Addiction Recovery Missteps: When Making Amends Goes Awry

In 2014, a woman wrote a letter to a New York Times advice columnist seeking help. Years ago, she had been living with one man while having a fling with another. Long after all the relationships had ended, her former live-in partner received a letter from her fling, apologizing for his transgression as part of his amends-making for his 12-step recovery. His attempt at reconciliation exposed the affair that had until then been unknown, ruining the relationship between the woman and her former partner, who had remained friends.

The letter serves as a perfect cautionary tale for Step 9 of recovery. “Make direct amends to those you have harmed, except where doing so would injure them or others” seems a simple instruction, but people’s lived experiences with restitution make it much messier than it may first appear. The paramour writing the letter may have had the best of intentions–or he may have seized Step 9 as an opportunity to assuage his own guilt without regard to any new harm he may have been causing. Regardless of the motivation behind his letter, it gives us a prime moment to reflect on the process of making amends and the possibilities of conciliatory actions.

The Right Amends

When making amends, you often get so caught up in your own hopes, anxieties, and fears that you forget to take the larger picture and purpose of Step 9 into account. However, in order for restitution to be a positive and meaningful experience, it must be applied thoughtfully, with kindness, and after careful deliberation of who will benefit. Amends go beyond apologies, and seek to right wrongs–not just say sorry for them. Apologies are a crucial component, but you must also show that you fully appreciate the scope of your actions, have remorse, and demonstrate that you will not create future harm. Repay debts, create a safe emotional environment to nourish fractured relationships, ask what the other person needs from you in order to heal and move forward from the destruction your addiction has caused. Do not rush. Making amends does not happen in a day, and it is more than checking names off a list; it is a long, often emotionally complex process of correcting deep damage, shedding the burdens of addiction, and living a new, authentic life.

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When Amends Go Wrong

Often the process of making amends does not go as expected. People to whom you want to make amends are not always receptive to your gestures and may react negatively or be suspicious of reconciliation made in the recovery process. While it can be a disappointing and painful rejection, it’s important to remember that you cannot control other people’s reactions and others are not obligated to accept your amends. Another person’s ability to accept your actions may be on a very different timeline than your recovery process. While you have been busy exploring your history, character, and behavior in preparation of paying restitution to those you have wronged, the people you approach may be caught off guard by your efforts and resent the past being dredged up. They may misread your motivations, and the behaviors you engaged in to feed your addiction may have fractured the relationship to the point where they are simply unwilling to forgive.

While reparations and reconciliation are sought for the benefit of others and should always be done in the spirit of generosity, there is profound healing value in the gesture for yourself, regardless of how it is received. The important piece is the knowledge that you have done what you can to repair the pain you have caused, and that you have taken responsibility for your actions. The insight that you gain through the recovery process and the changes you make to move towards a stable, sober life fortify you and increase your ability to live with integrity and grace.

Living Amends

When making direct contact would be harmful, or if your amends have been met with negativity, you can still find reconciliation in the larger experience of living amends. Living amends is making the commitment to a new, sober lifestyle lived with generosity, honesty, and empathy for others. Through genuine personal change, you can find serenity and make positive contributions to your community as you devote yourself to breaking the destructive patterns of addiction. You can also take specific actions to right wrongs in indirect but powerful ways. For example, if someone refuses to let you repay a debt, you can take that money and make a charitable donation to allow something positive to come out of a difficult situation. This form of conciliatory behavior allows the spirit of kindness, transformation, and renewed emotional generosity to shine through and gives you the opportunity to grow.

A Helping Hand

The best way to ensure successful recovery can be committing to a comprehensive treatment program that optimizes your chances of sustainable sobriety and helps you investigate both the underlying causes and the effects of your addiction. At Alta Mira, we can guide you through the recovery process with compassion and expertise that allows you to develop the insight necessary to make meaningful amends. Through immersive treatment, you can gain the skills to live a sober life of purpose and dignity and make profound changes that will help you heal your interpersonal relationships and free you from suffering.


Contact us for more information about our treatment options and how we can help you on the path to sobriety.


Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Jonathan Velasquez