Addiction can be devastating to every aspect of your life: your career, your education and your mental and physical health. Most important, your addiction may have broken or seriously damaged many of your relationships with friends, co-workers, neighbors, and, of course, loved ones, whom you’ll need now more than ever to help you stick with sobriety.

While you were using you may have done a number of things that were duplicitous or betrayed others’ trust: lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, spending, even becoming violent and causing injury or damage to property or another person. Now isn’t the time to dwell on what you did, but on how, exactly, you can work toward repairing these relationships; making amends to those whom you’ve wronged may already be part of your recovery plan, particularly if you’re part of a 12-step program.

As you may know, step nine in the 12-step recovery process is about making amends. This means to set right past wrongs or to repair damage caused by mistakes you’ve made. The complete a 12-step program you are expected to make amends to everyone you have hurt except when doing so would cause more harm. Making amends must take into consideration the feelings of others; it should never hurt or embarrass someone else. So, for instance, you might not go into great detail with your spouse about an affair you had in the past.

Making amends cannot just be about praying and meditating on these mistakes, though. Whenever possible, members must take practical action to repair what needs to be fixed. For example, if you stole money from a friend to pay for drugs, it is not enough to simply apologize. You must pay back the money you took. Step nine also states that members making amends “must not shrink from anything, even risking their reputations or going to jail.” Sometimes making amends can just be about building a bridge back to a relationship you’ve been neglecting for years. It’s important to note, however, that some individuals whom you have harmed may reject your efforts to mend the relationship. This doesn’t mean that your time and intentions are worthless. You need to make the effort to make amends to those whom you’ve harmed, wherever and whenever possible, but only to the point where to do so will not bring further pain or harm to those individuals.

This is where your sponsor (if you have one), therapist and/or the friends you’ve made at self-help/mutual support meetings (if you’re attending these) can help you figure out the best approaches to making amends and rebuilding your relationships. But keep in mind: They can’t do it for you, and what works for someone else in recovery may not work for you.

If you feel that your past is littered with one negative consequence after another and one failed or destroyed relationship after another that doesn’t mean that this is what the rest of your life holds for you. Now that you’re in recovery, you have an incredible opportunity to make things right in your life — not only for others whom you may have harmed but also for yourself.

Sources: Janet Fluker, director of The Family Recovery Center at MARR; Journal of Studies on Drugs and Alcohol; Bob Navarra, PysD, Gottman Institute; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute.

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