by Devon Berkheiser, Psy.D.
For members of AA/NA, making amends is part of the program. The 9th step of the 12 steps is to make direct amends to people that have been hurt. Practical Recovery and SMART Recovery don’t have a specific recommendation about making amends, but many people in recovery want to repair and rebuild their relationships. In order to do so, it’s often necessary to address hurt that has been caused by your addictive behaviors. Here are some tips for making amends… the Practical Recovery Way.
1. Acknowledge your role
The first step toward repairing relationships is taking responsibility for your role in their breakdown. When feeling ashamed, it’s tempting to avoid addressing the issue altogether or try to deflect those difficult feelings by blaming the other person for the problem. But in order to move forward, the best thing to do is acknowledge the mistakes that have been made and accept responsibility for your part in them.
After you acknowledge that you’ve made mistakes or caused hurt, apologize for doing so. Be sincere and thoughtful in your apology. One thing to avoid is saying something like, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Such a statement fails to acknowledge and validate the other person’s feelings. While you may not have intended to cause pain, it’s important to acknowledge that the other person was hurt, regardless of your intentions. A sincere apology is one that adequately addresses the other person’s feelings rather than attempting to offer an excuse or an explanation.
3. Make it right… if possible
Sometimes you can take steps to right a wrong. For example, if you stole money from a loved one while you were in the depths of your addiction, you can develop a plan to pay them back. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not possible to make the situation better. There are certain mistakes that simply can’t be undone. But you can commit to not making the same mistakes again, and you can let your loved ones know what you are doing in order to stay on a better, healthier path.
When making amends, don’t forget to make amends with yourself. Self-forgiveness can be one of the hardest parts of recovery, but it’s crucial. Continuing to punish yourself only serves to maintain feelings of shame, which then put you at risk for relapse. Acknowledge your past mistakes and then commit to working on acceptance and self-forgiveness. While this often takes time, it’s an important step in healing the most important relationship of all… the relationship with yourself.