I didn’t make amends because I was seeking forgiveness from the people I wronged, I made amends because I’m seeking the capacity to be able to forgive myself for what I’ve done. I’ve previously talked about the difference between guilt and shame in my blog postings. Often times, guilt is completely warranted, and in my experience, the only way to achieve freedom and serenity from my past transgressions is through two acts, one of self-forgiveness, and one of taking the action to make the amends required. In Twelve Step programs making amends is actually the ninth step in the program, and in my experience it has been the most critical step in my recovery. Of course cessation of drinking and using drugs was a huge benefit of my recovery, but even more so was sustaining that cessation. And I found the best way to have any length of continued sobriety (admittedly mine is short continuous sobriety, but still far longer than the few hours I was able to abstain while I was in active addiction) is to actively make amends to the people I wronged.
People don’t get clean and sober from drugs and alcohol to live a life full of fear, guilt, anxiety, shame, regret, and self-hatred, we attain sobriety to become happy and free from our previously debilitating and deadly afflictions. I find for myself that self-forgiveness has to come after making the amends. After I’ve faced the people I’ve egregiously wronged, after I was able to look at them with empathetic eyes, and more importantly, listen to and own up to what I had done with empathetic ears, was I really able to start on the road of self-forgiveness. Before I become willing to do whatever is required to stay sober, I was under the illusion that I would be able to find serenity and tranquility merely by stopping the maladaptive behaviours I engaged in, mainly the substance abuse, and that this would lead me to a sense of inner peace.
When it comes to making amends, I’m not seeking forgiveness, but I am ultimately seeking self-forgiveness. Once I know that I’ve done all that I can to right the wrongs of my past, sometimes with little success, and sometimes with great success, I can then learn to absolve myself of the fusillade of guilty feelings that I could only previously fend off with pathetic futility. When I’m able to admit my wrongs, and honestly allow the victim to tell me just how badly I made them feel, and then proceed to ask them what I can do to remedy the situation, if anything, I can then realize that I am a person worth forgiving. They might not forgive me, and they have every reason not to, but I know I did my part in the process of emotional healing, and I can recognize that these behaviours I exhibited in the past will not be behaviours I would exhibit today. If I can honestly say that today I wouldn’t do the abhorrent things I did in my past, I can begin to let go of the guilt I rightfully carried onto for so long.
Life is a never ending collage of mistakes. But when I take full ownership and responsibility for my mistakes (which is what making amends should be), I not only afford myself the ability to learn from my errors, I grant myself the capacity to be able to rid myself of detrimental feelings associated with my misbehaviours. Making amends absolves me of the need to be overtly critical towards myself, and often-times self-loathing. It allows me to assess myself for what I am, a fallible person in a fallible world, who despite his flaws, defects, and misdeeds, still has the potential for spirituality, right actions, and growth. I’ve learned to be hard on myself when there are pressing situations that still need to be addressed, and lenient on myself when I know I’ve tactfully handled the things that needed to be addressed. Constant self-criticism or constant self-leniency, are never the answer, because like most things, the world is not as dichotomous, not as black and white, as my brain tells me, in fact, almost everything is in the grey.
- Jack A. Bingham
Author of Obsessive-Compulsive Dramatic: My Fight Against OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Addiction