It is difficult to talk about recovery without talking about forgiveness. In addition to being a crucial part of any 12-step program, forgiveness is one of our social expectations. We know it is important to right the wrongs we perpetuate and to try to let go of grudges we hold against other people.
How Amends Are Made
Part of the 12-step amends process is offering an apology for wrongs one has done. Forbes Magazine lists six parts to a thorough apology:
- Expressing regret – “I am very sorry…” or “I want to apologize to you…”
- Indicating the nature of the transgression – “I stole money from you when I was actively using…” or “I wasn’t there for you the way that a parent should be…”
- Taking responsibility – “I made a terrible mistake…”
- Stating the intent to change – “I am no longer using and won’t steal from you again…” or “I want to be a better parent…”
- Offering to make the situation right – “I would like to pay back the money I stole from you…” or “I would like us to go to counseling to fix our relationship, and I want you to know that I am committed to staying sober…”
- Requesting forgiveness – “I hope you will be able to forgive me.”
It is important to recognize that the amends process is more than just saying sorry. It is an attempt to take corrective action to fix the wrong that was committed, if it is possible to do so without causing more harm to the other party.
When to Make Amends
Because it requires a lot of deep reflection and the ability to take accountability for some potentially difficult things, it is not recommended that you try to make amends immediately after entering recovery. In fact, making amends is the eighth of the twelve steps, done only after you have successfully navigated steps such as turning your life over to a higher power, taken a moral inventory, and accepting responsibility for your actions.
Having some time in sobriety may also help the people receiving amends to know that you are truly dedicated to changing unhealthy behaviors.
When Direct Amends Are Not Appropriate
Part of being in recovery is learning how to read a situation and having the emotional awareness to act appropriately. Sometimes, apologizing directly to the person you wronged is not always in the best interest of that person. For example, a direct apology can make someone relive an experience they’d rather forget or make them feel obligated to offer forgiveness even if they don’t feel ready to do so.
In these cases, it may be necessary to complete indirect amends by acknowledging the wrong that occurred and trying to address it without contacting the impacted party. Sometimes a letter of apology might be warranted. Just remember that the point of the amends is to make the other person feel better, and if you know that contacting them would make them feel conflicted or cause them emotional harm, avoid contact.
Forgiveness – Who Needs It Anyway?
- People Who Hurt You – Generally, addiction occurs in people who have been hurt immensely. After almost 20 years in social services, I have yet to meet a person who struggled with substance abuse who wasn’t also a trauma survivor. This means that any given person in recovery is owed some amends. Unfortunately, these amends may never be offered, which may make it even harder to forgive the person who caused the harm but also that much more important.
- You – Not only have you been hurt by other people, but you have also caused harm to yourself. You will need to work on forgiving and accepting yourself. A therapist can help you understand how the damage you suffered led to your mistreatment of yourself. You can learn how to put your experience in perspective and forgive and accept yourself.
- People You Hurt – Though no one is obligated to grant you their forgiveness when you attempt to make amends with them, there are benefits to accepting an apology and letting go of the pain one experienced. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of forgiveness include:
- Healthier relationships
- Better mental health
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Fewer depression symptoms
- Improved immunity
- Healthier heart
Steps to Forgiveness
When someone has hurt us immensely or repeatedly, it can be difficult to let go of the anger and hurt we feel. Harvard Health Publishing recommends the REACH Method for finding forgiveness in difficult situations:
Recall – Remember what happened in an objective way, focusing solely on the facts of the situation.
Empathize – Try to see it from the other person’s perspective.
Altruistic Gift – Consider a time you hurt someone and were forgiven. Remember how it made you feel and consider if you might be able to extend this gift to the person who hurt you.
Commit – Make a commitment to yourself to forgive the person. Write it down in a journal or a letter you keep for yourself.
Hold – Hold onto your forgiveness. This is the decision to change the emotions you feel about the situation, but does not require you to forget how you felt at the time.
Forgive Versus Forget
We have a tendency to expect that if we are forgiven, things will go back to the way they were before a transgression. Unfortunately, sometimes this is simply not possible. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. The other person may need to set a boundary of distance in order to maintain their own sense of well-being, even if they no longer hold hard feelings around the transgression.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we value the role of friends and family in the lives of our guests. Healthy relationships create a strong support system for everyone involved. If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, we can help you find the path forward.