Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Ahhh, the actual making of the amends. The giant elephant that has been looming in front of anyone trying to trudge their way through the twelve steps. It really doesn’t live up to the hype. As with most things, all of the fear and anxiety usually goes unfounded.
Before you ever make an amends you should work with your sponsor on who exactly gets which type of amends. As has been noted before, there are some amends that would cause further damage if made outright and there are other amends that cannot be made directly due to death or the inability to track the person down. Your sponsor is key in this decision making process and he or she can discuss the amends options available (letters, burning missive, life amends, etc.). Your sponsor is also key in helping you decide what to say, write or do during the amends. Another way your sponsor can assist you is by preparing you for the responses you might get from your direct amends.
When it comes to direct amends, there are really only a few options on the table: Appreciation, Disgust and Anger, or Bewilderment. It is important to remind yourself that the amends is really for your own well-being and that how they respond is on their side of the street. Of course, it is also good to remember that we might not fully understand how we have hurt people in our lives and therefore might not understand how they can be so sad or mad or indifferent to us now that we are trying to get the help we need. And since many alcoholics/addicts run with other alcoholics/addicts - some of the people we owe amends to might not think we need to quit! (or we did such a great job at hiding our addiction they really don’t understand why we suddenly have one!) Our job is only to make the amends. It is NOT our job to try to convince people that we have changed, that they should accept us back into their lives, that we are finally done with our addiction or that we have an addiction to begin with. The amends itself, is all we are responsible for so be careful about getting into any kind of argument or debate while making an amends.
After the amends are made we need to guard our hearts and minds and understand that just because we are ready to move on - other people might not be so ready. I had a friend who had gotten sober, made her amends, completed the steps and reached 3 years of sobriety, but the fact that her daughter still didn’t trust her or let her into her life really hurt her and ultimately became her demise. And no it is not fair that some people’s family seem ready to forgive and forget while others keep everything at a distance. To be honest, I know some people that have over ten years of sobriety that are still not invited to family and holiday events. And I know some people with less than one year of sobriety who have family and friends clamoring around them at every turn. Acceptance plays a major role in our ability to move forward in sobriety with or without some of the important people in our lives. If we cannot accept that some people may not ever be ready to welcome us back in - then we will not be able to maintain sobriety long term.
Instead of focusing on who isn’t responding the way we would like, we should focus on who we do have in our lives. The family and friends that are willing to try again, the new friends from rehab, the meeting rooms and the new people flooding into our lives as we venture out into the world as sober people. While I did have to let a lot of people go in the beginning, I can tell you that I have received so much more love and acceptance in sobriety than I ever received in my addiction.
If you have an amends story that you think might benefit someone who is going through the process for the first time or the tenth time…. Feel free to leave in the comments below.