One big part of recovering from a substance addiction is to attempt to make amends for the past mistakes, guilt, embarrassment or shame that was caused as a result of your active addiction to substances. However, we often don’t even realise that our behaviour is harmful or negative toward ourselves or others until we enter recovery. As our mind becomes clearer once again, we begin to see the scale of damage that we’ve caused to ourselves, as well as all of the relationships we damaged with family, friends, colleagues, employers and others.
Before you can begin to try and make amends with others for the harm, damage, stress, upset, negative outcomes of relationships or anything else, you first need to begin by forgiving yourself!
The Importance Of Forgiving Yourself In Addiction Recovery
One of the hardest parts of abstinence and sobriety is having to confront unpleasant emotions without recourse to drugs or alcohol. This is often how addiction begins in the first place. When your feelings, thoughts, emotions and memories are persistent and painful, any kind of relief is welcome. You may have done things during your time in active addiction that only add to the burden of the shame, embarrassment and guilt you feel when you get clean and sober. These feelings can be hard to deal with and can lead to relapse if they aren’t dealt with.
Remember – When we use or drink, our judgement becomes clouded and behaviours or actions occur that wouldn’t have done had you not been drinking alcohol or using drugs. At the time we may also think that what we’re saying or doing is right, even if it’s harmful to ourselves and others around us.
That’s why sometimes we don’t actually realise the scale of the damage we’ve caused to ourselves and other until our mind becomes unclouded through the detox and recovery process, when we can then begin to think more clearly once again.
Guilt is a useful emotion when it prods us to do the right thing, but it can also torture us for having done the wrong thing previously. You may feel like you deserve to be tormented for the terrible things you’ve said or done to others who loved and cared for you. Perhaps you feel that forgiving yourself is as good as saying you’ve done nothing wrong. Perhaps you’re even afraid you’ll behave badly again the moment you stop torturing yourself. Whatever your reason is for delaying this process, the greater risk you place on your recovery efforts as these negative emotions begin to pile up, one on top of another and so on, until we end up in a position where we can’t cope with these negative feelings, thoughts and emotions and return to alcohol or drugs.
In reality, carrying that shame and guilt is counterproductive. Think of it this way, when you’re happy, when your life is going well and when the inside of your head is a pleasant, or at least tolerable place to be, relapse is the last thing on your mind. Obsessing about things you can’t change, like past mistakes is a good way to keep yourself miserable. If you insist on being miserable, you’re likely to have a hard time maintaining any form of lasting recovery via sobriety or abstinence.
Carrying around all that guilt and shame also isolates you and weighs you down. If you go around feeling like a bad person who doesn’t deserve love, happiness or forgiveness, you’ll have a hard time re-connecting with people from the past, as well as new people you need in the future. You won’t want to open up, be honest or talk. You will be less likely to even try to make new friends or even seek out and enter new relationships. You may become guarded and angry. All of this only makes your recovery unnecessarily harder for yourself than it needs to be. One of the most important parts of staying clean and sober is having a strong recovery network. You have to feel connected to other people and that is very difficult if you see yourself as a uniquely awful and undeserving person.
Also, guilt and shame are just two of the challenging emotions you will have to face in recovery. You will more than likely have to confront other emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, despair and any number of other emotional challenges. Dealing with emotions we would rather not experience is one of the most important coping strategies/skills to develop in recovery. You have to learn to acknowledge these emotions without letting them overwhelm you. This is where strategies like mindfulness, meditation and seeking professional counselling and recovery therapies will help. Guilt and shame are just emotions like any other, and you can use them to practice emotional regulation. It wouldn’t make sense to work hard to master your anger or anxiety, while allowing guilt and shame to run amok, causing more havoc and damage to you and others around you.
Of course, letting go of shame, guilt and other negative emotions is often easier said than done! Some people don’t remember what it was like to not feel shame or guilt in some shape or form, and some people even take a perverse sort of comfort in it. Forgiving yourself and letting go of shame takes practice and help. Here are some suggestions for how to do it.
How To Make Amends With Ourselves & The Ways We’ve Behaved In The Past
The problem with guilt and especially shame, is that you fixate on the bad things you’ve done to the exclusion of the good. If someone points out something good you’ve done, you may reply that it doesn’t count because of some negative incident. If you only accept evidence in support of you being a bad person, you will believe you are a bad person who doesn’t deserve forgiveness. If, on the other hand, you accept yourself as a human-being, who has made mistakes and has flaws, but are also capable of good things, you can forgive yourself for your mistakes and try to do better in the future.
When you think that you’re not worth recovery, that you’re a bad, flawed or broken person, remind yourself that you are a human being. You will make mistakes, you can’t change what you’ve done, but you can choose what you will do from this moment onwards!Drink ‘n’ Drugs
Don’t you think it’s about time you forgive yourself for being an addict? The sooner you forgive yourself, the better off you’ll be! I’ve met many recovering addicts, just like me, who can’t seem to forgive themselves for being an addict, even after spending many years in recovery. We become so used to carrying guilt around that sometimes we don’t even know how much it’s really affecting our lives, similar to tunnel vision or a tolerance to substances. Once you’ve been used to the same amount of stress, grief or any other negative emotion day in and day out, it becomes your norm. It affects things like our self-worth and what we believe we deserve. Consequently, we pass up many amazing opportunities because we don’t think we deserved them. In the end, it keeps us from making the most out of life.
If you carry 100 bricks on your back for 20 years, you’ll eventually come to see that as the norm for you. However, it isn’t until we take off those bricks and simply allow fresh air to flow over our skin that we realise just how much of a load we were carrying around with us!Drink ‘n’ Drugs
Our society is constantly bombarding us with what it means to be “an addict” and those views are full of stigma, negative stereotypes and prejudice. These beliefs are problematic for many reasons, but mostly because we end up internalising them. We associate our negative beliefs of what it means to be an addict to who we are as a person. As a result, we end up feeling immensely guilty, embarrassed and ashamed for us ending up as an addict, and sometimes even become self-loathing which isn’t helpful for anyone, most importantly, it isn’t helpful to you. We become insecure and often feel somehow less of a human being or less moral than the people who stand immediately around us. We are more than our addiction, however our beliefs aren’t always logical and that’s why it’s important to combat them by using positiv.
In order to forgive ourselves for being an addict, we need to reclaim what it means to be an addict. Only recovering addicts know what it means to be an addict and only we should be able to give it meaning in our lives. Beating ourselves up for the mistakes we made while using or drinking is hard enough, but at least with that guilt, we can find ways to make amends for it. Whereas guilt for being an addict is aimless. There’s no task that will scrub away the guilt for being who we are. We need to change our perception of the labels we use to describe ourselves.
What Being A Recovering Addict Means
Being a recovering addict usually means:
– We’re intelligent capable people
– We’ve learned a lot from our mistakes
– Experience taught us valuable life skills
– Recovering addicts are survivors
– We beat the odds and achieve amazing things
– We’re strong-willed and determined
– We’re caring, compassionate people
– We believe in second chances, no matter what you’ve done or who you are
– We believe people can change for the better and it is never too late
– We don’t give up easily
Being a recovering addicts helps us to develop great qualities that we should be proud of having, some of which many others will never have, as they haven’t been an addict themselves. We’ve survived extremely difficult situations, experienced what it’s like to struggle to live from second to second as your whole body aches and groans with withdrawal pains, and yet because of this, we’ve become very capable people, even if we don’t always know it, remember it or recognise it!
Mistakes are often the best teachers and can be used to teach us new lessons, after all, I’m sure we’ve all made plenty. We know the importance of giving people second chances because getting our second chance (and often chance after chance) is important to us and is what led us to where we are now. We’re caring and compassionate people towards others who are struggling. Being a recovering addict allows us to find solidarity with other recovering addicts. After all, no one else can help an addict like an addict.
We need to stop believing being a recovering addict is a bad thing or a badge we must try to hide from everyone, because we think it is a stain on us rather than a badge of honour. It’s ok to make mistakes, everyone does, and no doubt, we will all make more today, tomorrow and in the future. But it is the continued fight to strive to be more than we are that is most important.
Struggling with an addiction doesn’t make us weak, foolish, without morals or lack of “proper” parental guidance, it is this that simply makes us human. Anyone capable of overcoming any form of addiction is a strong, resilient person with a host of unique skills and abilities that we should all try to utilise instead of hide. Being a recovering addict is an asset and definitely not something we should be ashamed of. Let’s reclaim the word addict and show some recovery pride.
If anyone looks down at you, treats you with disrespect or judgement, don’t feel sorry for yourself, feel sorry for them that they lack a true understanding of who an addict is, what addiction is and how it affects the very core of your being. Addiction is constantly increasing year on year. You never know, the person who treats you with poor manners may simply be acting that way as they could be scared of facing an addiction of their own. Instead of showing scorn, show mercy and understanding. When you face rudeness and contempt, show kindness by responding rather than reacting.
Making Amends With Those We’ve Hurt During Our Active Using & Drinking
One of the tell-tale symptoms of any alcohol or drug addiction is behaving in ways that go against your personal core values and standards. That’s why if you prescribe to the Twelve Step recovery process, step 8 and 9 includes the practice of recognising how your behaviour has harmed others and seeking to repair the mistakes and damage caused during your active addiction. Step Eight and Step Nine of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) call this approach “making amends”:
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
On the surface, making amends might sound as simple as offering a sincere apology for the way you’ve behaved or treated others, but there’s more to this cornerstone. Twelve Step practice.
What Is A Direct Amend?
In recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, a direct amend refers to the act of personally addressing issues with people who have been harmed by your behaviour or your treatment of them as a result of your addiction. The practice involves going back to those individuals to acknowledge the harm or hurt that’s been caused to them and demonstrate that our behaviours, our thought processes, our morals and even things as small as gaining some self-respect again can mean more to others than the actual apology if they see REAL AND LASTING change. The apology process also provides them with the opportunity to heal along with you. Whenever possible, a direct amends are made face-to-face rather than over the phone, by letter or by asking someone else to apologise for you on your behalf.
What’s The Difference Between Making Amends & Offering An Apology?
Think of amends as actions taken that demonstrate your new way of life in recovery and the changes you have made to positively grow, develop and overcome your active addiction, whereas apologies are basically words. When you make amends, you acknowledge and align your values to your actions by admitting your wrong-doing and then living by your renewed principles.
In addiction, our actions and intentions aren’t aligned. For example, we might intend to go to a friend’s birthday party, but in actuality, we fail to show up for the event because we are either too ill, too drunk, too high or too pre-occupied seeking, drinking and using more substances. While we might apologise later for missing the party, our apology consists of words rather than actions or tangible proof of our changed behaviours. And those words ring hollow when we repeatedly break our promises. So, to truly make amends, we have to offer more than words. We have to show patience, determination and a willingness to do what’s needed to overcome past problems and grow together again as you once did, however bare in mind that this isn’t always possible or appropriate. We will look at this in more detail later on in this article.
In recovery, our actions and intentions are once again re-aligned. An example would be telling someone how sorry you are that you stole from them and actually giving back what you took, finding and buying a replacement or by deciding to move on together and allow them to choose a new one and you pay for it. This mutual cooperation can sometimes be worth much more than the actual items you may have pawned, sold, stolen or broken.
There May Be Times When Making Direct Amends May Not Be Advisable
Yes, we want to make amends to those people we’ve hurt previously, except when to do so would injure, alarm, harassment or harm them, others or you. We don’t want our actions to cause further damage, harm or stress. Also, we might owe amends to people we can’t reach. In those cases, we can make amends in a broader sense by taking actions like donating money, volunteering our time or providing care.
Remember – Make amends where appropriate, and where doing so would not cause injury, alarm, harassment or harm to them, others or you.Drink ‘n’ Drugs
We can also make amends by living our lives with purpose, within the bounds of our principles. This is known as making “living amends”. For example, if we hurt people with our lying and we cannot make amends without further injuring them, we would make living amends by making a decision to behave and communicate with complete honesty.
It’s also important to take great care when making amends to someone who is still in active addiction because our primary responsibility is to safeguard our own health and recovery from substance use. If making an amends means exposing ourselves to triggering environments, we ought to reconsider and discuss healthy alternatives with a sponsor, Keyworker, Therapist, Counsellor or other healthcare professional.
- Where it would put you or someone else’s life in jeopardy.
- Where your contact could/would worsen or harm their physical or mental health conditions.
How To Enact A Living Amends
When I first came into recovery, I always thought that I’d know how to make amends to others, and it was a matter of creating some form of complicated sorry letter or speech. I was wrong, so wrong! To enact a living amends that really does live up to the promises you make and to grow in a renewed relationship, here’s how it works for us.
The List Of Wrongs
I made a list of everything I resented. I thought this was the part where I got to dump all of my anger on the people who used and abused me. It wasn’t. Instead, my inventory was an:
- Examination of the part I played in past hurts
- Unearthing of patterns where I repeatedly volunteered myself for abuse, misuse or manipulation
- Analysis of my motives – almost all of my decisions were based on fear, embarrassment, shame or guilt – I tried to control everyone around me in an attempt to feel safe
Ways To Make A Living Amends
1) I Give Them A PANDA
Another tool I love to use is a PANDA apology. PANDA stands for:
- P – Promise it will never happen again.
- A – Admit you were at fault, or how you played your part in it.
- N – No excuses, be totally honest and upfront, even if you get asked difficult questions.
- D – Describe how you would handle the situation next time. Sometimes, just knowing that someone messed up and has learnt from it is enough. Other times, it is part of it, but not all of it.
- A – Act on your promise. If you say something, stick to it, no matter what. If you cannot guarantee that you can, could or will stick to it no matter what, then don’t promise it.
After years of living in active addiction where my apologies and promises meant little to nothing. My living amends represents PANDA.
2) If I Must Say It, I Only Say It Once
I never say anything to someone what I wouldn’t want told to me if the roles were reversed. Likewise, If I make a promise, guarantee, arrangement, plan or anything else. I stop, think and then respond rather than react, to ensure that I only say it once and not have to later break those promises or plans and say sorry more than once!. This not only breaks the new promise or guarantee you’ve made, but also shows that you may still be living in an unstable manner and aren’t going to change (from their perception).
Should I Try To Make Amends With Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Hear from Me?
No matter how much we feel the need to make things right, forcing another person to meet up with us, or hear from us is not a good start if you are trying to make amends with them. When those we’ve hurt are not able or willing to accept our amends, we can still move in a positive general direction by taking intentional steps to be of service to others, or making living amends.
Remember – The intention of making amends is for the person we are trying to make amends towards. Yes, we benefit, but it is primarily for them and this should be kept in mind at all times.Drink ‘n’ Drugs
It’s important to note that making amends is for the person we hurt. Yes, we partake in the process to “clean up our side of the street,” but we do not make amends to clear our conscience, or undo our feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment. If someone doesn’t want to hear from us or make amends, we must respect that’s their decision and do our best to move forward in our recovery.
Remember – Not now doesn’t mean not ever. Sometimes people just need time and space to think. It’s important to give them as much of this as they need, even if it takes years or decades!Drink ‘n’ Drugs
How Will Making Amends With Others Help My Recovery?
Taking these actions helps us to separate ourselves from the disease of addiction. We come to understand that we are good people with a bad disease. The process of making amends can help us to move out of the shame and guilt we have lived in, shame and guilt that feeds the cycle of substance use, addiction and relapse. We strengthen and reinforce healthy recovery whenever we do our part to repair relationships, or reach out to others with support, empathy and understanding.
What If My Attempt to Make Things Right Goes Wrong & Things Get Worse?
It’s important to have a plan in place before you reach out in an attempt to make amends. We can’t know for certain how another person will respond, or even how the interaction might affect both us and them mentally and emotionally. So be sure to talk with others and have a decent, solid plan in place, should you need support if things don’t go like you hoped they would.
Remember, this is a process that can provide a platform for healing, but the person we are reaching out to may not be at the same place in healing as we are, or may never be ready for healing. We are only in control of our part, making and living the amends.
As with alcohol and drugs, we are also powerless over other people and how they will respond or react to our intended amends. Whether they will forgive you or whether they will hold on to negative feelings or resentments is out of your control. But it is just as important to do your part in trying (where appropriate, and where doing so would not cause injury, alarm, harassment or harm to them, others or you).
In the end, we are not seeking forgiveness. We are seeking accountability for our own actions and holding ourselves to the standards of our own values.
If I Decide To Work Through The Steps Of Fellowship, Should I Work On Step Eight Alone?
Generally speaking, people work through the Steps of Alcohol Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA) with an addiction treatment service, Therapist, Counsellor and/or sponsor. You can also turn to AA or NA’s Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the 12 & 12) for guidance specific to Step 8. You can also visit 12step.org for more help with working the steps and gaining the most out of each step.
When first writing your list, don’t worry about including everyone you have wronged. Start by listing the people closest to you. Over time, as you strengthen and deepen your recovery from addiction, you will undoubtedly revisit Steps 8 and 9 many times. Eventually you will find you are making amends day by day through the positive actions you routinely take in living by Twelve Step principles.
What Is the Best Way to Make Amends?
There really isn’t a “best way” or one size fits all that will work for everyone and every situation or circumstance. You need to find the approach that will work best for you and the person or people you are wanting to make amends with. Try to talk with your sponsor (if you have one), or others in your recovery community, forums online or by speaking to others through the Drink ‘n’ Drugs Facebook Group and ask others what has worked for them in the past. Likewise, you will also be able to learn from their mistakes and experience so that you can avoid making the same mistakes as others. If your actions match your intentions and you reach out in person, you are doing the next right thing to right past wrongs. It’s simple but not easy. And remember, if you are feeling ashamed about any past mistakes, things that were said, done or made, and the damage that was done during your drinking and using days, you are not your disease.
Reaching out to make amends shows that you are willing to take responsibility for what’s happened in the past. It also shows them that they are important enough to you that you are willing to make the effort needed to make amends with them.
How Soon Do I Start to Make Amends Once I Am Sober?
Once you enter into recovery and have some time in abstinence/sobriety, there isn’t a set timeline for working Steps 8 and 9, or if you don’t want to follow the steps, and simply want to know when’s best to reach out, you might want to ask your sponsor, Therapist, Keyworker or recovery support network for their insights about whether you’re ready. In Twelve Step recovery, your pace is your own to determine.
Remember – It may take weeks, months or years before the person you are trying to make amends to will be willing to accept your amends. Also remember that sometimes, too much damage has been done and there will never be a right time to try and make amends toward them. In this case, just try to continue in a living amends.Drink ‘n’ Drugs
No doubt you will experience challenges and setbacks along the way. But by prioritising your recovery on a daily basis, and doing whatever that next right thing might be for you, you will keep moving forward in living a life of good purpose and being a productive and responsible member of your community.
Accept Forgiveness, As Well As Attempt To Make It With Others
It’s just as important that when we make amends to others, we do so in an open and honest way, and in a way that we would wish to be treated had the roles been reversed. With this in mind, others may come to you and attempt to make amends with you. Sometimes, part of asking others for amends is by accepting it from others as well.
It is something to keep in mind when you are asking others to make amends with you! We often say or do things that we later regret doing or saying and sometimes, other people may feel guilty for things that they said or did to you as well. Be willing to listen, understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying it. Giving someone else forgiveness can sometimes provide it for ourselves too!
I’m Still A Little Confused, What Order Should I Do Things In?
When you are trying to make amends toward someone else, its important that you do so at a time, place and speed that suits both of you, and this will be different for everyone. However, most of the time, making amends tends to work in a particular order as set out below.
There are steps you take to make amends, which include:
- Take stock of the damage you caused, mistakes you made, what you said, did or didn’t do.
- Express the desire to repair it. Show them that you are genuine about making amends with them and that they are important enough to you that you’d like to include them in your new life (if you want to that is, sometimes making amends doesn’t always mean repairing a relationship).
- Admit to your mistakes. Be honest and up front and don’t be afraid to say sorry and explain why you did, or didn’t do the things you should have which caused the damage in the first place.
- Find a way to repair the damage. Take time, dedication and attention with the individual. It isn’t always as easy as saying sorry and moving on, sometimes they will want to see longer term progress before they will be willing to accept your amends. Be willing to commit to spending the days, weeks or months that are needed to show that things, and you, have changed.
- Sometimes, giving someone flowers, a letter or card or maybe even monetary compensation for the damage you caused won’t and can’t replace spending quality time with that person. Showing you’ve changed for the long-haul is worth so much more than a bunch of flowers or cash will.