Learn / What Does Making Amends Mean?
Making amends involves acknowledging and correcting past behaviors. It’s a transformational part of addiction recovery that takes courage, self-awareness, and a willingness to change.
Making amends helps repair relationship problems caused by addiction. While the process may seem daunting at first, you can make amends in a way that’s sincere and respectful. This can be a powerful way to move your healing journey forward.
When you make amends, you acknowledge and take responsibility for your actions that have hurt others. They take different forms, including direct amends, indirect amends, and living amends.
A direct amend entails taking ownership of your actions and confronting the person you’ve harmed in person. Here are some examples of direct amends:
Direct amends aren’t the best approach when they end up doing you or the other person more harm than good. Instead, you can make an indirect amend, which involves changing behaviors that led to the relationship damage. There are different ways to make indirect amends:
Living amends are lifestyle changes you make for the better. These actions show your commitment to long-term recovery:
Step 9 of the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) 12-Step program is about making direct amends1 to people whenever possible. The only exception is when it harms you or the other person. (Step 8 is to make a list of all the people you may have harmed during addiction.)
Many people find that the support they receive from AA meetings helps them prepare to make amends. Talking with your sober community about your history with drugs or alcohol can help you identify what you need to make amends for.
An apology is expressing regret or saying sorry for causing harm to someone. Amends often include apologies, but they go beyond words. Making an amend means taking accountability and action to repair any damages done. Through these restorative actions, you demonstrate your commitment to change.
Making amends is hard. It’s common to struggle with feelings of guilt or shame. And it can be intimidating to be uncertain about how the other person will react.
It’s possible to be too early in the healing journey to start making amends. If you’re actively using drugs or alcohol, making amends can seem like an empty gesture to the other person. While you may genuinely want to repair your relationships, it’s a good idea to focus on your sobriety first. This looks different for different people. For example, some people may require medically supervised detox as a first step, followed by residential alcohol treatment.
As challenging as making amends may seem, remember: you’re human. We make mistakes from time to time. Owning past mistakes and taking action to correct them shows huge growth.
Amends are personal—there’s no right or wrong way to do them. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can apply these general steps to your own process:
Recognize and acknowledge your behaviors that caused harm to someone else.
Accept responsibility for the impact of your actions on others.
You may have a list of people you want to make amends to personally. If you’re following the 12 Steps, making a list is Step 8.
Apologize for the hurt you caused. Keep in mind that sincerity goes a long way; apologizing for the sake of it can backfire.
Take action to correct past mistakes—for example, paying someone back.
Show that you take growth seriously by changing harmful behaviors.
Be willing to listen to the other person’s point of view. They might not forgive you right away, and that’s okay.
Here are some examples of what making amends can look like:
You may have damaged a relationship by saying things you didn’t mean while under the influence. In this scenario, you can start by acknowledging your past behavior. You could reach out to the other person and ask them if they’re open to talking to you. If they are, making amends might include apologizing in person, acknowledging the harm caused, and outlining steps to rebuild your trust. (This is an example of a direct amend.)
Substance abuse hurts the people around us, especially family members. In this case, you may have strained family relationships. Making amends involves opening up a conversation with your family member again and demonstrating your dedication to staying sober. You could commit to family therapy, where you’ll learn to rebuild healthy connections. (This is an example of a direct and living amend.)
Making amends can help you repair your relationships. However, there are situations where it might not be appropriate. If approaching the other person opens up old wounds or re-traumatizes them, making amends isn’t advisable. If interacting with someone re-traumatizes you, or increases your risk of relapse, you might want to reconsider approaching them.
It’s hard to find the right response to someone making amends. You likely have a lot of emotions surrounding the situation. That’s normal, and you don’t have to respond right away. It takes time and courage to listen with an open heart.
When you’re ready to receive someone’s amends, certain practices can make the process smoother:
Substance abuse ruins our relationship2 with ourselves and others. Making amends empowers you to start repairing that damage, and benefits your healing journey in many ways:
Making amends is challenging, but the outcome can be one of the most rewarding parts of recovery. After all, connection is the cornerstone of healing.
When you’re ready to make amends, you can find support to guide you through the process. Connect with 12-Step treatment programs to start planning your recovery.
Making amends is the process of acknowledging and repairing harm you caused to others as a result of addiction. It can involve apologizing, returning stolen property, or paying someone back. Making amends helps restore trust, rebuild relationships, and shows commitment to change. This process can help your recovery by allowing you to move forward with your life.
Direct amends involve apologizing to the person you have harmed and taking action to repair the damage. For example, you pay back money you stole from someone. Indirect amends involve changing behaviors without directly contacting the person you’ve harmed. Living amends involve making lifestyle changes that embody your commitment to recovery. For example, if you’ve been struggling with alcohol addiction, you could make a living amend by attending AA and staying sober.
The best way to make amends is to be sincere and do the right thing for you and the other person. You can start by acknowledging your mistakes, accepting responsibility for your actions, sincerely apologizing, and making plans to repair the damage. Be patient and understanding; it may take time for the other person to forgive you.
Twelve steps and twelve traditions—1. 09 step nine | alcoholics anonymous. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.aa.org/twelve-steps-twelve-traditions-audio-Step-Nine
Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(0), 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/19371918.2013.759005
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