When living a life enslaved to drugs and/or alcohol, it’s no secret that a person’s moral compass is completely challenged. Oftentimes, the individual will go against their own personal values and standards in order to achieve their next fix.
Addiction unapologetically destroys most of our relationships with other people. Intimate relationships are perhaps the most dynamic. A very clear cause-and-effect role is played out in almost all interpersonal relationships, especially within an intimate setting. When we are drinking or using drugs manipulation, deceit, self-centeredness, and utter victimization become methods for survival. Most alcoholics and addicts are willing to risk, abandon, and reject anything that stands in the way of their substance of choice.
When we make the decision to get sober and we are introduced to the Twelve Steps, we begin to look at where we were wrong and how we may have caused harm to others. It is not uncommon for the alcoholic to feel guilt and shame once he/she begins to look at the wreckage of their past. However, there is an immense amount of courage, faith, and humility behind the process of making amends. From the cradle to the grave, every human makes mistakes and struggles to find a way to make peace with who he/she may have harmed. For the alcoholic, apologies are futile – true healing comes from the process in which we begin to make amends to the person(s) we have harmed.
What is a Direct Amend?
In the Fellowship, direct amends refers to the act of personally acknowledging conflict and issues with people who have been harmed by our actions and behaviors towards them. The process of making direct amends is no overnight matter and is suggested to be discussed with counsel before attempting to make amends because we do not want to cause harm to others in order to ease our own suffering. In fact, on page 84 of the Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous directly addresses this process:
“Good judgment will suggest that we ought to take our time. While we may be quite willing to reveal the very worst, we must be sure to remember that we cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others.”
The process of making amends must be selfless in nature. Making direct amends involves the individual going back to those they have harmed in order to acknowledge their wrongdoings and demonstrate changes in which will cultivate the opportunity for the victim to heal. Wherever possible, a direct amend is made face-to-face rather than over the phone or by asking for a third party to act on your behalf. In other words, the goal is not to communicate a sincere apology with words, but rather demonstrate the sincerity of the apology through the actions of the individual that caused the harm.
Apologizing Vs. Making Amends
There are many distinguishable differences between giving someone an apology and making amends with them. In simpler terms, an apology is like putting a band-aid on the wound – it covers up the source of the pain but does not always cultivate total healing. When an individual makes a sincere apology, both parties may receive temporary relief but there is no direct correction to the harm that may have been caused. People who struggle with substance abuse may have made reckless and harmful decisions and cannot simply erase the pain and often irreversible heartache and trauma they may have caused by offering a simple apology. More often than not, the victim of abuse, trauma, neglect, or crime will need a more profound interaction and change implemented within the relationship before any attempt at reconciliation can be achieved.
Making direct amends is the most effective way to reconnect and restore the relationships with the people who have been directly affected by the actions and behaviors of an individual struggling with addiction. Rather than masking the harm with the “band-aid” of an apology, we seek to clean out the wound, apply healing ointment, bandage, and nurture the affected area until sufficient time has passed and the victim has a chance to heal. Addiction has the capacity to undoubtedly sever the most intimate bonds between family members and loved ones. Whether you are attempting to make amends to a family member, coworker, or simply humble yourself before innocent bystanders, this process is a vital step towards rectifying a broken relationship.
Different Types of Amends
As stated before, there are a number of ways an alcoholic may have to go about making amends. Each harm and situation of conflict is unique and sensitive in nature and must be handled with great compassion, humility, and respect for the victim. Here are a few of the types of amends you may want to consider when making amends.
- Direct Amends – Making direct amends is a common way to begin making amends to individuals harmed by addiction and alcoholism. Direct amends require the addict to take personal responsibility and confront the person whom he/she wishes to reconcile with. After seeking counsel from your sponsor, you will intimately address the harms you feel you have caused and how you will fix, re-pay, or repair any damage you may have caused. Be careful not to make unrealistic promises and always put the victim of the harms before yourself.
- Indirect Amends – Indirect amends often refers to repairing the damage that cannot be physically undone. For instance, if you have committed a crime in the past or find yourself in a situation in which you cannot confront the people you have offended, there are other ways you can make amends. Sometimes, individuals who committed theft may take action to volunteer in a shelter or donate money to an organization that helps others who need assistance. You may not always be able to make direct amends but there are always indirect ways you can rise to the occasion.
- Living Amends – Upon making living amends, we consider how we can display to others that there has been a spiritual and revolutionary change from the person we once were. When you make any amends, it is important to reflect on how you can apply the specific amends into making each one reflect within your living amends. Living amends require a commitment not only those we have harmed, but within ourselves to make an effort to maintain a genuine, wholesome, and Spirit-driven lifestyle. This is a marked end to the destructive lifestyle that you have been living in and a beacon of hope, change, and ultimately freedom.
As imagined, the harms produced by this chaotic lifestyle affect more than just the addict. Family, friends, and even innocent bystanders are often left behind harmed in the wake of addiction. It has been said many times “We will never fully comprehend the magnitude of the harms we have caused the ones we love.” Making amends is a vital part of your recovery and the healing process of the family and loved ones you have harmed. It is always best to approach the amends process with humility, sincerity, and selflessness.
Chop wood, carry water