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The Amends Process: How It Works and Why It Matters

More Than a Simple “Sorry”

two woman talking over coffee - amendsMany people have been on the giving or receiving end of an apology that was forced, didn’t feel genuine, or did nothing to remedy the situation. This is why making amends, addressed in the eighth and ninth steps in 12-step programs, is much more than simply saying sorry for mistakes.

Because the suffering that addiction creates is far deeper and more intense than mere words can repair, it is important for a person in recovery to not only acknowledge the pain they’ve caused but to seek to do what is in their power to fix the damage.


Before a person can make amends, they have to honestly examine their past behaviors. The Alcoholics Anonymous website suggests the following ideas for thinking through amends you need to make:

  • Review the choices you made while you were using
  • Think through how those decisions impacted people around you
  • Write down the names of all of the people who were harmed
  • Describe in detail how those people were hurt
  • Determine how you might be able to go about fixing these injuries

Write Out the List

While it is likely that a person in recovery has a list in their head of people they have wronged and how they have done it, AA recommends putting a list down on paper–and carrying it with you at all times. Writing your list of amends and keeping it with you has several benefits:

  • It is a tangible reminder of your commitment to staying sober and becoming a better version of yourself.
  • It ensures that your list is as complete as possible, so that you don’t forget anything important.
  • It makes your amends feel more real and important when they are recorded.
  • It gives you a form of accountability.

How to Make Amends

Making amends is more involved than simply saying, “Sorry.” For many people, this word rings hollow without more to back it up. In the amends process, it is necessary to:

  • Admit the specific cause of pain (“I stole and pawned your ring.”)
  • Acknowledge the suffering (“I know it caused you pain to lose something that you valued and to lose your ability to trust me.”)
  • Offer to fix the situation (“How can I make this up to you?” or “I would like to replace your ring.”)

Types of Amends

There are a number of different ways that a person can choose to try rectifying the pain they have caused to other people. For example, AA lists the following ways to make amends:

  • Financially – paying back money
  • Directly – replacing stolen or damaged items
  • Emotionally – taking steps to repair relationships with loved ones
  • Indirectly – admitting mistakes and trying to live a better life

Those Who Can’t Be Given Amends

Sometimes you cannot make amends with someone without causing them further suffering. In this case, their feelings take priority over your need for absolution. However, even if you refrain from making amends with someone in order to protect them from further hurt, their name should still go on the list you carry with you. This will remind you of the importance of staying sober and prompt you to look for other ways to indirectly atone for the hurt you caused.

When Amends are Rejected

Sometimes even your sincerest apology will not result in reconciliation. While this can be sad and painful, it is a hard truth that no one is required to accept the amends being offered. A person in recovery can only control their own behavior and do their best to learn from their past. If those around them decide that their pain is too great to allow for healing to occur, this is their choice to make. The most important forgiveness for a person in recovery to obtain is forgiveness from themselves.

At Fair Oaks Recovery Center, we support each of our clients in determining how their choices have impacted their loved ones, and we can provide guidance on how to best convey meaningful remorse for mistakes.

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Looking for addiction treatment in California? For more information about programs offered at Fair Oaks Recovery Center, please call us today at (888) 989-9690.