Most of us live under the illusion that we’re going to live forever, caught up in the day-to-day grind of bills, jobs, and responsibilities.
I’m dying. We all are.
What would it be like to be on your deathbed, looking over your entire life with a bird’s eye view?
What would you be proud of? Ashamed of? What would you regret? What memories would stand out the most? What relationships would you wish you would have repaired?
I have things to be proud of, ashamed of, and others to be grateful for—but I’ve also caused a lot of pain in people’s lives and hurt and disappointed those close to me.
Now, as a result of the deeply transformative 12-step process I am in, I am going back through my life and making amends to people I have harmed as far back as 30-plus years ago.
Even though I’ve done the steps before, there’s a lot to clean up. I’ve hurt people. I’ve been a cheater, a liar. A stealer. A manipulator.
Part of my amends includes this process: if I feel a charge of energy toward anyone that comes to mind, and it doesn’t feel clear, I am reaching out to them. I am asking if I’ve hurt them in any way because sometimes I can’t see where I might have hurt someone—and if I have, I’m asking how I can make things right.
During this inventory, sometimes memories have come, or just vague ideas now obscured by time, leaving me unsure of what had happened.
I know that as a kid, I could be unkind. I made fun of other kids. I teased them, made up nicknames, gossiped, and turned friends against each other.
As a teen, I was a drug addict—a really bad one. I got kicked out of high school for having a weapon, and I got arrested for stealing; I was totally out of control.
I drank bottles of cough syrup before school. I totaled my car while high and lied about it to everyone, including the police.
At 17, I already got sent to two rehabs. The first was for 30 days, and then a few weeks later, was sent to another for 11 months. I graduated high school while in rehab as a recovering drug addict.
After a year and a half clean, I used again.
More bad stuff happened. I ran away and went missing. Lived through extremely dangerous situations with equally sketchy people. I was arrested twice more. The last time I had federal drug charges against me. I stole from the pharmacy I was working at, treating it as my own personal medicine cabinet. I was facing 30 years in prison.
I got sober and clean again in 1999. My life up-leveled quickly.
But I still hurt people. I still cheated, lied, manipulated, albeit not as much as before. I was still selfish and full of fear.
During all my years sober, I did the best I could, but I sold out to ego, obsession, and compulsion.
I was a slave to whatever relationship I was in, making my partner my god. Yet, I was always left with facing myself at the end of it all.
I existed. I settled. I managed within the unmanageability. I turned to food and sugar, using them as more acceptable drugs.
I married, even though I didn’t trust myself to remain faithful or not f*ck it up in some way. But I did. And proved myself right, again.
I ran across the world to the next guy—the ultimate geographical cure, 10,000 miles away.
Yet there I was. The harms I caused, the hurt I inflicted, the pain I was in followed me from the Western hemisphere to the East. I caused a lot of pain to a lot of people. A lot of disappointment. Most deeply, within myself.
But I survived. I’ve done the best I could.
Thank god I stayed clean and sober.
Here I am, arriving at mid-life, taking the deepest look at myself I ever have. No stone has been left unturned. I am fixing everything in my life that I can with all the desperation of someone having just received news that they have three months to live.
I’ve reached out to over 150 people and counting, owning up to wrongs I’ve done, or asking if there was a time where I hurt them that I cannot see or remember.
Every time I feel resistance to reaching out, I remind myself that it’s just ego and pride that are protesting. Nothing else. And if I feel resistant, it’s an even bigger indication that I need to take action.
I don’t know where this is coming from, but god is doing this, not me. It springs forth from some mysterious well deep within, this desire to set right everything that I possibly can from the past with the willingness and urgency as if I’m going to die tomorrow.
And it’s been interesting. Difficult. Beautiful. Messy. Rewarding. Just like life.
I have received every response imaginable: silence from those who I expected to reply to someone being willing to have a video call after not seeing each other for almost 20 years. And everything in between.
The biggest gifts have been the healings that have happened as a result. They have been amazing, and at times, instantaneous.
One of the most memorable experiences was a text exchange with someone I haven’t seen since I was 13. I had a huge resentment toward her in middle school. I was jealous because she was pretty and popular. I despised her and tried to turn people against her.
Anytime I’ve thought of her throughout my life, I could still feel that negative charge of energy.
I found her on Facebook and sent her a message explaining what I was doing. I received the most beautiful response, “I do not recall anything or any way that you may have hurt me. I would love to ask you the same question. I, too, would love to apologize if it is the case. Life is too short to have unresolved feelings. Being young is tough, and it takes a long time to gain perspective and realize the important things in life. Clearly, you are finding peace, and I admire that so much.”
When I read it, I burst into tears.
Instantly, 30 years of resentment melted away and was replaced with gratitude and love. So many of these interactions have brought similar results.
It’s not all been rainbows and sunbeams as I have confessed some hard truths or bumbled my way through this process. But overall, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
Some people have unexpectedly made amends to me as well.
I don’t have the writing talent to convey the depth and richness of this experience and how it has affected me. But it has. And as I take others through this same 12-step process, I have a new wealth of experience that can be used to help others.
So although I can’t change the past or undo the wrongs I’ve done, I can at least do this. With god’s help, I can own up to my actions with humility, courage, and willingness to amend what I can.
And I know when I’m on my deathbed, be it 30 days or 30 years from now, that I will remember this entire experience with gratitude that there isn’t anyone on the planet who I have unfinished business with.
And that I can face the afterlife with peace, knowing I did my absolute best at this life, the absolute best that I could.
This photo is the most authentic photo I have of myself. This is me. The me that has done wrong to people. The me that has also done good things.
I am a messy human. Not to be labeled all bad or all good. But a mix of both. Just like everyone else.