Step 9 of the 12 Steps is, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” The purpose of Step 9 is to acknowledge the harm caused during past alcohol or drug abuse and to make it right with the people involved, as much as is possible. You’ll often hear about it during Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as well as similar groups.
Living amends is different than making amends. It means living a completely new, sober lifestyle, and being committed to that lifestyle for both yourself and for those you’ve harmed in the past.
5 Tips for Living Amends
Rather than making apologies and then repeating old behaviors and re-opening old wounds, commit to living a sober and healthy life. This means committing to never go back to the old ways that originally hurt those close to you. It also means to stop reminding your loved ones of past hurts.
Fulfill a promise that you made to someone in the past but that you didn’t 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 and ready to paint that room.
Living amends means actively improving relationships in your life with a concerted 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.
Living amends means giving of yourself. When you were in the throes of addiction, it was all about you and your needs. Now that you’re committed to a sober life, make it all about others as well. Volunteer your time to help your favorite charity or cause. A few examples are working in a soup kitchen, helping out at an animal shelter or donating your time to any worthy cause that resonates with you.
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.2 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.
Navigating Step 9
Step 9 can leave you emotionally exhausted; it’s a difficult step to navigate for some. But the rewards you’ll reap from living amends can help make the challenges easier and more productive.
The amends you make to your loved ones are admitting your wrongs and shortcomings due to your addiction. But simply saying you’re sorry and staying sober may not be enough for some of the people you’ve harmed. Be the person your loved ones deserve, by being someone who will do for them as they have done for you.