Owning up to what we have done wrong is no small task – in fact, admitting that we have significantly harmed our loved ones is one of the most painful processes we may ever undergo. Making amends does not merely entail admitting where we were at fault, it requires an honest and thorough look at the past harms we have caused, and a sincere commitment to doing everything in our power to completely change our ways.
The Truth About Making Amends
While the process of making amends does not come until later on in the stepwork experience, we will likely be eager to apologize to everyone we possibly can as quickly as possible. The first thing I wanted to do when I got out of inpatient treatment was call up all of my old drinking buddies and let them know how sorry I was – and how much I had changed. While my motives were probably partially good, my top priority was relieving myself of the overwhelming guilt I had begun to feel as soon as the mental fog started lifting. I was separated from the anesthetizing effects from alcohol for long enough to experience the bitter pain of reality, and the overwhelming shame associated with the extensive damage I had done. I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel better and I wanted to let everyone know, “Hey, I’m sober now. I’m making changes. I’m better now.” I wanted to beg forgiveness, believing that social exoneration would allow me some kind of emotional relief. And God knew I needed relief. The aching void I had been incessantly attempting to fill with chemical substance was now empty once again, and it throbbed and it pined and it begged to be occupied. Maybe a little clemency would ease the pain; maybe a little acknowledgment would take my mind off of all of the accumulative injury. The wreckage.
Why Do We Make Amends?
The point of making amends, I later learned, was not to prove anything to anyone (aside from myself). The point was not to gain forgiveness and, in doing so, feel less shame and guilt. The point was not to rid myself of uncomfortable emotions at all – no, not really. If I had done the work thoroughly, honestly, and purposefully up to that point in time, I would be feeling much better about myself as it was. I would have come to believe and whole-heartedly trust in a power greater than myself; to trust that everything was unfolding just as it should be. I would be in a place, emotionally and mentally, to accept that perhaps some wounds were too deep to be remedied. After all, no one owed me anything – especially forgiveness. The true point of this entire process was learning to forgive myself, clean my side of the street, and thoroughly change the ways in which I handled life and relationships.
The truth about making amends is this – it goes very well, most of the time. Better than expected. As addicts and alcoholics, we generally like to dramatize things in our heads, meditating on worry and potential disaster and developing tragic stories about ‘what could happen’. We will likely ruminate on how our amends might go for months before they actually take place, running through every possible scenario until we are blue in the face and emotionally spent.
‘Sorry’ Will Not Cut It
And then we will sit down with our mothers, fathers, relatives, friends, bosses, coworkers, classmates, and take responsibility for our part in all past conflicts, upsets, and broken relationships. We have come to a place of acceptance, and we know that no matter what happens, we will be okay. The point is to clear away the wreckage of our pasts, making ample space for newfound fulfillment, spiritual achievement, and self-actualization. And we do so, and most of the time it goes very well. We will hear things like, “Listen, come on – it’s in the past, no big deal.” We will hear things like, “I’ve moved on – time for you to move on too.” Things like, “Water under the bridge,” “Let’s start over,” “I forgive you, and I know you have come such a long way.”
And then sometimes, we will hear things like, “Too much damage has been done,” “I just don’t think we will ever have the same friendship that we had,” and, “I don’t want you to a part of my life.” When we hear things like this, we must remind ourselves that nothing is owed to us, and things are unfolding just as they should be. Our contentment is no longer contingent on anything external – we look inside of ourselves for gratification; we look to spiritual connectedness and acts of altruism. We trust, and we know deep in the pit of our souls that we have transformed, awakened, and healed. Time heals, but it takes much more than time. It takes work – intentional and thorough and often quite painful. And while we ourselves are healed, our relationships may not be – and this is okay. We cannot always fix what we damage and break. And this is okay. So long as we sincerely try with everything that is in us.
Recovery is a beautiful and miraculous process. You have quite a lot to look forward to. We all do.