Making Amends

It’s a toss-up as to which is the more dreaded step in our list of twelve: step four, where we were asked to look at ourselves and our past, or step nine where we are asked to make amends to other people. It’s one thing to admit what we have done to ourselves and our sponsor, who, by that time, we know has a sympathetic ear.  It’s quite another to go and talk to someone we have wronged, admit our faults, say we’re sorry and are willing do our best not let it happen again in the future.

I think it’s important to know what we are talking about when speaking of making amends.  It is the act of making compensation for an injury, loss or insult; it is improving one’s behaviour in order to rectify that fault.  In other words, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again and this is what I wish to do to make up for it.  Making amends goes beyond an apology. It is a promise to make the changes necessary so that it will never happen again. It is a promise to compensate in some way for the wrong I have committed.

This step is probably most dreaded because we tend to believe that we have no control over the outcome.  What if they shut me out?  What if they refuse to forgive me? What if they don’t think it’s enough? What if repaying monies owed or replacing goods isn’t acceptable. It would be dreadful indeed if this step was focused on receiving forgiveness from others. It is not.

One of the remarkable aspects of this step is that when I approach another person to make amends, I am not asking for their forgiveness. I do not beg for their pity, mercy or understanding of me and my disease.  I hope I may be forgiven, but if not, my amends is still successful because I have admitted my fault, asked for forgiveness and offered compensation all for my own recovery. Forgiveness is, in fact, beside the point of this step.

I recently heard someone share his story at a meeting.  His sponsor suggested that as an amends to his parents that he cook dinner for them once a week.  His mother protested, saying that just having him come over for dinner was enough for her.  His sponsor insisted and he acquiesced.  And so every week for a year he planned a menu, bought the necessary groceries, rode the bus over to his parent’s home on Thursday afternoon and cooked for his parents.

On the surface, he was making up for all of the lies, the let-downs, and the disloyalty he had shown his folks over the years of active addiction. Beneath that, he gave back to his parent a son they thought they had lost.  They learned how to relate to each other on many different levels.  He showed them that their lessons on punctuality, responsibility and respect had not been completely lost.  He himself learn what it means to be a son to his parents and the rewards of his relationship with them. As an added bonus, he learned the very useful skill of cooking; with each dinner he gained new self-confidence and challenged himself by preparing more complicated recipes. What a wise sponsor that man has.

It is important to go about this step with a sponsor.  Perhaps one may work through what appear to be the easier amends first before handling the more difficult ones.  A sponsor is a guide through this process.  Role playing before the actual event may alleviate some of the ‘pre-amends’ anxiety. A sponsor will also help in determining which amends, if any, shouldn’t be made. Simply saying: “I might feel bad,” isn’t enough to let one off the hook in this step.  I take responsibility; I did the deed. I admit to it, I offer compensation and I change my ways.

While we may not like the idea of this step before we begin, it is worth noting that it is rare when an offer of amends is rejected.  Sometimes what has been weighing heavily on our minds can’t even be recalled by the other person. For most people, it is enough to know that we are sorry and are working our recovery.  Receiving forgiveness for our wrongs? That is the icing of the cake.  Step nine provides further concrete to our foundation on which to build our lives in recovery.  I am just scratching the surface in this blog. Fortunately there is a wealth of knowledge about this step in the literature on the shelves of meeting rooms and in the experience of other recovering addicts and alcoholics.

♥  ♥  ♥

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