Making Amends in Recovery

Making Amends in Recovery

Regardless of the nature of your addiction, it negatively impacts everyone in your life, damaging relationships and making it challenging to get the support you need for your continued recovery.

Narcotics Anonymous’ 12-step plan for addiction recovery forms the basis for most addiction treatment options. Early steps involve focusing inward, but once you are relatively secure in your sobriety, it’s time to face steps 8 and 9: making amends.

At Right Path, we know this step can be intimidating and emotionally challenging, but it is also one of the most rewarding steps.

What is Making Amends?

Making amends involves the verbal acknowledgment of any wrongs you have committed against others related to your addiction. You should face the person you harmed, name your wrongs, and ask how you can make things better.

Making amends is not saying you are sorry. The person you harmed probably heard you say sorry before, but your actions never changed, so they may doubt the sincerity of your apology. Show that you are trying to make things right by seeking justice rather than forgiveness.

For example, chances are your daughter has heard you apologize for missing an important event while under the influence, but your behavior never changed; you still missed more events. An apology means nothing to her. But showing her through your actions that you are changing your behavior and being present at future events shows sincerity.

How to Make Amends

Throughout the process, remember that the purpose of making amends is to repair your relationships to better yourself.

  1. Ensure you are confident in your sobriety. Making amends is emotionally challenging, so you’ll want to make sure you can handle it.
  2. Take some time to reflect on your past wrongs, and make a list. Include everything you can think of, no matter how small or even whether the person you wronged was aware of the transgression.
  3. Schedule a time to talk to that person face-to-face. These are not quick, light-hearted conversations that can be squeezed in before they run out the door. You need to set aside a time when you can confront the person, unrushed.
  4. Specifically acknowledge your wrongdoings—list examples of past behaviors or situations you regret.
  5. Listen and validate the person’s feelings. Do not interrupt them if they respond.
  6. Ask how you can make it right and commit to doing it. If the person asks you to do something impossible or unhealthy, tell them you can’t do it but thank them for the opportunity.

Types of Amends

Types of AmendsDirect amends, or a face-to-face admission, is the preferred way of making amends because it proves sincerity and allows time for a dialogue between you and the person you wronged. It is also easier to show respect, honesty, and empathy in person.

While making amends face-to-face is preferred, in some cases, it isn’t possible. If the person you wronged has died or refuses to see you, or if meeting the person can harm your recovery, you can make amends indirectly. In this case, state your wrongs aloud to yourself and commit yourself to do something in honor of them.

The nature of your amends may change depending on the situation. For example, if you harmed someone financially, repaying them may be the best way to make amends, but if you harmed someone with your actions, modifying your behaviors may be the best way.

Overcoming Mental Barriers

There are many reasons people struggle with this step of the recovery process, including:

Fear of Anger

Remember that anger is often a justifiable response to being wronged. You cannot control how the person responds; you can only control your own response.

Fear of Shame

It’s not easy to discuss your failures and how you hurt the people you care about. Remember that you cannot change the past, only the present, so your focus should be on making it better now.

Fear the Apology Comes Too Late

As children, we are trained to apologize immediately, so we may believe it’s too late to apologize to someone, but that isn’t the case. Even if the person we wronged isn’t willing to hear it, or if they have passed away, making amends late is better than never making amends at all.

Regardless of the reason, you struggle to make amends, remember that the purpose of making amends is to face the consequences of your addiction so that you can move beyond them. You may not be able to earn the forgiveness of everyone you’ve wronged, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Benefits of Making Amends

Making amends, while challenging, is often one of the most powerful steps in the 12-step process.

Making amends helps you achieve the following:

  • Bring resolution to you and the person you wronged
  • Improve your self-esteem by taking steps to make things right rather than focusing on the harm you caused
  • Relieve stress caused by fractured relationships
  • Repair trust between you and the person you wronged

Don’t Forget to Make Amends with Yourself!

amends to selfOften, we forget to make amends with the most important person involved in recovery: ourselves.

If we are to truly face our addiction and overcome it, we need to admit that we wronged ourselves. We lost opportunities, and we made poor choices that hurt us. But we can’t blame ourselves for that, or we won’t be able to truly recover and make amends to others.

How you do this is up to you, but find a way to face your wrongdoings and move on. Whatever you do, commit to yourself to break the shame cycle. Write a letter to yourself, say positive affirmations, go on a trip to revisit a specific moment in time, or whatever else you think will bring you peace.

Right Path Can Help

Remember that making amends is just one part of the recovery process, but don’t underestimate its power. You’ll need support for this step, so reach out to others who have already completed this step and ask your sponsor for guidance.

Written by Sergey Zhitar, MD Medical Director

Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.