How to Make Amends: A Quick Guide

Amends can be confusing enough to intimidate the most seasoned person in recovery, let alone the newcomer.  After all, the word used in the Big Book to describe “this phase of our development” is “painstaking” (p. 83), a truth to which anyone who has attempted to navigate amends can attest.  The quick guide below is a valuable resource to anybody interested in making their amends in a smooth, effective manner.

FUN FACT: What are commonly referred to as “The Promises” found on pages 83 & 84 are actually the promises for making amends.  The line “we will be amazed before we are half way through” on page 83 refers to being half way through working the 9th step.

When beginning the subject of amends, the Big Book says on page 76 “To some people we need not, and probably should not emphasize the spiritual feature on our first approach.”  This indicates there will be at least two approaches which need to be completed when making amends.

FIRST APPROACH (set the appointment)

When ready to make amends, we usually have had some time to contemplate having a potentially uncomfortable conversation with the people we’ve harmed.  Yet the people receiving the amends most likely haven’t.

The First Approach accomplishes three things:

  • Sends the message this conversation is going to be serious in nature
  • Allows the other person to voluntarily enter the amends process
  • Affords them time to prepare for this process mentally, emotionally, and spiritually

POINT TO PONDER: Amends are the pinnacle of your efforts to leave the past where it belongs and begin living in the present.  When both parties enter the conversation prepared, the results will prove to be nothing short of miraculous.

With the harms list in one hand, a telephone in the other, a sponsor or supportive person nearby, and a lot of prayer, we can easily complete our first approaches for nearly everybody on our harms list in a day or two, if not within a couple hours.

The First Approach outline is as follows:

  • Share your current process of change:
    • “I’m going through a process of change”
    • “I’m practicing 12 step recovery”
    • “You may be aware that I had a drinking problem.  Well, I’m now taking steps to overcome it.”
    • etc…
  • Draw attention to the amends part of this process:
    • “Part of this process of change involves making things right with God and with the people I’ve hurt.”
    • “As you may know, amends to people I’ve hurt is a part of the 12 steps”
    • “One of those steps involves making amends to the people I’ve hurt”
    • etc…
  • Let them know you want to include them in this process:
    • “I understand you to be one of those people”
    • “I believe you’re one of the people I’ve hurt”
    • “I feel you are a person I owe amends to”
    • etc…
  • Invite them to take part in this process:
    • “Would you be available to visit with me?”
    • “Could we schedule a time to get together and talk about this?”
    • “I’d like to discuss this in person.  Is there a time and place which works best for you?”
    • etc…

The goal here isn’t to make an amends over the phone; the goal is to schedule a time to have a future conversation, preferably in person.

SECOND APPROACH (keep the appointment)

After the first approach, discussion with our sponsor, and diligent prayer, it’s time us to keep their appointment with the person to whom we are going to make amends.  This is where the second approach takes place.

The Second Approach outline is as follows:

  • Frame the conversation:
    • “Thank you for taking time to meet with me.  As you know, I’d like to use address my past behavior.  I am going to clear space for you to say anything you want to me and I’m going to listen without interruption, but first I’d like to say a few things.  All I’m asking for is about 5 to 10 minutes to speak uninterrupted and then I’ll hear everything you have to say .  Fair enough?”
  • List the specific ways you’ve caused harm:
    • “I feel I’ve harmed you in the following ways…”
    • List them.  Be specific, but stick to the facts
      • No Explaining
      • No Justifying
      • No Defending
      • No Blaming
  • Probe for more harms:
    • “Is there anything I’ve overlooked?”
    • Listen to what they have to say and acknowledge it.
    • Keep asking if there’s anything you overlooked until they answer “no”
  • Ask how to make restitution:
    • “Is there anything I can do to make this right?”

Which of these two approaches is the actual amends?

During a live presentation of this step, I’ll ask this question.  Some people will answer saying the First Approach is the amends.  Other people answer saying the Second Approach is the amends.  In truth it is a trick question.  Neither of these are the actual amends.

THIRD APPROACH (a demonstration of good will)

This is where we take the answer to the question “Is there anything I can do to make this right?” and, so long as it won’t injure them or others, provides the request.  This is point at which we actually make the amends

Here are some final tips to help make the most of the suggestions the above:

  • Read pages 76 – 84 in the Big Book
  • Pray for strength and direction before you make any Approach
  • Use your own language and your own words to express the ideas above.  Don’t treat the suggestions as a script; they are provided as a guide.

Ever feel concerned about your recovery?

I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.  


One Comment on “How to Make Amends: A Quick Guide

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways to Wreck Your Amends | Big Book Wizard

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