As humans, we are all bound to make mistakes in our lives. None of us are perfect. However, it’s these moments and mistakes in our lives that are what wind up molding us. Character is built out of both the good and bad experiences and there should be no shame in admitting our wrongs while working to move past them. Making amends is a part of life and for those who have struggled with addiction in the past, a necessary part of the recovery process.
It takes a strong person to own up to their mistakes. It takes an especially strong person to reconcile all the wrongs they might have inflicted while under the influence of substances. Sometimes, it takes more than a simple sorry to recover from wounds that are that deep. Addiction recovery is a long and hard road, but one that is worthwhile and necessary. If you or a loved one left behind a trail of strained relationships due to substance abuse related issues, here is a guide to help you through the process.
Two of the strongest feelings that recovering addicts experience when they get sober are shame and guilt. Guilt occurs from remorse over the ways that addicts may have treated the people closest to them. Shame occurs from the inner disappointment and self-hate that everyone experiences when we feel as though we have disgraced ourselves or failed to live up to our own expectations.
When someone who is dependent on substances finally makes the decision to get sober, shame and guilt usually set in almost immediately. For the majority of people, the feelings of guilt are usually what cause the most pain, as many addicts have grown used to drowning out these feelings using substances. Recovering addicts can no longer deny the downright despicable and awful acts they may have committed. The good news is however, that with the right steps and mindset, you can offer a sincere apology and make amends to the people you may have hurt.
Making Amends vs. Making an Apology
What is the difference between making amends and making an apology? Well, the difference lies in the effort put behind each action. A sincere apology is a necessary step for sure, but an apology by itself is not enough to undo the pain and heartache that one’s addiction can cause. Making amends is a way to for the recovery addict to work towards an achievable goal that helps to restore faith and goodwill to people they inflicted pain towards. There are direct ways to make amends, such as fulfilling loan agreements, repairing broken property, or any number of kind acts. The most important part of making amends to someone is to alter your behavior and actions to become beneficial to the person you inflicted harm against, not simply apologizing.
Direct amends are made when you take personal responsibility for your actions and reconcile things with the person you hurt. It takes more than just completing kind actions. It will involve being open about the pain you caused, which is itself a difficult process, and trying to work together with the person you harmed in order to find a solution that satisfies both parties. Examples of direct amends include: returning stolen money to a friend or repairing a wall you punched a hole in.
Indirect amends are made when you attempt to build back goodwill due to an action that cannot be repaired or reversed by your actions. In some instances, the person you hurt may not be willing to accept your apology or it could be impossible to undo the damage you caused. For example, if you injured someone while intoxicated and cannot afford their hospital bill, you could volunteer at a handicapped school, become an organ donor, or contribute to their charity of choice.
Living amends are a holistic approach to amends that are a great way to show the world and the people you hurt that you have changed for the better. Living amends means making genuine lifestyle changes and committing to a life-long promise to yourself and those around you that have discarded your destructive behaviors.
How to Make Amends
When you decide to make amends, it’s important to prepare what your approach will be and to also be prepared in the case that the person you hurt does not want to accept your amends.
1. Evaluate the Extent of Your Offenses
It’s difficult to gauge our actions without taking into account the perceptions of those around us. To truly understand the extent of your wrongdoings you’ll need to step outside of your usual zone of perception and see things from the angle of the person or persons you have affected. Develop empathy for their situation and you will come to better understand how you wronged them, why it hurt, and ways you could possibly make it better.
2. Create a Carefully Worded Apology
For your apology to truly count, you will want to take the time to fully address all aspects of the pain inflicted, the nature of your addiction, and your pledge to do better. It can be difficult to fully describe the ways in which addiction warps someone morals or causes someone to act poorly, so you may want time to write your apology out in full before either speaking it or sending it in a letter. You should also make sure to express how much you value your relationship with that person, and that you want to make sure you do not lose them. Hold yourself accountable and do not deflect the blame.
3. Come Up With Ways to Mend the Relationship
You can suggest ways in which you can repair the relationship by preparing ideas beforehand. It will take time, effort, and trust on their end, but hopefully your amends will help to restore faith and goodwill in you. You can try to schedule quality time with the person and get to asking them about what ways your actions impacted them and if there are any possible actions you can take to help make their situation better.
4. Don’t Repeat the Same Mistakes
Try to avoid falling into the same behavioral patterns and actions that lead to you hurting others. Continually examine the ways in which you act and look back on past mistakes to uncover the reasons that you made them. This will help keep you from making the same mistakes in the future.
Tips for Making Amends After Addiction
Making amends takes a lot of effort and patience. The problem is that most addicts aren’t exactly known for their patience. Amends can only be made when sufficient time and progress have been made in someone’s recovery. You’ll need enough time to have gotten completely sober and become cognizant of your own underlying triggers for using. If you simply get sober for a week and apologize to your family and friends for hurting them, it’s not going to mean much as they have probably heard sorry from you many times before. Making amends is about the action, not the lip service.
The 12 Step Approach
In the 12 Steps, there are several mentions of the necessity for making amends in your recovery. For example, Step 8 of AA’s Twelve Steps asks adherents to “Make a list of all the person we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9 is “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”. Properly learning how to carry out these steps is a delicate process that is best carried out with the advice of an addiction counselor.
It sounds relatively simple and straightforward at first glance, but when you actually sit down to make your list, you may find it difficult to think about certain things or you may be unable to come up with possible ways you could make up for what you have done to some people. You’ll have to recognize the things you have done and recognize when you may be minimizing or forgetting certain events. Being able to admit wrongdoing takes strong character, and though you may feel like you are ready, it can help to call on the assistance of a sponsor or professional addiction counselor. These individuals will know the process inside and out because they have worked and studied it themselves.
Work with your sponsor or counselor to create a list of the individuals you have harmed in the course of your addiction. It will make it easier down the road for you to address each person, as you may have been continually hurting those closest to you for years. The people closest to the addict, usually family members or anyone who lives with them, experience the greatest amount of physical and emotional pain as a result of the addicts choices. If these relationships have been destroyed as a result of substance abuse, or if bridges have been permanently destroyed, it can be difficult to understand how to make amends. No matter how severe or minor the offense, put the person on your list along with what you did to them.
You can write down every instance where your actions related to substance abuse resulted in harm to another person. For example, if you stole money you should write down from whom and how much. If you wrecked a friend's car, you should total the damage to see what you owe them to repair it. If you cheated with a friend’s spouse, add that to your list and you can figure out how to make amends later. Even if you are unsure of the victim of the crime, such as stealing money from a tip jar or embezzling money from your company, write it down.
According to AA and the 12 Steps, there are several obstacles to completing Steps 8 and 9, including a reluctance on the part of others to forgive, the inability of yourself to admit wrongdoing to others, and purposeful forgetfulness. When you make your thorough list, be sure to stay objective and detached as possible so at avoid personal bias from affecting your ability to identify victims.
You do not have to face addiction recovery alone. It is a more common experience than people think and there are many support groups and options available to help you fully heal. Landmark Recovery provides drug and alcohol recovery centers that help addicts take the first steps towards achieving and maintaining sobriety. Our therapy programs help patients to understand and cope with past mistakes with the eventual goal of leading a happy, fulfilling life that is substance free. Our caring staff is trained in residential treatment, individual and group therapy, as well as an intensive outpatient program and detox treatment.