By Nathan Perrin,
Step 8: Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Jessica pauses in front of her apartment building and catches her breath.
Every morning, she wakes up early to catch the sunrise. It always reminds her of hope.
“God,” she prays. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
She takes her phone out of her sleeve, “Grant me patience for the changes that take time, an appreciation for all that I have,” and looks at the new text.
“I’ll be at the coffee shop at 9:30.”
“A tolerance for those with different struggles,” Jessica continues praying. “And the courage to get up and try again… one day at a time.”
She enters her apartment building with a smile. When she read the Big Book, she read about miracles happening at step nine. So far, none have panned out. Friends that were once friends remained bitter towards her. She fucked up beyond repair, they told her.
She hasn’t seen Andrew in a year – ever since she started her sobriety journey. She remembers the words her sponsor, Grace, said: “You need to make this one last amend. After this, you will be free.”
Jessica puts on her cross necklace, “Give me strength, O Lord, to do your will.”
Jessica orders her usual coffee: iced coffee with oat milk and artificial sweetener. She has been living on it ever since she began her journey. Andrew sneaks up behind her: “Hey,” he flashes a smile.
“Hey,” Jessica smiles back and hugs him. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing okay,” says Andrew.
“Do you want to sit?” Jessica pulls out a chair next to her.
“Yeah,” Andrew sits.
Jessica stares at Andrew’s eyes. Those are what won her in the first place. She remembers how he walked across the room to nervously ask for her number.
“How’s the movie going?” Andrew folds his hands.
“It’s in post-production,” Jessica clears her throat.
“I keep seeing your novel being read everywhere I go. I’m sure the movie will do well.”
Jessica tries to hide her blushed cheeks. The novel is based on their relationship. She wrote it after a vacation they took together when she daydreamed them growing old together. She had no idea the novel would be a massive success.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Andrew asks.
“I’m on step nine,” Jessica moves in her seat anxiously.
“Oh yeah?” Andrew’s eyes widen.
“It’s my turn now?”
Andrew lets out a warm smile, “Alright, let’s hear it.”
The barista drops off both of their coffees.
Jessica grips her coffee and takes a sip, “I cheated on you.”
“I know,” Andrew sighs. “I found his underwear under the bed a few months after you went to rehab.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“You were in rehab, and what could I do? We ended.”
A single tear rolls down Jessica’s cheek, “I’m so sorry. I was so… lost. You have no idea.”
“I knew you were lost after you puked all over me at Angela’s party,” Andrew sips his coffee. “You puked, and then you looked me in the eyes and blamed me for your brother’s suicide.”
“Shit,” Jessica puts a hand on her face.
“Yeah,” Andrew looks to the side.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” she puts her hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
Andrew takes her hand off his shoulder, “Do you have anything else you need to tell me?”
Jessica pulls out the engagement ring and puts it on the table, “I’m willing to try again if you’re willing to try.”
Andrew wipes away a tear, “I’m sorry, Jess… but we can’t go back. This isn’t like your novel. Some things can’t be mended.”
“I know I fucked up everything. I know. I have to live with that every day. But I know I lost you. You were the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Andrew looks out the window, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me too… but it’s too late.”
Jessica leans back, “Look, we can’t go back to the way things were. But I know I love you, and I know we can start again if we try.”
“It doesn’t work like that. You have to get that into your head now.”
“But it can. Don’t you get it?”
“There’s someone else,” Andrew sighs. “I’m sorry, but I had to move on. I couldn’t wait for you any more. Not after finding out everything you did. I’ll always care about you, but I can’t trust you again.”
A silence settles in. Jessica used to love their silences, but this is something alien.
“This was a mistake,” Jessica struggles to hold back emotion. “I shouldn’t have talked to you.”
“You needed closure,” Andrew looks away from her eyes. “And I’m sorry it has come to this, but I think it’s best for both of us to move onto our separate ways.”
Jessica traces the lid of her coffee, “You know… no one has forgiven me. Not one fucking person. Everyone loves a good sobriety story until there’s an addict in their lives trying to get clean.”
“I’m sorry, hon,” Andrew stands up and kisses her on the cheek. “We had a good thing. It’s time to move on.”
Jessica grabs his hand, “Please, don’t go.”
“Jessica,” Andrew put his hand on top of hers, “you have to let me go.”
She starts sobbing.
Andrew rubs her shoulder a few times, apologizes once again, and walks away.
After wiping away her tears, Jessica stares catatonically at the empty seat across from her. She can’t take her eyes off of the coffee Andrew left behind.
“It didn’t go well,” Jessica says to Grace over her phone.
“I’m so sorry,” says Grace. “Will you be okay?”
Jessica opens the coffee house door and throws the iced coffee across the street, “Why the fuck can’t I do anything right!”
“Jessica, you don’t have to do thi-”
Jessica throws the phone on the ground and sits on the sidewalk and weeps.
Jessica walks through the streets of downtown Chicago completely lost.
A woman with a fiery look in her eyes is preaching on top of a crate: “REDEMPTION IS FOUND AT THE BOTTOM!”
Jessica rolls her eyes.
There is no love, Jessica thinks. There are no second chances. Life is a constant state of shit and bitterness and no one loves you. We are alone in the world.
She walks into a bar and sits down.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, Jess,” the bartender says.
“Give me my usual,” she forces a smile.
A man sits next to her, “What’s your name?”
“Jessica,” she wipes away a tear.
“Name’s Josh,” he smiles.
“Nice to meet you,” Jessica downs a shot of whiskey.
“Are you okay?”
“How about you?” Jessica looks at the shot glass as it’s being refilled. “Are you okay?”
Jessica nibbles Josh’s ear outside of her apartment door.
“Hey,” he says. “You’re drunk.”
“I don’t give a shiiiit,” she laughs. “It’s all gonnnne.”
“What’s gone?” Josh asks.
“Everything,” Jessica reaches into her purse and pulls out the engagement ring and throws it down the hall. “Everything is shit!”
She leans back in to kiss Josh, but he pushes her back.
“Where’s your keys?” he asks.
“Are we wanting to fuck?”
“Sure, what the hell.”
Jessica hands him the keys. He smiles and unlocks the door. She pukes at the doorway and blacks out. The last thing she remembers is Josh laying her on her couch.
Jessica wakes up to a pounding headache and Josh sitting in a chair across from her. All her clothes are on, puke stains and all.
“Josh?” she asks.
“This is him,” Josh forces a smile.
“What happened?” Jessica touches her forehead.
“You got drunk and wanted to fool around.”
“It would’ve been wrong. You were drunk and heartbroken. I had to lie a bit to get you inside and safe.”
“I’m an alcoholic,” Jessica weeps. “There is no way out.”
“That’s what they’ve all said,” Josh offers his hand. “But life can be a beautiful thing.”
“Can it?” Jessica takes his hand and squeezes it.
“My mom was an alchie. She got clean and sober. Completely changed her life. I know you can do it too.”
Josh releases her hand and writes down his number, “If you ever need to talk to someone… as a friend, let me know.”
“Can you hold me?” Jessica asks. Josh looks at her with suspicion, “I don’t view you like that.”
“I know… I just… I feel so fucking alone right now,” Jessica sniffles. “I need someone safe to hold me right now is all. You don’t ever have to see me again. I know it’s fucked up but I lost everything yesterday.”
Josh sits on the couch, “Okay.”
Jessica lays on Josh’s chest, “I’m sorry I’m so weird.”
“It’s okay,” he rubs her back. “This is your chance to keep going, okay? You have to get back up.”
“Okay,” she whispers.
“I have my demons too. We all do.”
“It’s not my demons that I’m afraid of… it’s everything else.”
Josh grabs her hand, “That’s why you need to keep going, Jess. There’s more to life than broken hearts and wasted nights.” He sees Jessica’s novel on her coffee table, “That’s a good book.”
“You think so?” Jessica sniffled.
“Yeah. I liked everything but the ending.”
“What do you mean?”
“The wife seemed to believe marriage was the solution to her problems. It didn’t sit well.”
Jessica lets out a long sigh, “You don’t think she found happiness?”
“Well… she never found her place. She hinged so much on her husband that she never found redemption in her own way. Again, it just didn’t sit well.”
Jessica sighs, “You know… it’s starting to not sit well with me either.”
“Will you be okay?”
“Please… stay. For an hour or so. Until I feel safe again.”
Jessica sits in the back of her small Catholic church and listens to the priest give the final blessing.
“Go out and know you are forgiven,” he says. “But most of all… forgive others, and forgive yourself. Your sins are remembered no more.”
Jessica grabs her cross necklace. The priest makes eye contact with her knowingly. She used to wander in drunk all the time – one time coming in high from meth after a party.
“You need to get into a meeting,” the priest said to Jessica.
“But what is the point?” she asked him.
“The point is that you are loved and cherished. And it would be a shame for any of us to see you go down this path.”
As the priest walks down the church aisle, Jessica reaches out to touch his robe.
The priest reaches back and holds her hand. He makes direct eye contact with Jessica. She starts sobbing.
“Whatever you are going through,” the priest smiles, “God knows what it’s like. Don’t give up.”
“What’s the point, Father?” Jessica wipes away the tears. “I hurt everyone I come across.”
“You haven’t hurt me,” the priest wipes away a tear on her cheek. “And you have tried your best to make things right. Maybe it’s time to start forgiving and loving yourself.”
Jessica looks at her bathroom mirror.
She still looks like a mess, no makeup and no confidence.
All of her dreams have been flushed down the drain.
“Maybe it’s time to start forgiving and loving yourself.”
“Jess,” she whispers. “I forgive you.”
A silence settles in.
She looks in the mirror and sees the 23 year old version of herself, covered in whiskey and puke. It was when she first started binge drinking. She heard the news of her brother’s suicide and picked up a bottle immediately. The rest is history.
“I forgive you,” says Jessica. “Please stop. You don’t know what you’ll lose.”
“I don’t believe you,” says the memory. “I don’t know how else to make the pain go away. Do you?”
“Not yet,” tears streaked on Jesica’s face. “But please… have mercy on us.”
Jessica decides to try out a new late night meeting close by.
She looks up and sees a familiar face.
“I have to confess that I had a drink two days ago,” says the man at the podium. “I threw away six months of sobriety, but I know with my Higher Power’s help anything is possible. I met someone new though that showed me this isn’t the way.”
Jessica lets out a small smile.
“My name is Josh, by the way,” he says.
“Hi, Josh,” says the group.
Jessica does a small wave.
Josh flashes a knowing smile.
As they sat together, he sends her a text: “Keep coming back?”
She quickly returns the message: “I’ll keep coming back.”
Jessica stares at three white chips. For three long consecutive nights, she made a commitment to twenty-four hours of sobriety, then another twenty-four hours, then another… Each night was full of late calls, obsessive journaling, and profanity-laced prayers. Her sponsor, Grace, stayed on the other end of the phone as Jessica fell asleep.
“I don’t know how I will ever get through the night again,” Jessica murmured.
“I’m always here for you,” said Grace. “You will see that second chances are always worth taking.”
Jessica now lies awake late in her apartment. She decides to try to believe what Grace says.
She thinks about all the people in her life who helped her along the way, and all the ways they seemed to help her when she needed someone the most.
Maybe redemption, true redemption, is possible for her too.
Maybe God is with her in this moment, gently asking her to pick up the pieces of her life and keep going. Maybe he feels her pain too.
Jessica plays with her cross necklace and remembers the feeling of the sun on her skin with the cold, brisk morning breeze. She remembers the way the Chicago river glimmers in the light of the morning. She says a serenity prayer and starts changing into fresh workout clothes.
Jessica stretches her leg and jogs in place.
7 AM. The sunrise will happen any second.
She starts running.
“Maybe it’s time to start forgiving and loving yourself.”
The memory of her at twenty-three years old flashes in front of her. They make eye contact.
“I love you,” she whispers. “I love you, I love you, I love you…”
As her pace starts to get faster, the thoughts pound themselves into her head: I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU ILOVEYOU…
She lets out a smile and whispers again, “I love you.”
The twenty-three year old flashes Jessica a smile. She offers Jessica her hand.
“I love you too. I’m so proud of who we become.”
The woman with the fiery eyes is preaching on the crate again. She yells: “THE LIFE AND THE RESURRECTION IS HERE!”
For once, Jessica agrees with the preacher. As she runs by the coffee shop, she pauses, turns around, and looks inside. She may never go back in, but maybe that is the point.
Our past is supposed to stay behind us, she figures. Not to follow us, but to teach us. That even though we’ve lost so much, the things we gain far outweigh what’s thrown away when the courage is found to try again. Underneath all the shit and bitterness, redemption can be found growing from the bottom-up.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Nathan Perrin is an Anabaptist pastor and doctoral student living in Chicagoland. He enjoys theology, fiction, friends, travel, and long walks.