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Have you ever heard the phrase, “make amends”?

It’s not one we use too frequently in our everyday language, but it still holds significant meaning. To make amends means to apologize for something you have done or for wronging someone in some way. It means mending, or (quite literally) fixing, the relationship.

When held in the bonds of an addiction, it’s not uncommon for many relationships to feel strain, or to fall apart together. The beautiful part of recovery, especially when done in conjunction with the Twelve Steps of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), is the chance to not only mend the injured relationships but to take it a step further and turn your apology into living amends.

What does living amends mean?

Step Nine of the Twelve Steps of AA states, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

The purpose of Step Nine is to acknowledge the harm caused during active addiction and to make it right with the people involved, as much as possible. Even though they have similarities, living amends are different than making amends. While making amends is apologizing, living amends means living a completely new, sober lifestyle, and being committed to that lifestyle for both yourself and those you’ve harmed in the past. It means that you’re not just using your words to show a change, your actions are proving this change as well.

5 tips for living amends

It’s really hard to apologize to those you’ve hurt — it takes courage and humility and requires a deep, intense look at yourself. It follows, then, that Step Nine is a challenging step. Thankfully, there are tips you can take to help make your living amends permanent and lasting.

  1. Rather than making apologies and then repeating old behaviors and re-opening old wounds, commit to living a sober and healthy life. This means refusing to ever go back to the old habits that originally hurt those close to you and remaining true to your word that you no longer wish to pursue that old, unhealthy lifestyle.
  2. Fulfill a promise that you made to someone in the past, but failed to keep because of addiction. Perhaps you promised a loved one to help paint a room, but your struggles with substance abuse made that promise go by the wayside. Living amends means showing up with a can of paint and paintbrushes, ready to paint that room.
  3. Living amends means actively improving relationships in your life with a concentrated and focused effort. Visit relatives more often, mentor young people you know, teach people close to you skills you’re good at or make time for a regular date night with your partner.
  4. Addiction is all about meeting the needs or wants you to have for yourself; a life free from addiction gives you the time and space to fill the needs and wants of others, be they family members, friends or members of your community. You could volunteer at the library or animal shelter; you could offer to pet-sit while your friends are away; or you could help your mom with a home improvement project she’s been working on for years.
  5. Don’t keep apologizing repeatedly for your past mistakes. It’s possible that you made apologies over and over when you were using, so your loved ones have heard that before. Instead, stay focused on changing your behaviors and being of service to them. Offer to do chores or spend time with loved ones. Wash a car, mow a lawn, visit with an elderly relative or do anything else that’s useful and considerate. Actions speak louder than words.

Undoubtedly, you, too, have a list of ways in which you want to live out your living amends, and that’s great! The more personalized your lifestyle changes are, the more they’re going to resonate and stick with you.

Navigating Step Nine: Living Amends

Step Nine can leave you emotionally exhausted; it’s a difficult step to navigate. But the rewards you’ll reap from living amends can help make the challenges easier and more productive. Plus, you’ll find that as relationships heal and friendships are repaired, you’ll have more support and encouragement from those around you, and nothing is more helpful in recovery than a community of valuable family and friends.

To learn more about addiction recovery, including AA, reach out to Silver Mist Recovery.