Repairing your life from addiction requires us to look at past experiences, our past traumas, things we want and need to change. And apologizing for things we’ve done because of addiction. Making amends, even attempting to make amends— is not easy. Making amends can lead to a lot of overwhelming feelings like fear, anxiety, or pride. It’s hard to be vulnerable.
But accepting that your apology, no matter how sincere, may or may not be accepted is also part of the process. Knowing that you are not alone and apologizing sincerely is what is best for you in the long run. And you must do what is best for you!
Make amends with yourself first
To make amends with other people, you must first make amends with yourself.
The first step to forgiving yourself is self-reflection. Take some time to think about the experiences you’ve lived through. Understand why you are the way you are, the pain you’ve experienced in life, the decisions you’ve made, and how these experiences change the way you think and feel. Self-reflection brings self-compassion by teaching you to love yourself completely. And that’s a part of forgiving yourself.
The second step to forgiving yourself is taking away power from past mistakes. Forgiving yourself about past mistakes doesn’t mean that what you did was OK and somehow it didn’t have an impact. The opposite is true, forgiving yourself requires us to fully sit with, acknowledge and accept the consequences of our behaviors. When we do this, we often feel lighter because you can stop fighting or justifying the experiences.
Many people find it helpful to write down thoughts related to mistakes made in the past. You can journal to let those feelings out or even talk to someone you trust and express so you can let go. Ultimately, the goal is to help your mind get unstuck from guilt and shame so you can move towards acceptance and repair. Accepting that you couldn’t do better until you knew better is part of your healing journey. Once we can acknowledge to ourselves what we’ve done wrong and why, we can start to repair it with others.
Mean what you say
Making sure you mean what you say is an important aspect of apologizing. You are not a little kid that is being forced to apologize for saying something mean to someone else. You need to say what you mean and mean what you say.
People can tell if you are being genuine. They can tell if your apology is sincere or if you are apologizing to get something out of them. So when you make amends, try not to come out of a place of desperation. Making amends should not be about getting something out of this person—you should be apologizing because you are sorry, not because you want to feel better. Just because you apologize does not mean they will forgive you and being properly prepared for this is a necessity.
Giving yourself some time before you make amends can help make sure you are genuine or approach an apology with the other person in mind. In recovery it takes a while to learn yourself and determine what actions and decisions warrant apologies. Also, it’s a good idea to practice and figure out what you are going to say. Here are some things you can do to help you prepare for the conversation:
- Write it out. Writing it out not only helps you plan what you are going to say, but it also helps curb the “you language” and you can reframe it to “I feel” statements.
- Practice it. Sometimes it helps to practice what you are going to say before you say it. This could mean practicing in front of a mirror or recording yourself on your phone and playing it back. Or reading it to someone you trust before you read to the person you’re apologizing to.
- Keep it productive. The goal is not to relive the trauma that you or that person experienced while you were struggling with addiction. The goal is to apologize and accept the consequences of the decisions we’ve made in the past..
Making amends is not something that you have to rush or hurry to do. This is a challenging process and it’s OK to take your time.
Make amends only if it’s safe
Sometimes we want to make amends but doing so means you’re exposed to relationships where that person is using or with a person that hurt you emotionally or physically. If your mental health and physical health are in danger, apologizing to the individual may not be an option. If you are going to be in circumstances that risk your well-being, then it’s not worth it.
Waiting to see if there is a time when amends are safer for you is OK. Sometimes writing a letter and mailing it can be just as effective as a means of making amends. If you cannot mail the letter, having a release ceremony is a good way to help yourself let go. It is important to figure out a comfortable way to make amends, be it via telephone, letter, or in person. You must judge the situation accordingly.
What happens after I make amends?
Remember just because people forgive you does not mean that they will forget. Consequences are still present, and relationships can be altered. Part of the mending process is realizing that as individuals we are different now, and an apology is not going to change everything.
Making amends does not guarantee the relationship will go back to the way it was in the past. This is hard work, and self-reflection before and after making amends is part of the growing process. This process was for you, and you cannot change the way others view you. The only thing that matters is that you are a new person now.