Making amends is one of the big healing experiences of this 12 step program. But it is one step that can’t be taken in haste. Readiness is key. The right motive is key. True, gut level regrets for harms done is key.
One of misunderstood aspects of making amends, is that it is not the step that gets people back into our lives, it is the step that gets long held remorse out of our lives. There may be many people on our amends list who we don’t necessarily want back in our lives. Making amends to these people is about clearing up the wreckage of t he past. Freeing ourselves from the guilt and remrse of past wrongs. Admitting to others that we are aware of, and are accountable for the hurt that our past behavior has caused.
The AA literature explains that our amends list can probably be divided up into several categories. Amends that we feel clear and ready to do as soon as possible, amends where only a partial restitution will make sense, amends that need to be delayed until the right attitude is acquired by you, and amends that for good reason, had better not be done at all, lest someone else will be unnecessarily disturbed. This last category is about “injuring them or others”. When our amends is going to create more problems, that’s a good sign that you’d better hold off on that amend.
There is another category of amends – amends that cannot be directly made to another person because they are deceased, or relocated and unreachable. We can still do symbolic amends by perhaps writing an amends letter and burning it to give it to God. We can do a living amends, which is consciously practice new behavior whenever possible to not repeat the problems of the past that occurred with these unreachable people.
Financial amends are pretty cut and dry. But even in those cases, there are going to be times when disclosing dishonesty with money might injure other people, or threaten securities unnecessarily. That doesn’t mean that a living amend like a donation, or generosity in a related area wouldn’t help us atone and feel resolved.
I will stress, again, that amends cannot and should not be entered into hastily. And amends need to be discussed with an experienced 12 step fellow or sponsor. It is our nature to want to move quickly into something that might transform our regretful heart as soon as possible, but timing is of the essence when it comes to making amends. Many people are still working on amends from years and years of step work. I myself did my first formal amends about 2 and a half years after I completed my first 5th step.
There are many stories about half-baked amends that went “splat” in the face of the amender, and also – of amends motivated by a desire to re-capture the loyalty and trust of someone who has been hurt by our past behavior. When your amends are driven by a sincere desire to express regret for harms done and nothing more, you are probably ready. But even so – check with someone else, OK?
Questions for reflection:
Which amends in your world can you humbly and confidently do as soon as possible?
Which amends will you need to wait a while to be ready for?
If you have had the benefit of doing some amends already, how would you describe the experience, and the benefits of doing an amend?
In loving service,
The Twelve Steps