Literature tells us how to make 12-Step amends. But as we quickly learn, simple instructions aren’t necessarily easy to execute. Below, learn some of the best practices for righting the wrongs caused by active addiction. Although human relationships will always be complicated, doing our best to repair the damage restores our self-esteem and helps the other person resolve their hurt around the issue.
Steps 8 & 9: Amends Without Expectations
Steps 8 and 9 of the standard Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program address the 12-Step amends process.
- Step 8: We learn that step 8 is about becoming willing to make amends. Most working the program will construct a simple list of who they harmed and how. Additionally, this can include potential ways to remedy the situation.
- Step 9: During Step 9, the person in recovery begins actively making amends. Consider it the execution phase of the process.
When making 12-Step amends, we must do our best to set aside any exceptions from the other person. Remember, we are present to clean “our side of the street” or address our wrongs and roles to the best of our ability. The other person has every right to feel the way they do about a previous conflict.
Curb Your Expectations
Sometimes, the person is still burning hot about the issue. Accept that there is always a possibility you will be yelled at or otherwise rejected. Even with exemplary conduct on your part, everything can still go “wrong.” This is why wishing for a particular outcome is unhelpful. You may learn that your offense is easily forgiven and long forgotten.
Some people’s greatest wish may be that you remain sober and continue recovering. Others may prefer never to speak again or even wish you ill on the way out of the door. The future of your relationships is never guaranteed, but you will feel better knowing you have done your best to remedy your prior errors.
The 12-Step amends approach can be constructive for you and the other party. This is particularly true if you’ve been out of contact or have reason to question whether it is appropriate to make your desired amends. Above all, we must not be selfish. Someone liked enough by mere contact with you may be best served by no additional contact. The complexity of individual situations is why consulting with sponsors and professionals can assist greatly in your recovery process. Nobody has perfect judgment on their own.
Step 9: Discern Whether 12-Step Amends Are Safe and Appropriate
Step 9 acknowledges that 12-Step amends aren’t necessary when making them places you or the other person in danger. Some cases are obvious—a woman clearly should not contact an abusive male stalker, even if she has learned about her role in the resentment from an honestly approached 4th Step inventory. Any situation that risks your or another person’s physical safety is one to avoid. There may be a safer, alternate activity to perform in lieu of a traditional conversation. Situations involving abuse, for example, may be better addressed by writing a letter you do not send but instead share it with your mental health professionals.
Other times, we cannot make direct 12-Step amends, such as when the other person has passed away or a business has closed. Personal advice is always helpful when we are trying to judge a situation. But sometimes, we have no choice but to make living amends. If you stole something from someone you cannot reasonably return the item to, you could simply resolve not to steal again from others as part of your long-term recovery goals. A “living” solution is one that we practice in our wider lives, such as avoiding the temptations of manipulation and behaviors that harm others.
Sometimes we may feel emotionally unsafe in making 12-Step amends. If this is the case, seek the advice of a qualified treatment professional or licensed therapist. Family matters may be best addressed in a proper therapeutic setting when possible.
Don’t Make 12-Step Amends or Promises You Cannot Keep
When we make 12-Step amends, we must keep in mind not only what is correct, helpful, and kind but also what is practical and reasonable. Financial 12-Step amends, for instance, aren’t always appropriate to offer, especially if you do not yet have money to pay the individual back. In these situations, leave the person on your Step 8 list. Next, develop a specific plan for raising the necessary funds.
If you’re still in treatment, it could be some time before you can obtain a job and save enough to return a substantial amount of money. Some situations, such as those involving the custody of children, other legal matters, or multiple complex issues at play, may be best to pre-game with the appropriate professionals. Recognize that there are limits to the things you are personally able to control. Keeping your word about matters you can control is vital.
Twelve-Step amends for many of us will remain an open or ongoing process. Some of us have dealt a great deal of damage to those we love the most. Therefore, it isn’t unusual to take multiple runs at a 12-Step program or work to practice the principles lifelong. Remember, we cannot control the other person. But we do get to feel more freedom. Willingness and determination to clear away the havoc of our past lives pave the way for our new lives.
The 12-Step recovery program is one that does require courage and rigorous honesty. At Spero Recovery, we acknowledge there are multiple paths to recovery and that most people will need support in several areas of life. We help you build the necessary physical, mental, and spiritual support to succeed in your life after substance misuse or addiction. We believe everyone has not only the ability but also the right to recover from substance use disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling amidst the ever-growing social and public health emergency of modern addiction, you need not struggle alone. Call us at (303) 351-7888 to learn how we can help today.