Whether you’re recovering with the help of a 12-step program or go about it some other way, there will be a time in your new life when you will have to take responsibility for something hurtful you’ve done in the past. Chances are your addiction didn’t just affect your life—one of the most devastating aspects of drug or alcohol dependency is that it takes many hostages. Addiction causes us to behave in ways in which we’d never behave; it alters our personality; it makes us do unnatural and troubling things. To ourselves and to others.
Getting sober is challenging for many reasons, one being that you no longer have a crutch to rely on. Where you used to have your vice to numb with whenever there was stress in your life, in sobriety you have to face reality and everything – good and bad – that comes with it. That means doing something about the relatives and friends who got hurt and who need to be dealt with in order for everyone to heal from addiction’s harm. In most cases, a person in recovery absolutely has to address the past to move on. And apologizing and making amends (changing an demonstrating behavior changes) can be unnerving – it is not for the faint of heart. Yet, there’s nothing more profound than trying to right all the wrongs. Even if you don’t succeed in repairing some of your relationships, the fact that you’ve attempted to can be rewarding enough.
Word of caution: make your amends and apologies only when you feel ready. I know you might want to get it over with; it’s natural to want things to be the way they were. They can’t always be, but just because of that, it doesn’t mean that your sobriety has less value. Addiction robs us of knowing how to be with others; it distorts the bonds we have. In some instances, you won’t be able to repair what was broken—this is why you have to be mentally and emotionally healthy to handle the outcome that might not be the one you intended. With amends and apologies comes rejection, and for most of us, that’s a tough pill to swallow. This is why it’s not a good idea to try this in early sobriety—the risk of relapse is too high for someone who has to re-learn how to control emotions and how not to react to situations in maladaptive ways. If you’re in early recovery, you are a lot more vulnerable than someone who’s been dealing with life and reality for a while. There’s a reason why amends show up on the 12-step list under number 9 – only after the newly recovered has hopefully regained mentally sound coping skills and when she has a deeper understanding of addiction and its roots.
In addition, if you have experienced trauma and/or developmental trauma that is unprocessed, please do so before endeavoring to make these amends. Yes, by all means, shift the behaviors, but please seek the support and outside eyes of a trusted confidant to process your experiences and perspectives before having these direct talks with others.
Making amends asks for bravery. It takes a bigger person to be able to admit to the wrongs they’ve done in the past and to commit to making restitution. In some instances, it’s not possible to do amends because the person has passed or cut you out of their life for good -those are challenging aspects of recovery, but if you have some time under your belt and enough support to get you through those tough spots, you will be fine. And if not fine, then at least present in your own life. Trying to rebuild connections with others and making up for what’s lost are the foundations of a stable, long-term recovery. Do not skip this important step but also do it only once you feel solid and confident that you will handle whatever outcome comes your way.
Want to discuss this further with a professional trusted confidant? Contact David here.