“We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Making amends should always be done under the supervision of a sponsor. In Step 8 we became willing to make amends all persons we had harmed. That willingness is a must but, as we move forward with actual amends, sometimes direct and in person amends will not be in the best interest of all parties. This is why the help of a sponsor that has experience in working through the Steps is a must.
My first struggle with amends is determining my motivation. A primary purpose of making amends is to acknowledge the harm that we have caused and to demonstrate our changed behaviors in order to provide those we have harmed with the opportunity to heal. Sometimes though, I have found that my real motivation is to defend, in part or in whole, my behavior that resulted in the harm. A good sponsor can help you recognize unhealthy motivations and help you determine how you can resolve the struggle. Sometimes I have looked at my list and decided that I shouldn’t make direct amends only to have my sponsor question my motivation with that decision. Maybe I am wanting to avoid direct amends because of embarrassment or I fear how the person may react. Maybe the person on my list has harmed me in some way or I believe they have harmed me worse than I have harmed them. While our action of making amends offers an opportunity for healing to those we have harmed, it’s important for us to recognize that the healing that takes place in us is often far greater than anything that can take place in others. Making amends will help us break free from the chains of guilt, shame, and remorse that we may have carried with us for years. As these chains fall from us, we find that we can step forward in our recovery in ways we never imagined.
When making direct amends, I have found it works best for me to write out what I want to say to the person I have harmed. I want to make sure I don’t forget anything and that their response doesn’t lead me to react in anger or in self defense. I make sure to address only my actions and harms, even if they have harmed me in some way. I remember one of the first times I met with someone to make amends. This person and I had been very close for many years but both of us were unstable and struggling in many ways. I had harmed this person in a way that destroyed our relationship. In the years since our conflict, I had recognized my role in what had happened. I carefully wrote out what I wanted to own and say but then I began to build a scenario in my mind of how this was going to work. I would read my statement carefully owning my behavior without addressing anything they had done to harm me, but as I did so they would be overcome with guilt and shame about their behavior and they would apologize to me for their actions. I carefully read my statement to my former friend. I could sense they were being impacted by my actions and when I finished, I paused and waited for their response. They sat there for a minute, cleared their throat, and said, “You really were an asshole weren’t you?” With everything in me I wanted to lash out. I wanted to list all the ways they had harmed me. Their response was the perfect example of why our relationship had failed. But in that moment I focused on what my sponsor had told me. I had owned my behavior that had caused harm. I can’t control anyone’s response. I am only responsible for my actions. Somehow, I managed to keep my mouth shut and walk away. I was able to meet later in the day to process what had happened with my sponsor. Even with the anger I had experienced in the moment, I somehow felt lighter and more at ease. A couple years later that person reached out to me to make amends for the harm they had caused and specifically mentioned the way they had responded when I made amends.
Step 9 doesn’t always result in restored friendships, but my experience has been that if I can own the harms I have committed and I can offer to attempt to make things right, the effort always results in a restoration of my soul. If you have questions or would like to talk, reach out to email@example.com. I’d love to talk with you.