One characteristic of drug and alcohol addiction is that it causes you to pull away from people you care about. As a result, you might do or say things you later regret. Once you are working on your sobriety, you will need to apologize for your behavior, and the 12 steps of AA refer to this as making amends.
Though personal accountability and admitting when you are wrong is an overall theme of the 12 steps, steps eight and nine are specifically about identifying people you have wronged and apologizing to them. At first glance, it might seem like any form of sincere apology would sufficiently fulfill these requirements, but there is more to it than that.
How to Make Amends to Those You’ve Harmed
While a heartfelt “I’m sorry” is hardly ever misplaced, making amends also involves demonstrating how you have changed in your commitment to your new, healthy lifestyle. Back in the 1930s, when the original edition of the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous came out, making amends in person was the only practical way for most people to do so.
Despite all the communications advancements that have happened since then, the wisdom of making amends in person still holds true. That means even if your preferred method of getting in touch with friends or family is to send a quick text or dash off an email, those can seem insincere compared to an apology delivered in person or over the phone or a video chat.
Even if your first impulse is to go on a full-scale “apology tour” of all the people you harmed in active addiction, there is no set timeline for making amends once you begin working on your sobriety. It’s best to wait until you and the other party are emotionally ready to have a heart-to-heart conversation. Practice with your sponsor or therapist to ensure you are comfortable with what you plan to say.
Making Direct Amends
Thoroughly making amends involves words as well as deeds. For instance, when apologizing to someone you stole money from, you’ll also return the amount you took.
Remember that step nine defines the only exception to making direct amends is if doing so would cause further harm or injury. An example to this would be making amends to someone who previously severed ties with you. If friends, family members or former work colleagues have explicitly told you it would be hurtful to hear from you, don’t force the issue. You can respect their wishes and still make the desired progress in your recovery by paying it forward and volunteering in your community.
You should also keep in mind that you are only in control of your words and actions when making amends. The other parties might not respond the way you expect, regardless of how earnestly you demonstrate your commitment to change. Ultimately, you are seeking personal accountability – not necessarily total forgiveness.
What’s the Best Way to Make Amends?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for making amends to people you’ve harmed. Talk with your sponsor or friends you’ve made in your 12-step recovery group for advice about what has worked for them. If your deeds match your words and you reach out in person, you are doing the right thing to correct past wrongs. And never forget that your disease doesn’t define you. Don’t let guilt and shame hold you back from living the life you deserve.
At New Found Life, we provide an evidence-based continuum of care for men and women in recovery from substance use disorders. To learn more about our services and treatment philosophy, reach out to us today.