Amends…….On The Flip Side – Jillian O

I don’t follow a 12-step program. I’ve been to AA meetings, several in fact, and I have received some benefit from going to them. But AA never resonated with me, for many reasons, and maybe I’ll lay those out in anther post….

But one thing has been swirling around in my mind lately… this idea of “amends”. This is a critical step in 12-step programs. And I get it. There are many, many things I regret–behaviors, decisions, and so on– that I most definitely would not have done, or not in the same manner or to the same degree, sober. And these regretted behaviors or decisions absolutely hurt people I love (at worst, and often deeply) or inconvenienced others (at best), and there’s a full spectrum in between.

But in this time, I am feeling a need for balance. Because I am wondering why it is society and/or recovery programs expect so much more of people in recovery (addicts, if we must label) than we do of folks just in general it seems. AA demands 100% adherence to its code of conduct; if you have a relapse you start all over. Recovery success is measured by 100% abstinence. A recent This Naked Mind podcast with guest Dr. Adi Jaffe illuminates the absurdity–and the danger–of this all-or-nothing measure of success for recovery.

These are really high expectations that we don’t hold in other areas of our life or with other people, or in other lifestyle or behavioral changes we undertake (usually).

But what about the reverse? Why don’t those of us working recovery ask for amends from others? Dr. Gabor Mate, addiction expert, asks us not what is the addiction, but what is the pain? Meaning, there is an initial wound that our troubled coping mechanisms (i.e. addictions) are seeking to soothe or resolve. When did our wound start? Who wounded us? And can we forgive them, and forgive ourselves, and move on?

Some may read this and think I am being petulant, or trying to make rationalizations or excuses or accuse me of being unwilling to really work recovery. That’s not what this is. This is, I think, me trying to balance the scales. Because for those of us who have been willing to seek new ways of coping with life and engage a path of self- discovery (i.e. recovery), that would suggest that we have (at least internally) acknowledged that we made mistakes, maybe even grievous ones, and are scaling those mountains of shame and guilt. Do we really need to itemize the list? That list that has, by the way, likely been running in our minds for as long as we have been engaged in the problematic behaviors. We are unrelentingly hard on ourselves. Some programs, maybe even some people in our lives, ask us to keep going back through that list of regrets and shame, cycling through our character defects, to keep apologizing… It sounds horrible! And it feels pretty bad, speaking as someone who carries such lists in her head, and on paper, and yes, has even actually done the amends thing.

I much prefer the approach outlined in 30 Days, the “Total Truth Process” (TTP) (originally developed by John Gray and Barbara DeAngelis). For me, this recognizes that there was likely more than just me involved in a situation: that I was responding to someone and/or something. TTP is both seeking and granting forgiveness. And this feels more authentic to me, more balanced. 30 Days recommends doing this process with yourself, your parents/guardians, and anyone else you may be harboring resentment towards (and I would add, guilt about). The 6 steps of the Total Truth Process are as follows:

  1. Acknowledge your anger/resentment (I’m angry that…. I resent….)
  2. Acknowledge the hurt and pain it caused (It hurt me when…. I felt sad/disappointed when…)
  3. Acknowledge the fears and self doubts it created (I was afraid that… I was scared when….)
  4. Own any part that you may have played in letting it occur/continue(I’m sorry that… Please forgive me for…. I didn’t mean to….)
  5. Express what you wanted that you didn’t get and/or what you want/need now(All i ever wanted… I deserve… I want you to….)
  6. Understand where the other person was/is coming from and forgive them (I understand that…. I forgive  you for…Thank you for…..)

Note that this process does sound similar to Steps 8 & 9 in AA– 8. Made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. But I like that the Total Truth Process does not stop there.

Now obviously, this process may not apply in every situation (and most particularly, may not be relevant or even advisable or safe for those who have experienced deeply traumatic events… I have met many women who have shared such stories with me….they were victimized. In some cases brutally so. And repeatedly. And they will likely never receive their amends. And frankly, I have seen 12 step programs–or those who would use these programs to pass judgement– re-traumatize these women). And sometimes, even oftentimes, alcohol just made me an ass, unprovoked, and there was no inciting situation or person. But for those bigger amends, where the wound involves family, friends, intimate partners, even colleagues, this balanced approach is more empowering for me, more authentic.

And really, isn’t this how conflict resolution in life should go? In all our relationships? Whether recovery-focused or not? How many of us actually practice forgiveness, both granting and seeking, in our lives? If we did, wouldn’t we be healthier? More tolerant? More gracious and humble? These are big questions, I know…. And I risk digressing. But it just affirms what I have witnessed, in my relatively short journey of recovery– the people doing the real work are the people society at large is so quick to judge and label as sick and diseased… Yet these are the people who are unlocking the secrets to a balanced, thriving life. Imperfectly, perhaps. But ever striving.

Jillian O

About Jillian O

I'm a mid-30s professional woman, lover of urban places & spaces, and committed to changing my relationship with alcohol. For me, that means not drinking. I also find myself increasingly frustrated with just how alcohol-centric we have become. My blog and my Facebook page (Sober in Cbus) are my means of Perspective, Accountability, and Making a Stand. Alcohol and its pushers took over so much of my life before. But not anymore.
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  1. I’m looking forward to hearing how AA didn’t resonate (and would also like to know what it is about Y12SR that works).

    From my experience of 12 Step rooms, that all-or-nothing thinking did not help me either (I imagine that’s one of the things that didn’t resonate with you from meetings). Regarding amends, I learned from the primary AA text that it’s best to do Step Nine with guidance because we can easily take on more responsibility than we ought. I’ve also learned that we are allowed mistakes which is different than causing harm or destruction – realizing that difference has been a big part of my growth and healing: especially growing up with a critical mother and then marrying a woman prone to criticism – it was so easy to feel like I was the problem and that everything was my fault.

  2. Thanks for your sharing only I can say is we’re not the same than anybody else, what works for some doesn’t work for others. We people in recovery, have the choice to choose what make us free and live life in life terms.

  3. Thank you for your perspective. There are a number AA tenets with which I am not completely happy, but the support works for me. I came to alcoholism late in life. I may have been too enthusiastic in my drinking,and a smart ass. I became full blown in dealing with the death of my mother. After several attempts at sobriety, I took a hard look at the 12 steps, and it was the first step that made me feel truly humbled. I had to accept my condition. Until I did that, I made no progress and the depression that drove my drinking did not abate. I have had lousy luck with sponsors, and now I’m forging on by myself. I go to several meetings a week and make sure I do something every day that makes a difference to myself and someone else. The amends I have made so far, were accepted. I think I made them to acknowledge my behavior and say, look I know what I did, mostly what I said, and I take responsibility. I feel fortunate that I didn’t harm anyone physically. I have not followed steps in order, after 5. But I will complete and try to follow the suggestions for the rest of my life. The other aspect, I love the friends I have made. Good luck to all of us in our struggles. I add, I don’t agree that having a slip or two is the end of a good effort. For me, I soon found out that I was right back where I started. I cannot have just one.

    • Thanks for sharing! I’m also appreciative of the “living amends” that 12 steps offers— that makes good sense to me. Continued luck in your journey!

  4. I too never chose a 12 step program (though I can roughly see a pattern evolving that seems to loosely resemble it). I took the Yogic path, which is rooted in Buddhism, and therefore deeply connected to forgiveness. The first time I did a forgiveness meditation and had to forgive myself, I bawled and bawled. Forgiveness is such a powerful thing, and with it I believe we can be free. Thanks for sharing.

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