Making Living Amends
The definition for the word "Amends" according to Webster's Dictionary is: compensation for a loss or injury: recompense <make amends>
Meaning, we make up for injuries we have caused others. We take action to make things right. If we owe money, we pay it back. If we broke an item, we replace it.
When I was 19, I cashed a bad check at a local corner store. It was owned by a member of the community. It wasn't a whole lot of money, but it still wasn't mine.
The owner of the store and a really big guy showed up to the house I was renting and asked me where his money was "I don't know.", I said. The big guy asked "Well why the Hell did you cash the check knowing it was not good?!", "I don't know.", I replied. I think the big guy was there to intimidate me, but I was too far out there to notice. They left and I never saw them again.
Flash forward 22 years later, I find myself walking into the same corner store, run by the very same guy (who looks like he hasn't aged one bit). "Hello Mr. _____, my name is _____. In 1989, I cashed a bad check here, knowing it was bad. I did this because I am an alcoholic and a drug addict and I just wanted to get high. I would like to repay you this money and ask if there is anything else I can do to make this right?"
Mr. _____ is shaking his head. "1989? I don't even remember you." I reply, "Well, I never forgot." He takes the money and says, "The money is enough. Stay clean and God bless you, young lady."
He blessed me!! Well, I was on a high for the rest of the summer and I was looking for more debts to repay! Yes, it is true, an addict's drug of choice is more.
What is a Living Amends?
But what about the hearts we have broken? The feelings we have hurt over time and again? The addict/alcoholic has caused pain to their loved ones on many occasion. While money and material items can be expensive to replace, they at times are the easier amends to make. You cannot pay for another person's anxiety and grief. We cannot buy back the hours, weeks, months and years that one has anguished over our blatant disregard for their emotions.
This is when a "Living" amends is the best avenue to take. But what is a "Living" amends? I am so glad you asked!
My Baby Sister
My baby sister is just shy of 10 years younger than I. The dynamics of this type of relationship is quite the rubberband effect. From adoring her as a little baby, through being jealous of all the things she got as a child, being frustrated that she had to go everywhere with me. Then she did something completely unforgivable...she grew up.
While she was growing up, I was indulging in my addiction and could not be bothered with her young troubles. Then as she began to experience her own adult struggles, I had neither the time nor the patience for her requests.
When my sister would call me, I would answer by asking "What do you want?". Not "Hi baby sis, how are you?". I really didn't care. I was too wrapped up in my own selfishness and drama to be concerned. When she would go into a tirade or tantrum about something I would just tell her to grow the #%&! up. Nevermind that I had just thrown a similar tantrum at work. At least I got paid to be pissed off. You know, because I'm mature and all that.
Then the miracle happened for me. I got sober. I got clean. I started working with a sponsor and taking the steps. Before I even reached the 9th step, however, I had already noticed how poor my behavior was toward my darling baby sis. I started to recognize her need for acceptance and love. It wouldn't be long before an opportunity to give her what she needed arrived.
She had just announced that she was pregnant...again and the whole family was just letting her have it. I remember that she had a plate of food and she threw it on the floor and went into the other room.
Following her into the room, I decided not to say one word. I just sat down next to her on the bed and hugged my baby sister as she cried. I listened to her gripe about the family and for the first time in my life, I did not judge her. I just loved her. I chose to accept my sister unconditionally.
My relationship with my sister has only gotten better since. Not that I always agree with her choices. We are still so very different, but we have a love and respect for each other that can not be broken.
What happened? I just stopped being a terrible sister. I make my living amends to her by being the best big sister I can possibly be, regardless of any and all circumstances in our family and relationship.
Simple, Not Easy.
The process of making living amends is simple, not easy. It takes work. It takes practice. It means we will fall short of our desired intent at times. This can and most likely will be painful at times.
We addict/alcoholics crave instant gratification. In the arena of living amends, we must completely let go of this concept. Because we have caused so much grief to our loved ones, we now feel it...possibly seven-fold. Why shouldn't we? At this point in our recovery, we are actually experiencing emotions that we have stuffed for many years. So it is a good thing, even if we don't feel that it is.
We also must remember that we don't "have" to do this. We "get" to do this. Because we have managed to survive years of suicide on the installment plan. We have been given the gift of a new and better way of living.
We also have no idea, just how good things are about to get. So just keep at it. Maybe by picking up someone else's daily chores to show how much we care. Maybe we just pick up the phone when at other times, we would have let it go to voicemail. Return a text, give a hug, say a kind word. Just. Do. Something.
Examples of Living Amends
Stop poor behavior.
I was inconsiderate.
Be considerate going forward.
I was disrespectful.
Stop disrespectful behavior.
I was lazy.
Follow through with your commitments.
Tell the truth from now on.
Become a faithful partner.
You've Changed So Much!
We addict/alcoholics love to hear these words. We know that we have been working our program, our sponsors know, but those who have known us at our worst - do they know? When they acknowledge the change (without our prompting), we are filled with joy and gratitude.
We then, become addicted to being better people. Better sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers...
If you are pressed to make a living amends, take some time to plan it out in writing. Then discuss with your sponsor or counselor to get help as you start out on this part of the journey.