Recovery is an individual journey. Every person travels it differently, with unique experiences and opportunities. When a loved one is in recovery, they are working on their mind, body, and spiritual connection to themselves and others. Part of this experience is rebuilding family connections through amends. Making amends for harm caused is part of the 12 Steps of AA. The 12 Steps help people with a substance use disorder create lasting change in recovery and reconnect with family to help cement that change.
Moving Through the Steps
The steps in recovery with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are 8 and 9. They include making a list of persons harmed and making direct amends where possible to those people. Outside of harming themselves or others, making amends is set as a goal because it helps people recognize how they hurt others and seeks to create space for healing for themselves and those they wronged. When someone harms others, they often lose a relationship with that person or at least that person’s trust. A loss of trust can be hard to rebuild unless the person comes back and admits what they did, then seeks amends as a result. The outcome of making amends doesn’t always end in relationships picking up where they left off, but the process is cathartic and necessary to move on.
People in recovery find these steps quite challenging. They face their fears, failures, and difficulties from substance use behavior. The times they hurt people, were absent, or caused pain to loved ones is not easy to face. The fault is squarely on them, whether they like it or not. The person may not even remember the incidents in question from memory, but others may remember them quite well. What comes up may be feelings of guilt, shame, or something else entirely. Making amends is an important step in recovery. The theme of making amends is forgiveness, and although it is one of the steps people may not like, it comes at this point in the AA journey for a reason. It means the person has come to a point where they are ready to move forward through this step, but it takes some finesse to do it without causing more harm to loved ones.
Have a Plan
Don’t walk blindly into this step. Making amends is important, no matter if a person is going through AA or not. Before starting, it helps to write a list of people harmed. Write down what happened, who was harmed, and how you could make amends. Once the pain they caused someone else to experience is understood, the person with a substance use disorder can work to ensure it does not happen again. It is healthy and wise to avoid making the same mistakes in the future by writing things down, confronting the person head-on, and creating a space for the healing of broken trust. There may be an opportunity to cultivate a new and better family bond that will only grow in depth and reach.
It is difficult to be sincere when not every person thinks what they did hurt another person. Maybe they don’t recall the event, so making amends feels hard. Perhaps they are not aware of how much harm they caused, so it does not feel as important as addressing other harm they caused. If a person feels harmed, then amends should be made. Conversely, the family member may not have been aware of what was done to them. If that is the case, it is still important for that person to make amends, because they thought they had caused harm in some way. Some ways to create an authentic apology:
- Be humble and don’t assume anything.
- Accept responsibility for actions and what those actions brought.
- Admit fault.
- Change behavior and demonstrate that healing has started.
- Make an effort to rebuild trust.
Address harm caused or intended and take full responsibility for negative behavior. Be honest and outline the steps to be taken for demonstrating that behavior is changing. Work to regain trust, but be sincere if you want your efforts to be taken seriously.
Actions Speak Loudly
Saying the words “I’m sorry” is not enough. Words will only go so far and remember that not everyone is quick to forgive and move on. A loved one might need time to accept amends and feel okay with it. The person may need to know the hurt will never be caused again before working on trust. “Living amends” is about making daily changes, walking the walk, and showing a true commitment to everyone around. True changes show that the person is serious and is working little by little to shift towards a positive space with all involved. It is worth it to cross the bridge on the journey of healing towards making amends. It does not mean it will all go smoothly but at least being sincere and honest will go a long way towards reconciling those important family relationships.