Many people are familiar with the concept of alcoholics having to make amends. They may think it’s as simple as going around and apologizing to those people you somehow screwed over or offended (or worse) in your prime drinking days. Not exactly. I thought about how nice it would be if I could just write a blanket apology in my blog for all the idiotic things I had done to various people and hope that they read it. I would venture to guess that my sponsor would veto that option.
Step 8 prepares us for our amends and says that we are to have “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”. Step 9 tells us to “make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” I’m not “officially” up to Steps 8 and 9 (as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been stuck on Step 4 for quite some time. It’s a really tough one: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”). But I had a chance recently to make an amend that I knew I needed to make, so I seized the opportunity.
I have to admit that I was quite nervous, as I had no idea how it would be received. I’m incredibly fortunate that my first amends went very smoothly. It was to a dear friend from college. I’d prefer not to say what I did to screw things up, but let’s just say it involved my behavior at his fraternity formal. Ugh. We had gone several years without speaking and I just attributed it to us both being busy and losing touch. It turned out that he was very upset with me. When I stopped drinking and saw things more clearly, I was able to look in the mirror and see the giant jackass that looked back at me.
I asked him to go to lunch. I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring it up but HP works in wonderful ways — the opportunity was handed to me on a silver plate. I told him he looked great and he said he had cut way back on drinking and that had helped. It was like he rolled out the red carpet for my ninth step. I told him that I was now sober and that I was sincerely sorry for what I had done. Now was the tough part—waiting for the reaction. His eyes welled up with tears a little, he said how proud of me he was and that it was all “water under the bridge now”. Exhale. Phew.
I don’t expect them all to go that smoothly but hopefully many will. There are some that I can’t make because the people are either gone or I have no idea where they are. There are some that can’t be made because to do so would in fact “harm them or others”. What can I do? Write a letter. Share it with my sponsor. Turn it over. And I will have to do those things to move forward in my sobriety. As it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out our past.”
So what should you do if you are on the other side of the amends—the one to whom the apology is made? First of all, please try to realize how hard it probably was for this person to come to you. You may be extremely pissed off with them because they left you stranded somewhere when they were drunk and forgot to meet you. You may be angry because they hit on your boyfriend when they were hammered. It might be much more serious than that–they may have ruined part of your life along with theirs. You may be furious for any number of reasons. Here’s the thing: it’s up to you what you do with that apology. You don’t necessarily have to forgive them for them to move on and consider their job done. At least you know that they are trying to improve their lives, get sober and stay sober.
Ideally, you would try to make them comfortable through the difficult task. As I said, you may be very angry with them, but perhaps you are able to see them now and know that they were a different person then. A person who was under the spell of alcohol. A person with a progressive disease. How do you know if they are sincere? If they are truly working the steps, have a sponsor, going to meetings, and making an honest effort to not just stop drinking but to tackle the demons that led them to drink in the first place, give them a chance. If they have thoroughly done a fourth step, they are genuinely working toward making themselves better and healthier.
Is it too late now to say sorry? For me, in some instances, yes. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make amends where I can. And for this alcoholic, I consider a “living amends”, making an effort every single day to be a better person, the most sincere way that I can show that I am truly sorry.
What do I say when it’s all over? When sorry seems to be the hardest word?” Elton John