8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed,
and became willing to make amends to them all.
Well, here we go. This one is difficult for me. Part of me completely understands exactly what this means and another doesn’t understand it at all. I am struggling with defining exactly what constitutes “harmed”. I know that I haven’t physically harmed anyone(that I am aware of). I know that I have caused emotional harm and there are many in my list that go without question. I know that I will spend the rest of my life working on step 9(Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.) but coming up with this list has been filled with emotional challenges.
I have learned that I’ve been entirely way to hard on myself about a great many things. A perfect example of this is a story I want to share about my ninth birthday. I think it is important to understanding my deeply rooted troubles with guilt and self-loathing with lead to feeding my addiction. I would like to add a disclaimer to this story before you read it. I truly believe that my parents actions in this story, though misguided, came from a place of love and concern for me. I do not condone their actions, but I forgave them both and more importantly, myself, years ago. Making an emotional amends to a person no longer living, in this case my father, is what I am struggling with and I hoping that by writing this and seeing it in print will bring some serenity to my soul.
In the fall of 1983 I was almost nine years old and I became enamored with a show on TV called “Voyagers”. It was about a handsome, swashbuckling time-traveler and his spunky pre-teen side-kick keeping history on track. It only lasted one or two seasons, but I never missed an episode. Their means of transportation through time was a slightly malfunctioning gold pocket watch looking device called an “Omni”. It was the most beautiful looking bauble I had ever seen and I WANTED one. Being a curious almost nine year old I had the proclivity to want to know how things worked. Which means I took EVERYTHING apart. I had absolutely no skill in being able to put them back together again, but with regards to the deconstruction aspect I was a “TED conference” level genius. (We had a pinball machine that I absolutely destroyed. To this day I still don’t understand why I did that.)
One day, while investigating my parents jewelry box I made the most wonderful discovery. My father was in possession of a GOLD POCKET WATCH! Good fortune! My prayers had been answered! I would soon be traveling through time having adventures with a big, goofy, sexy time-traveler helping the Wright Brothers with their first test flight and having tea with Attila The Hun! I immediately took possession of this treasure and began my play. There was just one, tiny issue. It did not look EXACTLY like the Omni. “No problem!” I thought, and almost nine year old Jimmy went to work creating his OMNI. Off to Dad’s work shed I went and got the tools necessary to complete my task. Watch face? Gone. Chain? “The OMNI had no chain!” I thought. Gone. “I can put this back together…no sweat.” I told myself, having no past record of being able to support this notion. The “spare parts” went into my shorts pocket and once my OMNI met my expectations, off to the woods I went to find Joan of Arc and assist her on her quest.
For those of you of a certain age you will remember that PAC-MAN mania was sweeping the nation in 1983. I had been begging my parents to buy me a tiny arcade version of the game. I was fairly certain that they would buy this for me due to the fact that I spoke about it 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week for months. My birthday came and I was so excited! I would be munching ghosts and power-pellets soon I could feel it! I was careful to be good and not do anything that would make my parents mad because I was certain they bought it for me. That night it was just me, my sister, my Aunt Carol, Mom and Dad. They sang happy birthday and I began to open my presents. Clothes…clothes…clothes…and then…the last gift…PAC-MAN!!!! I was on top of the world! I hugged and kissed and thanked my parents and started to tear open the box when my father stopped me and said. “Wait, there is one more.” He went into his pocket and pulled out a small box wrapped up in He-Man(my favorite afternoon cartoon) wrapping paper.
“Another one?” I thought. Nothing was going to top PAC-MAN. I took the present from my father and unwrapped it. I opened up the box and there it was. His dismantled pocket watch. My mother had come across it in pocket while doing laundry. The room was completely silent. I stared at the watch in shame. I realized all of the sudden what I had done. I had fucked up big time. “Jimmy, that watch was my father’s and the only thing he ever gave me.” My father said to me in a stone cold tone. “I was going to give it to you someday, but I figured since you took it upon yourself to take it, I thought I’d make it official.” I started to cry. My Dad was good with the guilt. His words were far worse than his hands. Shame and guilt over-took me. I got up from the table and ran away. My Daddy hated me now. How could I have been so selfish? Why did I take that watch? Why did I have to take it apart? Why did I suck so much? I couldn’t look my father in the eyes for days. Every time I looked at him all I saw was disappointment. I made it my ONE vow in life that someday, I would replace that watch for him. It would be the most special watch he ever had. It was my first amends.
In 1994 my father passed away suddenly at the young age of 46. After the initial shock of my father’s death subsided all I could think about was that pocket watch. How I had not only lost my father(with whom I had a very strained and unresolved relationship) but I had lost my chance to make amends for that horrible thing I did to him almost 11 years earlier. You see, to me that meant everything. For me, that was the reason my father didn’t like me. I knew that my father loved me, but I never felt like he “liked” me. I always felt like a disappointment and sometimes told me in no uncertain terms what a disappointment I was.
I remember a desperate conversation he and I had in his car one time. He had picked me up after a rehearsal for a high school play I was doing(It was Little Shop of Horrors. I played the Dentist). We had just recently learned that my sister was pregnant and we were discussing that. It was an uncomfortable conversation. My Dad and my Mom were fighting about what to do about “the situation”(as if they had any say in it). My father had suggested that my sister consider “all her options” and it infuriated my mother. Their divorce had recently been finalized and it was, like most divorces with children involved, a nasty one.
I was quite upset that my father had even suggested that my sister consider giving the baby up for adoption. The thought of being an Uncle was so exciting for me. I was so looking forward to having someone in my family with whom I had a chance to have a fresh start. For some reason, my father always seemed to take offense to me having an opposing opinion of him. He found it “disrespectful” when I questioned him. He always used to tell me that if he ever disagreed with his father his father would have “bounced him off the walls.” This frustrated me and kept us from seeing eye to eye. I was older now and had been through a lot. I needed him to respect that I had an opinion and was entitled to it. I tried to reason with him and find common ground but I could see we weren’t getting anywhere.
I just didn’t want to fight with him. I wanted to be his buddy. I reached out to him and said “I just want to be close to you, Dad. I want us to be close like Uncle Eddy and Scott.”(My uncle and cousin) I will never forget his response, “Jim, some times Father’s and Son’s just don’t have that kind of relationship.” It was a dagger through my heart. I was never going to have that relationship. Years later I have come to the realization that his emotional issues with his abusive father most likely prevented us from having that relationship I so desperately desired. His death closed the door on any final chance I would ever have for redemption. I would always be the horrible son I felt my father thought he had.
When I went into therapy after Greg and I separated I remember telling this story to my therapist. He helped me understand that what my parents did all those years ago was not kind. It was not to teach me a lesson. It was cruel. I fought him about that. My parents were not cruel. They were just trying to teach me a lesson! I remember he said to me “If they wanted to teach you a lesson about taking other peoples property, wouldn’t it have made more sense to confront you about the watch and tell you that they were not buying you the game you wanted? Instead they brought you up on an emotional high. Got you excited about your birthday present and then ripped the rug out from you. That emotional torture lesson you learned when you are nine is still hurts the 38 year old man sitting in front of me. Do you think it’s ok for someone to suffer for nearly 20 years about a mistake a child made.?” No. It’s not ok.
I talked to my Mom about this soon after this conversation I had. She barely remembered the incident which infuriated me. She told me that my Dad really wasn’t that upset about the watch. This infuriated me further. How could they have been so thoughtless, so careless with my emotion. How stupid I felt for holding onto and assigning blame to this childhood mistake I made that had a large part in the self-loathing I endured for nearly 20 years. I was angry. I no longer knew what or who I was. What else had I been wrong about?
I want to be clear about something. I love my father. I have forgiven he and my mother for this. My parents made a mistake, just like I made a mistake. Had I not lost my father as early in my life as I did I would like to think that we would have resolved this situation. So my amends I’d like to make involving this situation is not to my father, but to myself. Recovery has been the step to accomplishing this amends. It may take the rest of my life, but I owe it to nine year old Jimmy to do this.