Why Making Amends Matters

  • By Aaron Mills
  • 28 Nov, 2017

As we continue to make progress in recovery, we must eventually face the reality of the harm we have done to other people's lives as a direct result of our actions.

In simple terms, we can’t have the opportunity for forgiveness until we take ownership of the damage that we have done.

We do this for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. But the impact of making amends extends so much farther, and no matter why else we do it, we do it for ourselves and our own future well-being.

Living with shame and guilt is one of the best ways to guarantee a relapse. When we come face-to-face with what we have done to other people, and to their lives, it leads to feelings of sadness, remorse, and shame. This is a normal human response to doing something wrong. We are indeed meant to feel guilty for hurting other people.

This is the ground zero moment when we can begin to forgive ourself for abusing other people. It is also the moment when we can decide to try and mend the broken relationships left in the wake of our addiction .

Forgiveness begins with forgiving yourself

Personal forgiveness is a powerful force. Its value can hardly be overstated. It has the power to stitch back together broken families and friendships.

We cannot truly forgive ourselves unless we have first asked for forgiveness from those we have wronged. When we have finally tried to make whole the people left in our wake, we can begin to truly forgive ourselves.

Making amends is critical to preventing a relapse

Not only do we heal through the process of making things right with other people, we can heal damaged relationships that would otherwise act as triggers to bring us back into the same cycles.

Living under a mountain of guilt and shame will not lead to a healthy future. Making amends takes a big step toward being a better person, not just wishing we were that better person.

How we make amends

In depends on what we have done wrong. Sometimes a letter or a phone call is all that is needed to deliver that apology for the way we spoke, the way we acted, or how we behaved.

When the damage is deeper, and the relationship is more important, the journey of healing can take much longer.

This process can take a long time, and to be honest, once you learn to make amends you should find yourself doing it occasionally the rest of your life. When we wrong each other, it is indeed the right thing to do so both parties can heal and move forward.

The people we hurt are often as broken about the situation as we are, left with nothing but bitterness, resentment, or anger. Our actions can have long-lasting consequences we may never really understand.

We can’t change what happened. But we can choose to do the right thing now.

Sometimes it is valuable for us to work through making amends and confront what we have done in the privacy of a group, or in an individual therapy session. That can be a really good way to get started, and has real value.

It is a good idea to ask your therapist if you are ready to take things “out of the classroom” and into the real world. It is OK if you are not at that point yet.

We don’t really get to see the full brunt of what we have done and feel its full effect until we make amends in the real world. No amount of talking can really replace that experience fully.

You may have been asked to make amends with every single person you have ever wronged. That is a lofty goal, to say the least.

If that is your goal, that is OK, but if you choose to focus on the people actually in your life today, your living relatives and friends, and the people who will remember you, that is also perfectly valid.

Sometimes the process of making amends can take a long time. Sometimes it is exhausting, and could even be unhealthy. It is OK to take a break and re-examine what has been happening.

Looking for old triggers and new ones

Sometimes the process of fixing relationships and making things right can bring about new triggers or resurrect old ones. Watch out for that, so you do not find yourself reverting to old behaviors. If you do find that may be happening, get support. Talk to your therapist or sponsor.

This part of the process should only take place after you are in a place where you can accept the pain it brings and not revert to self-destructive cycles as a result. You and your therapist will know if that is true when that time arrives.

The exercise

With the help of your therapist or sponsor:

  • Draw your name on a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Inside that circle, write the name of every person you've hurt that you still see every day.
  • Draw another,  circle around the first. Inside that circle, write the names of family members/extended family members you have hurt.
  • Draw another larger circle and write the name of every other person you can remember hurting in the last year.
  • Draw a final circle around those and inside write the name of anyone you can remember hurting in your lifetime. 

The list of wrongs

Once you have a list of names, begin to write down the ways you have wronged them. Try to go beyond the obvious things such as stealing, or getting into a fist fight. But think about the ways those actions impacted their lives into the future. Is that person you got into a fight with more likely to be aggressive toward his children? After you stole from that person, did they rack up debt that kept them from getting a better job or owning a home? Did they blame it on someone else and create another broken relationship? Did the person you got drunk and hooked up with end up in a divorce?

The plan

Once you have a list of names and wrongs, you can work on a plan with your counselor or therapist. In a case where you need to make amends with someone who has died, you can use imagery or even an empty chair to allow for that part of the process. This can sound silly, but pain and grief are real, and feeling them is important.

The response of someone you apologize to

It is important to remember that while we want to mend broken relationships, they may not all be mendable. Some people may not like your apology and not accept it. They may have a very different reaction to it. They may not respond at all, or write back anything.

It is important to try and do what we can, even though this is the case. We can’t make anyone accept our apology, and we don’t have a right to force them to do anything. All we can do is our part.

A therapist's perspective: Roy's story

Roy was a 32-year-old bank employee at the regional branch of a national bank. Roy entered counseling at the request of his parents after his second divorce. The divorce had been a painful process, and unlike his first divorce, the former couple was now vying for custody of their two children.

Roy had grown up in the county in which he worked. His family had not used alcohol or substances in their home. However, Roy’s father was frequently gone on business trips, leaving Roy, his brother and their mother alone.

In high school Roy had joined a high school social club that allowed him the opportunity to connect with other boys his age as well as compete in local events. Roy was introduced to alcohol at these gatherings and he became popular since he could drink more than most of the other kids. Although Roy had many blackout incidents, his parents never found out he was drinking.

Although Roy continued attending the club and getting drunk, his mother rarely checked on him and Roy stayed at friends’ houses after drinking. Upon graduation from high school, Roy attended a local community college and received his AA degree in business. He married his high school sweetheart and found a job at the local bank.

Marriage was not easy for Roy and he began drinking even more heavily. He became verbally abusive to his wife and after two years of a difficult marriage she divorced him. Roy became depressed and drank more heavily during the next three months. Roy met another woman through an online dating service and married her eight months later. Roy believed that this wife was better, because she stopped him from drinking.

They had two children over the next four years. However, Roy became very depressed after his second child and began drinking very heavily again. His wife threatened to leave him if he did not stop drinking, and after six months of fighting over the abuse, this wife also left Roy. Roy entered another, and more severe, depressive episode, believing he was only able to make it through with the use of alcohol. At this point, Roy’s family admitted that they knew he had a drinking problem but were hoping it would go away. They strongly encouraged him to go to therapy since he was fighting for custody of his children

Roy began therapy believing that he was depressed and just needed a little help to get better. As he continued, he became aware of his alcohol problem and began to work on his sobriety. He joined AA, attending nearly six times a week. He began to work through many of the layers of pain, loss and guilt, and was finally having better days.

Roy struggled with making amends as a step in his AA. He told his sponsor that he was not ready and that he needed more time. As we worked through many issues regarding his desire to avoid this step, Roy finally said that he was terrified to admit to everyone that he was wrong. He was afraid that what he had done was so bad it had ruined many people’s lives. We worked through his fear of failure and I continued to encourage Roy to think about making amends. After another month, Roy entered his session and said, “It’s time.”

“What is it time for?” I said. “It’s time for me to begin making amends.” he replied. “I went back and re-processed some of the other steps with my sponsor and I believe it’s time for me to take this next step.” 

“Great,” I said. “This is going to be tough, and you may have a desire to run away from the issues and counseling, but I think you will do well – and I will help.”

“It’s just that I’ve been such a failure, and this just highlights all the evil I have done,” he said with dismay. “You’re right, but the only way to move on is to look at the failure straight in the eye and confront it.” 

Roy and I worked through the exercise of listing people he had harmed.

Roy was quickly able to put names in the first circle: his family, his ex-wives and his current friends. His other circles included individuals from high school, girls he dated, and people he had met while traveling and vacationing.

After working through the list we decided to take one person at a time, listing how he had injured them and how he might make amends with them. We transferred the names onto the "broken fences" sheet. I told Roy that this would help us visually represent the destruction and the changes that he would need to do to make amends. For Roy, most of the amends were the simple apology he had developed during his time at AA. He liked the apology and it allowed him to explain how he had injured the other person, how it was his fault and that he was sad that he had done this.

We discussed whether he would call and talk, e-mail or mail his letters. Roy decided to mail the letters. We also discussed how he would react if the others responded back, and we worked through how he would deal with their anger, sadness or joy.

Roy put the plan into action and continued to work on it for many months. In some cases he was actually able to help others in their journey of healing and recovery. Some he was able to help get into recovery while with others he just shared his experience. In one case, Roy was able to help an old friend that had been contemplating suicide and was abusing severely. This inspired Roy, and soon after this he began discussing his desire to go back to school and get a degree in psychology in order to help others.

In closing

Making amends is a hard step in the recovery process. Dealing with pain and grief is not fun, but it is worth it. This is not something to be taken upon lightly as it is also a time a lot of people relapse. Relationships are often places that addicts have triggers.

When you're ready, this step will set you free of guilt and shame and allow you to forgive yourself.  You will have made things right with the people you hurt to the best of your ability, and as far as their willingness to accept it will allow. At the end of the day, this process can take time, but healing usually does. 

Books worth reading on the subject

Black, C. (1981). It Will Never Happen to Me . Denver: MAC Printing.

Gordon, E. (2002). To End All Wars: A True Story About the Will to Survive and the Courage to Forgive . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Miller, K. (1991). A Hunger for Healing . New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Article by Aaron Mills and David Lawson

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By Jenny Hunt 22 Jan, 2018
So often I talk about the big blessings of sobriety – great job, great life, great friends, great relationship with my family, and that feeling of inner peace and contentment. Sometimes I forget about the little things. Little things that were so out of my reach in addiction, I didn’t even believe they were possible. So here are some of those things, in no particular order:
By Jodi MacNeal 22 Jan, 2018
By Aaron Mills 20 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 20 Jan, 2018
Two days after the 1986 NBA draft, No. 2 pick Len Bias was dead of cardiac arrest after of a cocaine overdose.

Len Bias: Best player Maryland had ever seen (maybe the best Maryland player ever, depending on how you feel about Juan Dixon). The future of the Celtics. About to sign an endorsement deal with Reebok. Life was perfect.

Cocaine killed that. He was 22.

Bias hadn’t left home to play college ball; he was a home-grown talent who came up just outside D.C. and played ball in Maryland so he wouldn’t have to leave his family. He had a future as wide-open and promising as any kid, ever. Already a star, a freak of athletic power and poise, he might have changed the world of professional basketball. He’d fueled the dreams of a thousand city kids who wanted to play like him, be him. He swaggered, Len Bias did. His opponents couldn’t fathom him: “He’d jump and his knees would be in my teeth.” He dunked on guys, whether he needed to or not, just because he could. Len Bias could fly.

And then cocaine ended him.

Here’s how it went down: Bias and three buddies were snorting coke in a dorm room, suite 1103 in Washington Hall. Bias did a line, tried to get up, fell back on the bad and lapsed into seizure. One guy held his legs. Another one put the handle of a pair of scissors in Bias’s mouth, to keep him from biting his own tongue. The third somehow called 911 and mumbled, over and over, that his friend was in trouble. Kept saying his friend’s name, even when the emergency operator told him it didn’t matter. “This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die.”

But drugs don’t differentiate. Substance use, abuse and addiction have attacked athletes across the spectrum of sport.

By Emily Johanson 18 Jan, 2018
If a stranger in a gas station parking lot asks this question, it’s easy to assume what’s going on.

“Nope. I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yep, thanks.”

After working a full day, then sitting through a 4-hour class, the last thing I was in the mood for was to be pestered by a drug dealer at 11 p.m. All I wanted was to get my Marlboro Smooths and go home.

As I got into my car, annoyed by the fact that I had to start it with pliers (broken car keys aren’t worth the $200 replacement), something told me to stop.

I reversed, and rolled down my window next to the mysterious black Toyota.

“What are you selling?”

He told me that he had whatever I needed: Weed, percs, Xanax, heroin, flakka, oxies, you name it.

Addiction was too close to home to keep from speaking up.

“Do you realize what you’re doing? Do you realize what you’re selling?”

He was silent for a minute, staring at me. After what felt like eternity looking into this man’s eyes, I decided that I had the freedom to continue. What else do I say? I began to tell some of my story. I served him my heart on a silver platter.

“You don’t have to do this. There are other ways to make money.”

He looked down in shame. I encouraged him to take a few of my Desert Rose company cards in case he knew someone who needed help. He got out of his car, took the cards from my hand and stood there, shaking his head. With tears in his eyes, he said, “They’re for me.”

I sat there with this guy for 45 minutes while he poured out his heart and story.

Gary told me he’s 49 years old, works on classic cars by day, and sells drugs by night for extra money. He has a beautiful son who he loves with all of his heart. When he removed his hat and pulled his shirt collar aside, his bald head and IV port revealed his personal nightmare: Gary was also fighting stage four colon cancer. He made it clear that his cancer was not an excuse for his behavior, or for his personal drug use.

I was caught off guard when Gary squeezed my hands and began to pray. He prayed against forces of the enemy. He prayed for blessing over my life. He prayed protection and favor over his son. For himself, he prayed for wisdom and strength to do the next right thing.

As he walked back to his car, he turned around and said, “It’s time for me to go home and kiss my son good night. Thank you for reminding me of what’s important.”

Every day, we pass people by, like they’re just part of the scenery. We have absolutely no clue what kind of story, beauty, and pain lie beneath the surface.

If you're in pain, please know we understand and we're ready to help. Call us today at (844) 338-5587. 
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
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How do you carry your recovery into the world? Do you pin it on daily, like a badge of honor? Do you bring it out just for special occasions, or do you keep it well and truly hidden?

Last month, a longtime acquaintance told me (in slightly hushed tones) that he’s in recovery. 

I was glad that I didn't hear any traces of shame or guilt in his voice. His long-ago drinking and drug use? It’s just the life he was living at the time. He’s not afraid of being judged, or of any stigma attached to substance abuse and recovery.

It’s just that he’s moved on. He’s private about being in recovery and it’s not particularly relevant to the life he's achieved – husband, father, business owner, artist, athlete. He sponsors people, even quietly mentions that he’s a former addict when he thinks it might help somebody. He probably won’t bring it up with his kids unless they ask him point-blank, once they’re old enough to understand. It’s a crazy-healthy way to be.

For some people, declaring their recovery to the world is a part of staying clean. It gives them a sense of identity and a tribe – their own #MeToo community. They’re vocal, active, engaged. These are the folks going into the prisons, leading the meetings, talking to groups of high school students and their parents. Walking though recovery means talking about recovery. They have no secrets.

Then there are others who’ve closed and locked the door. The subject is not open for discussion, and if you happen to touch upon it, everybody’s going to feel a little uncomfortable for a while. This happened to me not long ago, with a pastor friend. Trying to find a way to refuse a glass of prosecco I offered, he made a joke about being an overachiever in everything – including, at one time, drinking. He made his point in a way that made it clear that was all he was planning to say on the matter. His right, and I respect that.

It seems to me that there are a million ways to navigate long-term recovery. What’s your way?
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