Make Direct Amends
“We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” So reads step nine in over one hundred 12 step programs.
Some amends (the word means changes) are obvious. The cash register honesty stuff is pretty straightforward: you took it; now, in recovery, return it.
Example: A doctor friend of mine stole a piece of equipment from another doctor. Once in recovery and arriving at step nine, he had to return the item. Whether he was drunk or stoned at the time of the theft, he does not recall, but even when not acutely intoxicated, he, like all addicts and alcoholics, had very poor judgment. Also, like all real addicts, his world was entirely about him, no thought for anyone else, until he stopped using drugs and began working steps. Note: two parts here; recovery requires not only not using drugs, but changing emotionally and spiritually. Until embracing recovery and being an active participant in your own changes, you are simply a dry drunk. (Yes, it is possible to be utterly selfish and immature and still be good, or at least adequate at what you do for a living, even medicine.) Jobs are usually the last to go, long after personal relationships and self respect.
If someone you harmed is no longer living or is unavailable, figure out a way to do something positive for surviving family, or make a donation to that person’s favorite cause. One recovering person had turned in bogus forms and thereby stolen money from an insurance company over a decade before getting into recovery. The company no longer existed, so he made a donation to an appropriate charity.
A bit more complex are the amends for the more subtle, usually more damaging emotional harm we have all done. However you decide to make those amends, be sure to end with, “what can I do to make it right.” Then listen and, if reasonable, do it. Just an “I’m sorry” is rarely adequate. Often simply acknowledging awareness of your part in a destructive relationship, always without blaming the other person for his part, as this is your amends, not his, can open the door to repair. If you want to stay drug free and in recovery for any length of time, it is essential that you find relief from your own past; taking step nine seriously, actually doing it, is crucial. Your amends may or may not be acknowledged or accepted. The person you harmed may not be interested in any communication from you, may not be willing to hear you out. All you can do is your part. Do the best you can.
Guess what? The other person may just need to sit in her own resentment a while longer, especially if she participated in harming you and does not have the luxury of a program that shows her the way out. She may be operating out of fear, or just stuck emotionally and spiritually, not able or willing to move on in her life. You cannot fix anyone else, but you can do your part in all relationships. Talk this over with your sponsor, mentor, coach or counselor first. There are times when people in recovery take on too much responsibility, blaming themselves for everything. An objective person helping you decide how to proceed is imperative.
Caution is noted in the wording of this step: “except when to do so would cause harm.” Example: If you had an affair with a married person, the amends is not to go to your spouse or hers and confess! Do not do further harm. The amends here is to change; begin with stopping behavior that damages others. Again, talk it over with someone who has done this step and can guide you through it.
After doing the work of amends, many tons of weight will be lifted from your shoulders. Nobody will have anything to hold over you; your life will be cleaned up and you will have no fear of anyone finding out something. We are just as sick as our secrets and you won’t have secrets. You will have more energy when you quit keeping yucky stuff inside and you will be more available to help others. Congratulations! The spiral upward is continuing!