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How NOT to Make Amends

By Cheryl Steinberg

When we make amends we are simply telling the person we harmed the truth about our actions as we now see them, and we have faith that the healing, self-acceptance, and serenity we will gain is worth the risk of rejection we may experience. We are placing trust in our Higher Power and the program, along with our fellows, that this can do more to bring us inner-peace, happiness, and intimacy than any negative reaction could hurt us.

Although leaving ourselves vulnerable to rejection by those to whom we make amends can be downright frightening, we have the experience of thousands of people who have taken this step before us to encourage, inspire, and give us strength as we proceed.

First, this is what amends can be:

  • Sincere efforts to “make up” for past harm(s)
  • A way to build positive future relationships, and improve upon already established ones
  • An effective means for removing the weight of guilt, shame, and remorse

To be clear, an amends is not merely an apology. Making amends is about restoring justice as much as possible. Therefore, the motivation of an amends should be to restore – in a direct way – that which we have broken or damaged. If this is not possible, than a living amends can be made, one we perform in a symbolic way by incorporating a new healthy action or set of behaviors in our daily lives.

With that said, here’s how NOT to make amends:

#1. Clearing your conscience at the expense of someone else’s feelings

This is wholly self-serving. So, for example, if you cheated on someone in the past, an amends is about making it right by being completely committed to the person from here on out. It’s not necessary to come clean about the affair just because you want it off of your conscious. As it says in Step 9 “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Making amends is NOT about harming others for your sake.

#2. Insincerely apologizing

Going around apologizing before you’ve done the necessary work to experience significant personal change and growth is not making amends. You have to have had the introspection that step work gives you before you can begin mending relationships (see #9).

#3. Apologizing without action to back it up

For example, if I stole $20 from you and never replaced it, simply saying “I’m sorry I borrowed your $20 for drugs,” is an empty amends; an apology. Making amends would be giving you back your money.

#4. Placing blame

An amends is about taking responsibility for your part in a wrong that occurred. Never attempt an amends where you’re telling the other person about the things they did to you.

#5. Qualifying it (I’m sorry I … BUT you…)

Similarly, don’t apologize or make an amends only to follow it up with “…but you were the one who…” That’s not a genuine apology; it’s more like an opener for blaming the other person for something that happened. This is an empty apology with no sincerity or action behind it.

#6. Apologizing publicly, such as via social media (Facebook)

No. Just no. This is spineless and self-serving. If you are too ashamed to speak to the person face-to-face, do not air your amends publicly. Share your fears and concerns with your sponsor. And remember that, even if the person rejects your amends, you did your part and you can’t control how other people feel and act. Trust that it’s for the best and that perhaps one day, they’ll come around. And be prepared for the possibility that they won’t and that this relationship is now a thing of the past.

#7. Making a general apology/amends to everyone you have wronged, as a whole

Such as in a group text or to a gathering of people you have harmed. This, again, is a weak way of going about an amends and means nothing to those with whom you are attempting to reconcile.

#8. Texting an amends

Again, this is impersonal and a way to avoid rejection. It’s also completely empty – or would definitely appear to be to the person you are texting. Always make an amends in person, face-to-face, or, if this simply isn’t possible (maybe they live on the other side of the world), then make a phone call. This is way more personal than sending a text.

#9. Attempting to make amends before you actually do steps 1-7

When we initially get clean and sober, we often feel clear-headed (enough) as well as motivated to get the apologies out of the way. This is not the time to do that, however. Just like #s 1 & 2 of the list, these “amends” will most likely be about making yourself feel better for your past transgressions and/or be insincere in that you haven’t done the work to change your behaviors before you try to make things right with others. Your friends and other loved ones were used to hearing your empty apologies while you were in active addiction. Therefore, it’s going to take time and work – on yourself – before you can make a sincere amends.

Are you holding on to the guilt and shame of abusing drugs and the actions you’ve taken to support your habit? These kinds of feelings will only add to your misery in addiction. There is a better way and help is available. Recovery from addiction is possible and a life in sobriety is much happier, peaceful, and free. Call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today. We are available around the clock to answer your call. You are not alone.

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