As an alcoholic I’ve had the unique pleasure of actually facing myself, seeing the wreckage of my past and addressing it with the people I have affected. For those new to recovery I want you to know that you don’t have to face this all at once. One of the reasons I didn’t take the step into recovery was the thought of having to make amends to people, it was a shameful thought and I had no idea how I could ever do it.
The purpose of making amends to others isn’t simply to make them feel better. The point is to heal our spirit, to clear our conscience and dump baggage from the past which we still carry. Many times the other person doesn’t remember or is unaware of an incident that we make amends for. Even if the person won’t speak to us, making amends is still possible.
We don’t make amends to become BESTIES, we are actually doing this to be loving to ourselves. We seek to free ourselves from the past and grow stronger by facing such a difficult fear. We don’t have the power to get anyone to do what we want them to so we focus on the power we do have, the power to change with God’s help.
Thankfully within 12 step programs this task isn’t at step 1. It’s far down the list, it falls later up the ladder of recovery which ensures you have the strength and bearings to face it.
From my 12 Step Program:
- Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
When the time came for me to do step nine I had already apologized to many people in my life. This primary amend was a quick, heart felt apology which wasn’t specific but did inform them that I’d admitted to my alcoholism and knew I had affected them in some way.
I’m the girl who rips the band-aid off in one fell swoop once the decision is made. On my first day of sobriety I phoned some members of my family and informed them, shared my despair and let them know how broken I was. I allowed them inside my mind for the first time in quite a while……but that’s not enough.
An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The ultimate amends is to be made in a direct way, by fixing what is broken or damaged and ensure restitution is provided. Well that’s as clear as mud when we’re talking about people’s emotions. One clear example of this is returning money you’ve borrowed or stolen but not all amends can be made this way.
My sponsor and program advised me to truly consider if the amends can be made in this way. There are situations where being “rigorously honest” with another person will actually hurt them more in the end. An easy example of this is the recovering alcoholic who goes home to his/her spouse and unloads, telling them about affairs the spouse was unaware of.
Yup I can imagine how freeing getting rid of that secret would be for the recovering alcoholic but wouldn’t it have been better for them to stop having affairs while bringing their heart, energy, love and attention back to their spouse and family where it should be?
Direct Amends Aren’t Always Possible
How can we make direct amends when the person won’t speak to us, have passed away or the amend would actually hurt them? We can change our lives and seek to be the best person we can be. We can change the behaviour and go as far as to volunteer in the community, seeking to help others. If it’s a financial issue, money could be sent anonymously or donated in someone’s name.
We have chosen a different life, people who are truly invested in recovery work hard to change their behaviour and perspective. We take on a whole new way of life and stop accumulating fresh insults to ourselves and others.
AA Big Book page 79
“Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles which we find guiding. Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything. “