Making Your Amends: Why “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough -Vicki Tidwell Palmer LCSW, CSAT

Sometimes recovering addicts feel unworthy of respect and love. This feeling can be especially strong with spouses, children, and other family members. Many addicts think they don’t deserve to have loved ones in their life at all after everything they’ve put them through.

As a recovering addict, it is perfectly normal and understandable to feel this type of shame (“I am inherently bad, defective, and unworthy of love”) and guilt (“I did something awful that I deeply regret”). In fact, shame is likely the underlying driver of your addiction, and guilt is the result of your addiction-related misbehavior.

Although you’ve made mistakes, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person and you are unworthy of love. If you need evidence, consider the fact that you’re working so hard to change and to become a better individual. That, in and of itself, makes you a worthy person. Still, you may be having these feelings.

This is where Steps 8 and 9 come in.

  • Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  • Step 9: Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These “amends steps” help you make things right with your loved ones (and yourself) in ways that reduce your shame and guilt. This process, however, involves a lot more than saying “I’m sorry.” You must also make reparations and compensation as appropriate, and you must live differently as you move forward.

If, for example, you emptied your child’s college fund to pay for your addiction, you will need to tell your spouse (and maybe your child) what you did. You will need to apologize, and you will need to find a way to pay the money back. And then you must avoid making the same or similar mistakes in the future.

This last bit—living differently—is known as a “living amends.” Many believe that making a living amends is the most important part of the amends process because, more than anything else, living amends help you release the shame that drives your addiction. A living amends is a mindset that gives you a sense of progress and forward movement in your otherwise endless experience of shame, guilt, regret, and remorse.

What is a living amends? Here are some examples:

  • Regular engagement in recovery activities (12-step meetings, step work, group or individual therapy, workshops, and fellowship with recovery peers).
  • Sustained sobriety (in whatever way that is defined for your addiction).
  • Regular recovery check-ins with your significant other (and other family members when appropriate).
  • Willingness to hear about your loved ones’ fears, anger, triggers, and feelings, and to do this without becoming defensive.
  • Willingness to engage in trust-building behaviors, such as keeping your loved ones informed about your whereabouts and activities, and consistently fulfilling your obligations and commitments.
  • Willingness to eliminate certain activities (at least until you’ve established solid sobriety) such as traveling for business, spending time with certain friends, unfettered use of the internet, etc.
  • Overall reduction in defensiveness and presenting yourself as a victim.
  • Greater level of engagement and participation in home and family activities.

As a recovering addict, when you engage in the living amends process—even imperfectly—you and your loved ones will notice and appreciate this effort. By showing up, doing the work, and continuing to do the next right thing, you will progress toward reducing your shame, staying sober, and deserving the love and respect of your family—far beyond what you could hope to experience after even a thousand apologies.

Vicki Tidwell

About Vicki Tidwell

Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT, is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Houston, Texas. She specializes in working with betrayed partners, and helping people heal from childhood trauma.Vicki hosts an international online community for betrayed partners, offers several online courses for partners and therapists, and holds 4-day Reclaiming Wholeness Intensives for healing childhood wounds. She has presented at national conferences, for The Meadows Lecture Series, 12-step communities, as well as professional, healthcare, and faith-based organizations on a variety of topics including boundaries, relational trauma, and mindfulness.
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  1. Hi Keith, ultimately the best amends is a change of behavior. And if you’re at a loss as to how to make an amends, ask your partner what would be the most meaningful amends for her. If you’re not currently working with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, I highly recommend finding one. You can visit to find therapists in your area.

  2. I really need help. I’m a recovering sex addict who is desperately trying to find concrete ways to make amends to my wife of 25 years. 25 years of betrayal, lies and gaslighting. I’ve been an ER doc for almost 28 years, so of course I knew more than the two extremely qualified C-SAT therapists who were willing to team up and lead us both through recovery(of course joking…now finding out how little I really know). Lost that opportunity. In trying to work on restoration of trust and amend-making without guidance, I further wounded my wife with critiques about her body, ability, intelligence…a real prince. She is STILL willing to work with me, but I’m stuck on amends. What might some concrete examples look like for someone who has violated every tenet of a marriage? I’m stuck on apology, which I know is important, but to make direct amends?? I know you’re not my or her therapist, but please give me some type of feedback and some direction..

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