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Making Amends

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If you’ve been to a couple of meetings now and had a chance for it all to sink in you’re probably experiencing something we’ve all experienced: getting laser focused on the fear and/or anticipation of making those amends.

Thanks to pop culture and perhaps having one or two amends made to us, most people know about the process of making amends in AA. So, it’s one thing to know it exists, a completely different animal to think you might have to actually do it yourself. Don’t worry. Take a deep breath and relax.

Some of us, when we first came into the program, wanted to jump right to those amends. We think, I ‘m different now. Why can’t I just go and tell everyone that I’m sorry and put this whole messy thing behind me. However, there’s good reason why you shouldn’t go about it this way. The steps are in order for a reason. It’s important for us to clean house and know exactly how we’re going to go about making amends before we jump right into it. It’s also important to have the guidance of a sponsor who has more experience with the process.

Making amends is a tricky process. And there is potential to create additional harm if it’s not approached in the appropriate manner. For instance, there may be some people who would be better off never hearing from us again. In these cases, we exercise what is known as a living amends. We change our behavior in the future and ask for forgiveness around the actions with that person.

The second part of the step tells us to make amends “except when to do so would injure them or others.” The potential to create harm is not only for the person receiving the amends. Let’s say that there is something you did that about which you are experiencing guilt. You’d like to make amends. However, doing so has the potential to negatively impact members of your family, or impact your job (which would impact your family) or other unforeseen repercussions. Sometimes, as we are caught up in wanting to be a better person, and frankly wanting to unburden our own feelings of guilt, we can overlook these possible outcomes. That’s why it is vitally important to work with a sponsor when doing this step.

Ok, so now that we’ve covered the pitfalls of making amends, let’s talk about the good stuff. This is the part in the recovery process when many of us have really started to feel like we turned a corner and our lives were changing for the better. It’s really scary but the payoff is huge. We are taking ownership for our actions. That’s why many sponsors suggest that we use language like “I was wrong when…” rather than “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry is a throw away. It means nothing. Saying I was wrong takes ownership for the wrongs we have done. And it is even better when followed up with saying something like, “is there anything I can do to make it right.” The third part is to ask the person if there is anything that they feel that they need to say. It’s easy to steamroll someone when making an amends, dump it in their lap, and leave feeling like things are clean. However, that person may have something they’d like to talk about that we didn’t even realize. That’s why it’s important to give them the space to do so.

Some amends go great. Some you’re not really sure. Some are super tough. And some never happen at all. Be prepared for all outcomes. Remember this is not about perfection. It is about cleaning up our side of the street. It is about taking ownership for our actions.

What we can promise you is this. However they go, after some initial feelings of uneasiness, you will feel much better. Standing up to our problems without attachment to the outcome is a process of building back our character and rejoining the world of people with integrity. So if you’re new and wanting to jump right in to making amends, take a breather and work the rest of the steps first. They’ll be plenty of time and it’s going to change your life.