Some people come into recovery scared to make amends. Other people are eager to make amends. Regardless of which group you belong to, or even if you’re somewhere in between, your amends will be so much more effective when you can avoid making the 5 mistakes below.
There is no specific amount of time to wait before making amends. There is, however, a specific place within our recovery process in which amends are to occur. That place is immediately following our 8th step.
FUN FACT: Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder, Dr. Bob Smith, began his amends on the day of his last drink.
Because making amends requires a degree of humility, self-awareness, and faith, we will have little chance of making effective amends without first gaining these qualities by working the preceding 8 steps.
The original 12 step program, historically, had a very fluid rhythm to it. It was quite clearly a single process consisting of 12 steps. Today, some pockets of 12 step fellowships have reduced the 12 step program to 12 individual processes.
FUN FACT: Historically, steps 9, 10, 11, and 12 were worked simultaneously as a unit.
The skill set acquired and honed in these last three steps will prove immensely valuable to those making amends.
In step 10 we practice the ability to continually monitor our behavior and motives. In step 11 we seek and receive knowledge and power from God. In step 12 we learn to make sacrifices to help meet the needs of others.
The Big Book advises to have the proper perspective on amends on page 77 where it states: “At the moment we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people around us.”
POINT TO PONDER: The purpose of an amends is to set the past where it belongs so you can begin to move toward the future God has planned for you.
When we make amends to gain forgiveness, secure employment, preserve our reputation, or restore our family life, we may face frustration and disappointment, which could develop into disillusionment and apathy, which could lead to relapse.
While the Big Book does cite many examples where forgiveness and restoration do occur as a result of making amends, it is important we do not put the cart before the horse by viewing these things as an end in themselves.
Some amends can actually injure other people. This can be difficult to deal with, especially when considering how crucial it is to make amends in order to recover.
On page 80 of the Big Book it says: “If we have… consulted with others, asked God to help and the drastic step [amends] is indicated we must not shrink.”
POINT TO PONDER: The two greatest allies when making amends are God and a supportive person, in that order.
There are many examples where a sponsor or supportive person has given a suggestion that points in one direction while God, through step 11 guidance, points in another. In these cases it is always wise to follow God’s leading.
With that said, we should not forsake human counsel in favor of prayer, especially if we are still new at listening to God. The Big Book warns us about the dangers of assuming we will always hear the voice of God clearly after we establish contact. On page 87 it warns that we may “pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd ideas and actions.”
God willing, with a little prayer followed by human counsel, none of these “absurd actions” will have to include an amends that has caused further injury.
Presumably, we are already willing to make amends to everyone on their list before even beginning to make amends. (read “Why is the 8th Step Important?” for more about this)
There are many warnings in the Big Book about what happens if we don’t try to make amends. The most notable of these appears on page 77: “we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.”
When Alcoholics Anonymous co-founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith met, Bill explained to Bob what would be required if he expected to recover. Bob was agreeable to all of it except amends. As a surgeon in a small town, Bob knew direct amends could result in lawsuits, loss of licensure, and even arrest.
Because of this, Bob relapsed a few times during his early efforts. After one such relapse Bob was shaking so fiercely that Bill begged him to cancel a surgery he had been scheduled to perform that morning. Since Bob refused to cancel, Bill insisted Bob have a drink before drinking to calm the shaking.
FUN FACT: Bill Wilson bought fellow A.A. co-founder Bob Smith his last drink.
After the surgery, Bob couldn’t be found. The waited and waited. When he finally returned home later that evening they feared the worst. Bob told how after the surgery he had gone, practically door-to-door, and made face to face amends with the people on his list.
Incidentally, he never drank again.
I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.