What Does It Really Mean To Make Amends?
One of the cornerstones of our sober living program is the Twelve Steps, which the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous developed in order to provide others with a process that they could use to help guide them through their early recovery and lay the foundation for a meaningful sober life.
In Steps 8 and 9 of this process, recovering addicts are asked first to make a list of everyone they have harmed during the course of their substance abuse and then to become willing to make amends to those people. Then, they are asked to actually make “direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Though some addicts in early recovery may be tempted to rush right to amend-making in their eagerness to pave the way for a fresh start, there’s a reason that these steps come towards the end of the twelve, only to be undertaken once you have established a solid foundation for your recovery. This will give both you and the person you are attempting to make amends to confidence that your sobriety will be a lasting one, providing a better platform for you to begin rebuilding your relationship with them.
Yet making amends can also be a painful and emotionally fraught process, one that can force you to reckon with the guilt and shame you feel around having acted out of alignment with your values and caused pain to others during the course of your addiction.
To deal with any painful feelings that may come up during the process of making amends, be prepared to be open with your sponsor, your therapist, and others in your support system about what you are going through, and to deal with those feelings using healthy coping mechanisms rather than dissociating from them through substance abuse.
However, facing these painful feelings is exactly the reason that making amends is so important. If you do not fully and honestly reckon with these painful truths about your addiction and attempt to right any wrongs you may have committed to the best of your ability, then being confronted with those truths or with a person that you have hurt could put your sobriety at risk.
Gaining the forgiveness of others can help you begin to forgive yourself, while going through the difficult and scary process of rebuilding trust with others also puts a barrier between you and your past, addicted self, strengthening your commitment to maintaining your sobriety long-term. Making amends will also help you combat the isolation and self-absorption that can come with addiction by bringing your focus from yourself to others, a healthy mindset that will serve you well in sobriety and in life.
In the spirit of full confrontation, amends should thus be made face to face whenever possible rather than over the phone or indirectly, and should begin with a sincere and specific apology for any damaging actions you may have taken. Be prepared to listen to the other person’s side of the story and to validate their feelings of hurt and betrayal, and own up fully to your wrongdoings rather than becoming defensive or emotional.
Then, though in some cases a heartfelt apology may be all that is called for, an apology is also not all that amends could or should be. Ideally, amends should also include actions, which could be as concrete as repaying any money or replacing any objects that you have stolen, repairing any objects or property that you have damaged, or even potentially facing legal consequences if your wrongdoings involved criminal activity.
You can also ask the person what kinds of practical action they would want you to take to make amends for your mistake, and, provided that it is a fair request, make every effort to comply with what they request. However, before you go about making amends, you should also be prepared for the possibility that the person who you are attempting to make amends with may not be ready to forgive you, or may not even want to hear from you at all.
This is one of the situations in which indirect amends may be called for, since forcing someone to have a conversation they do not wish to have or are not ready for could cause them further injury. Indirect amends may also be called for when you feel as if getting in touch with a toxic person who you have wronged may be too triggering to you to be feasible, when you cannot physically find or contact someone who you have wronged, or when someone who you have wronged has passed away.
In this case, instead of offering a direct amend or direct apology, you can make indirect amends by doing something like volunteering your time to help others or donating money to a charitable cause. This is where Step 9 may dovetail nicely with Step 12, which suggests that recovered addicts try to carry on the steps’ message to other addicts who are currently struggling.
Another way to make a direct or indirect amends is by making living amends, which involves committing to behaving differently from the ways you behaved when causing others harm. Along with committing to sobriety itself, you can commit to being more honest and more considerate in the future, and then demonstrate those principles consistently through actions both in your relationship with the person who you have wronged and in other areas of your life.
As important as they are, amends are only the beginning when it comes to committing to long-term sobriety. To learn more about how our sober living community and associated intensive treatment program can help you through the Twelve Steps and all other aspects of long-term recovery from addiction, feel free to call us today at 561-665-5925.