“Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
As I had mentioned in my previous blog post on step eight, step nine is probably the most well-known step of the twelve-step program. Before reaching this step, we have reflected on the impact of substance use and addiction in our own lives and begun to recognize the effects of our substance use and addiction on those around us. To do this, we made a list of people we suspect we harmed through our use. In step nine, it is time to act on the list that we compiled in the form of amends. However, before we can act, we must first know how to act.
You have probably heard the phrase “making amends” before, but what exactly does that mean? Often, people associate “making amends” with an making an apology. People think it is about saying sorry for your transgressions. However, that definition is not quite right. An amendment is not about simply saying sorry; it is not an apology. Instead, making amends is about making change. Just like an amendment to the United States constitution is a change designed to improve the document, making amends in recovery is a change designed to improve our metaphorical “document” (i.e. our relationships and sense of self).
In making amends, it is best practice to make our amends directly to those we have harmed. Meaning, we must sit down, face-to-face, with those that we have harmed through our substance use and addiction. We must take the steps necessary to make the situation right. This typically involves an explanation about our personal struggles with substance use, the program we have been working, fears and insecurities we held, remorse for past behavior, and how we are changing and bettering ourselves. Amends may also include material goods we must replace or debts we must settle too. It is about doing what is within our power to make things right.
While it may be tempting to place great importance on the result of our amends (i.e. receiving forgiveness from the other), the act of making amends is far more important. We may find that some people forgive us. However, there will be some people that will not forgive. While this response is difficult to sit with, it is still extraordinarily important that we made our amends. We did what was within our power, spoke our truth, and, as such, may begin to forgive ourselves and heal.
Before beginning step nine, pay special attention to the last part of the step, “…except when to do so would injure them or others.” While making amends is important, there may be some people that we should not make amends with. These people are those that would be caused additional harm by the act of our amends. Our recovery does not receive priority over the wellbeing of others. It is important to work with a therapist or sponsor throughout this process to ensure our amends promote healing rather than further damage.
By Jonathan Fricke, MA