could potentially cause your family harm, by rushing back in to make amends to them.” “Eric, what would you say to a potential receiver of an amends? A family member or otherwise.” “To the family member or the convenience store clerk: say what you have to say.” Eric stated. “It is okay for me to be honest as a receiver of an amends?” I asked. “It’s absolutely okay to be honest. That person is there to clean up their side of the street and if you have some hard truth to share with them, do it. Have the experience. Don’t save them from their pain. They will be okay. And the truth may hurt but that is part of the experience.”

In conclusion…

“When I came to recovery, the folks that came before me talked about having a spiritual experience. And that sounded fancy. It sounded like it felt good. And being a drug addict, I loved things that felt good. I had this natural order about me that was a false operating system that I had been relying on for years. If it feels bad it is bad; if it feels good it is good. That almost killed me. Heroin felt great, truth felt terrible. Heroin almost killed me, truth set me free. The spiritual experience that I had my first round through this work was incredibly painful. I saw myself and how I had been and how I had affected other people, standing completely illuminated in truth. I had been so delusional from addiction and justified so many things that I never stood before that and digested it. It was painful. But what came with the pain was also happiness and joy. And most of all freedom. I came to recovery with a preconceived idea of what this was going to look like. I had been in so much pain from addiction, for my entire life, I thought that in recovery I would be pain free. And that is not true, we can’t tell people that. My experience is, we can’t offer you a pain free life. Pain is part of the human experience. But what we can promise you is, you can live the rest of your life without the pain from alcoholism or addiction. What I mean by the pain from alcohol or addiction is being on this earth and feeling completely alone. Feeling like an alien placed where you just do not belong. Feeling uncomfortable, restless, irritable, discontent, miserable and depressed. You get through this work, you finish your amends and you will not feel like that.” Contact us today to find out how we can help you or a loved one find life and hope in sobriety. Our dedicated and knowledgeable staff are ready to help. (603)339-4160.

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