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Why Is Making Amends Important?

You can work to repair damaged relationships with family and friends by making amends

The disease of addiction often results in damaged and strained relationships due to careless and harmful behavior. Although you can’t undo what has already been done, you can work to repair damaged relationships with family and friends by making amends. This process is described in steps 8 and 9 of the 12-Step Program.

What Does It Mean to Make Amends?

Making amends is a part of the recovery process. It means you admit to your wrongdoings and try to make things right. Usually, this involves repairing and mending relationships that were broken due to your addiction.

The process of making amends can be direct or indirect. You can either go to the person you harmed, take ownership of your action, and take action to repair the damage (direct amends), or, you can make behavioral changes and shift your actions and behavior to align with the new life principles you follow in recovery (indirect amends).

What’s the Difference Between Apologizing and Making Amends?

Apologizing to someone means you recognize something you did was wrong and you verbally say you’re sorry. An apology consists of words but it doesn’t always include a change in behavior. For example, when you were addicted, you likely apologized to family and friends quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean you changed your behavior. In many cases, addicted individuals continue to break promises.

On the other hand, making amends with someone is more than just words. When you make amends, you verbally recognize that your previous behavior was wrong and you take action to make things right, if possible. Essentially, when you make amends, you align your actions with your words and start living by a new set of principles in recovery. This is outward evidence that you are committed to living a sober lifestyle and changing the way you treat others.

Why Do We Make Amends After Addiction?

Making amends is an intentional action that will help you stay sober long-term. If you caused another person harm while you were addicted, there is a good chance that the issue will catch up with you in the future. There’s also a good chance it could become a trigger for relapse.

On the other hand, if you choose to make amends with family and friends, you’ll take care of those lingering issues once and for all. By addressing them fully and committing to a full lifestyle change and a new set of values and principles, you prevent future conflict and relationship problems that could negatively impact your sobriety.

However, in some instances, making direct amends isn’t advisable or possible. For example, your behavior may have caused severe damage that is not repairable. Or, the person you need to make amends to may not be around anymore. In these cases, indirect amends are recommended. An indirect amend focuses less on immediately righting a wrong. Instead, indirect amends require that you commit to a new lifestyle and behavior moving forward to show that you have changed for the better.

Examples of Making Amends in Recovery

If you’re new to recovery and you’ve never made amends with loved ones before, you might be nervous or uncomfortable. Understandably, you might also be afraid of what the person’s reaction will be, feel very ashamed, or worry that your apology is too late.

These are all normal emotions that many people in recovery face when they choose to make amends. Your sponsor or counselor can help you through this, but it may help to have examples of what making amends looks like.

Here are a few examples of ways you might make direct amends in recovery:

  • If you stole money from a friend while you were addicted, you can verbally admit your behavior, sincerely apologize for it, and then pay the friend back the full amount that you stole.

  • If you damaged someone’s property while you were drunk or intoxicated, you can admit that what you did was wrong and disrespectful, apologize, and repair or replace the damaged property.

Here are a few examples of ways you might make indirect amends in recovery:

  • If you stole money from a friend or family member who is now deceased or unreachable, you can donate to a charitable organization in his or her honor.

  • If you ghosted a friend while you were addicted, you can change your behavior and focus on being a reliable and good friend.

  • If you were an absentee parent while you were addicted, you can acknowledge that your behavior in the past was wrong, apologize for it, and change your actions by making time for your child, keeping your promises, and being reliable.

If you are unsure of how you should make amends in a certain situation, you can consult with your sponsor or counselor about it. He or she will have helpful advice and wisdom that may help you make the right decision on how to proceed.

When Is the Best Time to Make Amends?

There is no perfect time to make amends. It’s a very personal part of the addiction recovery process. Just as you’ll have to work through the 12 Steps of AA (or another recovery program) at your own pace, the time for making amends will depend on your circumstances and when you feel ready.

In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the process of making amends occurs in Steps 8 and 9 of the 12-Step Program, so it will come after you work the previous steps.1 However, you should talk with your sponsor, counselor, or another spiritual adviser to determine the appropriate timing.

What Does Living Amends Mean?

As you work through the 12-Step Program, you’ll likely hear peers or sponsors refer to “living amends,” which is different than making direct or indirect amends. Instead, the term living amends means changing your behavior and the way that you live daily.

For example, instead of just apologizing for past behaviors, living amends means you also follow through on your commitment to living a sober and different lifestyle. You can do this by:

  • Actively working to improve your relationships

  • Fulfilling promises and being reliable

  • Being generous with your time and resources

  • Focusing on changing your behaviors and being of service to others

Tips on Making Amends With People After Addiction

  • Have a plan in place before you reach out to someone.

Sitting down with someone to own up to your mistakes and apologize takes a lot of courage. It won’t be easy, but having a plan will help. Sit down with your sponsor or counselor to come up with a plan for what you will say and how you will respond if things don’t go exactly as planned. Doing this will help you feel more confident as you start working Steps 8 and 9 and making amends.

  • Consider writing a letter.

Although face-to-face amends are always better, that may not always be possible or, it may cause more harm to do so in-person. You might consider writing a letter, which may help you organize your thoughts and communicate more clearly.

  • Don’t force a relationship if the other person isn’t ready.

When you make your amends, some people may be more hesitant to resume a relationship with you or may hold on to grudges or resentment. Ultimately, you cannot control the other person’s response. You can only control your behavior and actions. So if they aren’t ready to resume the relationship or repair things, there’s no need to force it. You may just need to let them do things in their own timing or accept that they may never want to pick up the relationship again.

  • Commit to working a treatment program.

Enrolling in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) can provide you with the tools and support you need to successfully make amends and commit to a new sober lifestyle. Recovering from addiction and working through the 12-Step Program is a highly individualized process so receiving one-on-one professional support is not only helpful, but necessary.

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