It all hits us, hard and fast and at once. Finally, our minds are clear, and the damage we have done while enslaved by chemical substance comes rushing back in a vivid, painful tidal wave of shame and self-loathing. The people we carelessly hurt, the moral standards we so readily compromised – we are slapped with the stark reality of our darkest, most inhumane moments, and it hurts us badly. It hurts us badly because we are not corrupt or malicious or uncaring –it hurts us badly because we are good. We sit for several weeks amidst a heaping pile of personal failing, contemplating all of our accumulated deficiencies as our brains slowly dry out. We are taught that addiction is a disease, and we are told that it is not our fault – we have simply lost all choice in the matter.
Eager to Make Things Right
We sit through countless hours of intensive therapy, and we feel our minds opening, ever so gradually, to the once unfathomable concept of ‘never again’. We are introduced to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and we begin working the steps with a sponsor. We learn what it means to ‘make amends’, and we begin to feel an overwhelming sense of urgency. We think of our friends, the ones we have stolen from, lied to, and hurt over and over again. We think of our ex-girlfriends, our ex-boyfriends, our husbands, our wives – we think of how sad they were when we left them, and how happy they’ll be to hear that we’re doing so well. “I’ve got to call and let them know I’m better now,” we think to ourselves. “They deserve to know.”
Taking an Honest Look at Our Part
But when we step back and take an honest look at our intentions, what do we see? We will likely find that our main motivation is to rid ourselves of the uncomfortable feelings that go hand-in-hand with self-realization. We feel remorse, shame, and self-loathing, and we feel that we will be rid of these unpleasant and newfound emotions as soon as we apologize to our injured loved ones. On some deep level, our intentions are still wholly self-involved. We want to take action immediately to save ourselves from the unpleasant feelings inspired by the ultimate recognition of long-term transgression. We want to call up our mothers and fathers and friends and lovers and scream and cry, “I’m so sorry, I am so so sorry!” And we want them, in turn, to tell us, “It is alright, we love you so, so much.” We want instant gratification; we want things to be fixed and fine so we can move on and feel better.
But it isn’t so easy.
Think of it this way – we have done years and years of deep and profound damage. We have spent what might have been the majority of our lives relentlessly harming those who have shown us nothing but unconditional love. 30 short days in inpatient rehab will not remedy this. The steps are in order for a reason – if you haven’t yet heard this, you surely will (again and soon). Making amends comes after getting honest, trusting God, and making a searching and fearless moral inventory. Making amends comes after working through character defects and thoroughly understanding our part in every unfortunate circumstance. Once we have rid our souls of years of corrosion and sediment; once we have begun to formulate a connection with and reliance upon a higher power of our understanding, only then will we be ready to begin correcting past harms. And even then, the timing may not be ideal.
Recovery – A Lifelong Process
And if the timing is not ideal, we must learn to be at peace with that. We must begin to understand the difference between apologizing and restoring justice. The idea is to restore, in a direct way, that which we have personally broken or damaged – and if we cannot do so directly, then symbolically. The idea is to avoid doing any more harm, even if that means sitting with feelings of discomfort until we finally accept reality for what it is. The best apology is changed behavior. If we cannot take responsibility in person, we can do so by altering the way we conduct ourselves. For more suggestions regarding amends and the most effective and considerate way to make them, please see our article entitled ‘More About Making Amends’.
Try to keep in mind the fact that recovery is a lifelong process, and that the universe has a funny way of putting people into our lives exactly when we are ready for them. We may not see an old friend for years, and run into them one day while waiting in line at the post office. Nothing happens in our time – and how beautiful that is! We rarely have any concept of what is good for us… not for quite awhile, at least. Trusting that things will unfold as they should is not always easy, but the longer we remain in recovery, the more we will recognize that this is so.