I’ve made it to Step Nine, which means I’m supposed to be contacting people I’ve hurt and trying to make amends to them. It’s like an episode of My Name Is Earl, with fewer hijinks and a less likeable lead character.

All the steps until now have been pretty theoretical. I’ve shared things with someone who’s fucked up at least as much as I have. I’ve prayed or pretended to pray or made a total joke out of praying. All of this is more or less under my control. Suddenly I’m dragging other people into this mess. And I don’t get to tell them what to do about it.

One of my bad habits is assuming that I’m special. This step would be difficult enough for an extrovert, but calling people from my past feels like a physical impossibility. Like I should get some kind of pass. I tell myself this is bullshit, but it still doesn’t quite seem fair.

I started on Monday; I started with an “easy” one. I’ve lived with so much guilt since my stepmother died of breast cancer five years ago. I always kept her at arm’s length. We could have been close; I never let that happen. There is no way to compensate for that, so I tried to just do something she would have liked.

I gave to a charity she supported. I mentioned it on Facebook; I deleted the post. I didn’t want to show off. I didn’t want to stir up pain for others who knew her. I reconsidered and re-posted. I wanted to advertise her charity. I wanted her biological children to know that I think of her too.

It didn’t compensate for anything. But here’s the trick of Step Nine: you feel like you’ve done something. In fact, it has nothing to do with changing the world. It’s only about finding permission to forgive yourself. It’s self-involved. It has nothing to do with the people you contact.

I could turn this into a justification to quit. I can turn words into whatever ideas I want them to be. Rationalization was always one of my talents. But I don’t want to quit.

I feel a little lighter. I feel scared. I feel like I’m never going to make up for what I’ve done, but I’ll keep going. I want to keep going.

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