Friday, 22 June 2012

Movie Step Nines

I was watching the Stephen Bochco / Chris Gerolmo series Over There again recently.  In one episode, Brigid Brannagh's character explains that since getting into AA she has to tell everyone all the bad stuff she's done, and drops a detail-free hint about various infidelities on her infantry-soldier partner in Iraq. Over a sat phone link.

In case you were wondering, that's not how it's done. What she's referring to is a Step Nine, though how anyone in early sobriety understands that Step Nine is relevant to them is beyond me. I didn't. But this is the movies.

Step Nine says  "Made direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." There are two key ideas: one is making amends, the other is about not making it any worse

Amends first. Step Nine is not about getting forgiveness from everyone you've ever inconvenienced, nor is it about apologising. It's about the recovering alcoholic stepping up, admitting their wrong-doing and offering to make amends for it. Apologies are not amends. Step Nine amends mean repaying debts you welched on, replacing things you broke or stole, admitting guilt where you had fobbed it off on someone else. Stuff like that. For parents and partners, it might be behaving as they should have been behaving from the start, a lifelong amend.

The amend is for the wronged party, the admission is for the recovering alcoholic. But there's a restriction. They are not allowed to be self-indulgent, wallow in self-pity and mess things up even more than they already have. This is the "except where to do so will hurt others" clause. And it's this clause that Brigid Brannagh's character breaks. What the frack does she think she's doing, confessing her sins to a man thousands of miles away fighting a pointless war? And what kind of advice was her sponsor giving her? Generally Step Nine is for the second year, when the alcoholic has grown used to being sober, recognised a bunch of their baggage in their Fourth and Fifth Step, and is better prepared to behave and judge situations as a normal person would.

What her character was doing was, of course, a plot device. Given that the next thing the guy does is get busy with the Nicky Aycox's eighteen-year-old blonde hot girl driver "Mrs B", soon after her return from an AWOL, he's not the most balanced of people. But that's where the writers wanted to take the story. My guess is that Bochco is on the program and wants it to play a role in all his shows - because it is.

Steps Eight and Nine are where this recovering alcoholic learned to get his self-respect back. It's where I learned to be independent of other people's judgements of me. I can stand up, admit my fault, apologise and offer amends, and the other person can tell me to go to hell. That's their prerogative and I have to live with it. I don't have to beg them to forgive me and nor should I, because some people could play an endless game of blackmail with that. Which is not how I want nor should live my life. I confessed and offered to make it right, and that's all I can do: if you don't want any part of it, I can't make you and nor should I try. My self-respect does not depend on your approval.

A real Step Nine would look calmer and more serious. Much more awkward. Six people would make a ninety-minute movie, running through most of the emotions the wronged people would be feeling, from cheerful indifference to a deep and irrational bitterness, to a happy ending where we discover that the wronged party knew they were just as much in the wrong as our ex-drunk. In the course of the movie, our man gets a job, helps work on a house, and does other stuff, and those turn out to be amends as far as someone else is concerned.

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