Making amends is one of the most difficult steps. You are forced to reflect on your mistakes and your shortcomings. It also requires you to put yourself at another’s mercy by apologizing and asking how you can make it right. That can be hard for the most trivial offenses, much less the big mistakes people often make in active addiction. Despite the difficulty and discomfort of making amends, it’s one of the most important steps for several reasons.
You can’t go it alone. Many of the people you’ve hurt won’t want you back in their lives and you won’t want them in yours. It’s still important to reach out to those people, but it’s unlikely you will ever be close. Other relationships are worth making an effort to repair. This likely includes family, and maybe friends who you alienated during active addiction. Making amends to these people won’t make them suddenly forgive you necessarily, but it’s a good first step. You will have to earn back their trust gradually. Start by paying back any money you borrowed or stole and replacing anything you broke. Keep making an effort to show them they matter to you. You’ll need their support to help you stay sober and everyone needs social connection to stay sane and happy.
It helps you move past guilt and shame. When you just sit around by yourself thinking about all the terrible things you’ve done to others, your guilt and shame only grow. Making amends gives you an external point of reference. When we ruminate on the guilt, it can grow to crazy proportions. Whether someone reacts by giving you a hug or spitting in your face, at least you know where you stand. And if someone does spit in your face, you might feel let off the hook a little. Whatever happens, you’ll know you made a good faith effort to put things right.
It’s an exercise in facing discomfort. Much of addiction is driven by trying to avoid difficult feelings, whether it’s social anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or traumatic memories. This is why stress is such a potent trigger–you want that familiar hiding place. Making amends is uncomfortable but it’s good practice in confronting challenging feelings. It’s especially good because you can arrange things so you have the easiest conversations first and then move to the more difficult ones. It may never feel easy exactly, but that’s how you know you’re growing.