I believe that making amends, an important part of recovery through the 12 steps process, should be incorporated into any philosophy of recovery and addiction treatment.
Whether or not you subscribe to a belief in the value of AA or other 12 steps programs, few can deny the healing power of making full restitution, and that making amends reduces the guilt and shame that if left unresolved, can too often lead us back to abuse. AA worked and works for me, and I subscribe to their particular theory of recovery, but I understand that the program is not right for everyone, and no one approach can ever hope to meet the needs of diverse people in society. Yet I cannot help but think that if only one aspect of AA recovery should be imported to other programs, it should be the belief that by making amends, we heal others and as well reduce the future temptations to abuse.
During a period of abuse, there is a cognitive shift that occurs that allows us to act badly, without even being fully aware of the harms we are committing. We may also act badly knowing full well the implications of our actions, but are so driven towards abuse that our actions are almost beyond our control. Whatever the initial cause or motivations to our behaviors, our behaviors do create consequences, and during periods of sobriety and lucidity we can sometimes see how our behaviors affect others, and the shame and pain of these realizations is always best dealt with through escape into further intoxication.
Clean the Slate
Even after we get help and get sober, the memory of past transgressions remains, and with sobriety and increasing clarity, these memories are compounded. With sobriety comes a full awareness of the pain of our creation, and with awareness comes accompanying feelings of shame and regret. We can never take back our actions, and although making amends is sometimes insufficient to the pain we have caused, it is all we can reasonably do; and if amends are made honestly and with an open heart, much of the shame of our past misbehaviors can be minimized, if not erased entirely.
If we do not strive to make complete amends to all, our feelings of shame and regret can never truly end. Any time we see or even think about a person we have harmed, there is the accompanying negative emotional response, and with enough internalized negative emotions, the temptations towards abuse and escape increase.
Making amends to those that we have harmed is not only the right thing to do; it is also a great way to maximize the likelihood of long term sobriety.
It’s never easy to account for your actions, and the process of restitution is difficult and sometimes painful; but once complete, we can move forward, closing the book on our past misdeeds, and looking forward to a life of better conduct, service to others and sobriety. Pay back what you owe, apologize to those you have harmed, and right any wrong that you can; you’ll feel better, and you’ll have a better chance at a future of sober happiness.