Ever been the recipient of "making amends"?

Step 8/9 of the classic 12 step program is making a list of people you’ve wronged/hurt and then making amends to them. I’ve been the receiving end of these steps and I didn’t like it. In my personal experience it came down to being all about the person going through the program. That was/is a defining theme of my relationship with this person. My attitude is that my life has been and is better with keeping them at arm’s length. It’s a “It’s great that you’re better, but my life is fine and there’s no void for you to fill” kind of thing.

I don’t know if it’s an issue with the program’s design or how it’s members are executing it, but I think it’s backwards. It seems like the point is to make amends with all of the people the addict has harmed in order for the addict to heal. But that’s backwards. The addict is the one who is the transgressor and the benefit should accrue to the victim. If the transgressor gets benefit out of it, great, but they shouldn’t expect any.

IMHO, the focus should be along the lines of “I sucked before. I’m trying not to suck now. When I no longer suck, then maybe people will want me in their lives, but that’s up to them.”

Only at performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Ike - very nice, much applause.

I got a nice meal at a fancy restaurant from a recovering alcoholic who had been shitty at work for a while (chronic absenteeism had resulted in work that should have been shared between us falling solely on me).

It was definitely more “ritual act of contrition” that something I actually needed.

I once heard Adam Carolla complain about being on the receiving end. By the time it happened, he had long since forgotten the bad things the other person had done, so making amends made the other person feel good but basically just dredged up unpleasant memories for Carolla.

Not as a part of a twelve-step program, but one girl wrote an apology in my yearbook for saying mean things about me behind my back. I’d had no idea she was doing that.

It seems interesting that, unless I am reading your post incorrectly, you had one person make amends but state that it a problem with the programs design. Am I reading that incorrectly?

In any case, the point of making amends is twofold. The first is to really make amends (whenever possible) to those you hurt to try and repair whatever damage you did. In other words, the point is to make the victim of the bad behavior whole. The second point of making amends is to get closure for the situation so that the guilt/shame/whatever from your past actions doesn’t keep on coming back.

The first part ought to be the primary goal because the second follows naturally. However, especially for newly sober folks, the second part can seem more important and become their focus.

The actual text reads:

Step 8

Step 9

Note that in step 9 the injury exception specifically puts the alcoholics needs below those that they had harmed.


Yes. I didn’t exactly mind, but it felt weird. It was years later and it just seemed strange to have it come back up.

I’m currently politely ignoring an email because I think that’s the desired outcome – that the person wants to make amends in a formal way. I would rather not. The time in question is so, so long ago and I fear it would bring up unpleasant memories for me.

I got an email from a HS girlfriend apologizing for hurting me when she broke up with me. I didn’t remember how we parted, so she may have had a different recollection. If found out later she had died.

I think you’ve got it right–the addict is/was the transgressor and the amends should be to the benefit of the victim. Which is what the program says should happen. But there’s also a lot of emphasis on “putting the wreckage of our pasts” behind us, and on the amends as a transformative experience for the addict. We fucked up and now you get to be part of our redemption! Yay us!

Generally, unless money is owed (or something tangible), or the relationship is a close one, living amends are the way to go. That means making amends to the world at large by no longer being an asshole.

No, it’s never happened to me. No close friend of family member has ever done me any real harm, drunk or sober, so this has never been an issue for me.

But I know a few people who’ve been contacted by long lost family members or ex-spouses who were trying to make amends, and made contact out of the blue after years of silence. in each of these cases, the friend was, well, weirded out at the very least, and even a bit resentful. NOT because the friend was unhappy about the estranged spouse or parent getting sober, but because the whole making amends stepped felt like a formality, something that had to be checked off on a form, rather than as a sign of real remorse.

Nope – and several people I know who went the 12 Step route probably should have. Don’t get me wrong, I think the basic program is fine; but people do seem to have their individual take on which steps are important to them.

I’m no expert on 12-step programs, but there seems to be some kind of disconnect here. “Making amends” is supposed to be—I think—about acknowledging your bad actions to the person you harmed. It’s not about their accepting you in their lives and not even about forgiving you. If you felt like you were obligated to give this person some kind of reward, then either he or she failed to communicate properly or there was some other kind of misunderstanding.

Yes on all counts. The person making amends should not expect anything in return–forgiveness, friendship, twenty bucks, nada. But I can see how it feels like they’ve invited themselves back in by asking to make the amends.

I picture the program founders paying back the money they embezzled from their employers, buying new chairs for the corner bar, and maybe paying for a professional cleaning of their favorite jail cell. Not coming out of the blue to confess to backstabbing in high school.

Even the making amends meeting is asking something. It’s forcing people to deal with a situation they may have already come to terms with. Or maybe it’s just an awkward lunch that brings up bad memories. At minimum it’s telling someone who wants to apologize to go pound sand. That’s not an easy thing for a non-asshole to do.

Say you want to see birds in the woods. You screw up, make a ton of noise, and all the birds fly away. If you still want to see some birds the answer is not to go and hunt down the ones you scared away. The answer is to stop making noise and eventually different birds will return. Maybe even some of the original ones.

That, IMHO, is what the 12 step program should encourage. Take account of the ways you screwed up so that you don’t do that in the future. Then once you are no longer an asshole (note, this is more than just being an addict) maybe people will return and you can apologize if you think it will help them.

The phrasing is important. The phrasing AA uses is:
Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

If someone has made it clear that want nothing to do with you, trying to make amends is a new transgression, which triggers the “except when to do so would injure” clause. (And also the “become willing to” part.)
While the point IS for making amends to benefit the addict, that benefit is NOT a restoration of the relationship. It is clearing your soul of the baggage of crappy things you have done in the past. Anybody who says, “I said I was sorry, now can we be friends again?” didn’t really understand what they were supposed to be doing.
But oddly, it IS the transgressor who should be getting something out of it. If an addict stole $5 from a roommate, they should seek out that person and give them the $5 (if possible). The roommate will get nothing substantial from this, but the addict can forgive themselves for this misdeed.
From what I saw, the show My Name Is Earl did this fairly well: each episode had him finding a person he had done something horrible to in the past and trying to “make that right”. Not to become their friend, not to be any part of their life, but just to undo or balance the wrong he’d done. (Although Earl often tried to force this on people who wanted nothing more to do with him, so not the best example.
When I read the title, I didn’t realize this would be about the STEP to make amends, but the more general practice, and I have a story of that to share.
I work in a convenience store, and a few years back I worked in one that was a neighborhood store, with the same faces every night and lots of people walking to the the store. There was an older couple (late 50s or maybe 60s) who would come in occasionally, often to play lottery.
One night I said to the lady, “Ma-am, I’m going to have to ask you to watch your language.” She replied, “I only said (excrement) once.”, and I said (with a not of anger) “That was THREE times, and if you go for four I’ll throw you out.”

At this point her husband gets involved. I always have difficulty understanding him, but he said something about how if I wasn’t behind the counter things would be different. I forget what was said by whom, but I remember it ended with me repeatedly saying, “Are you challenging me to a fight, sir?”

MONTHS later, in the last week of December, he approaches my register and … I always have difficulty understanding him, but he made it clear he wanted to apologize for that incident. Something about starting the new year with a clean slate.
Now, they’d been in in the intervening time. This wasn’t about being allowed back in the store or something. This was about him not having to think every time he saw me, “Boy, I was a jerk to that guy that one time.” He knew he’d been wrong, and wanted me to know he knew he’d been wrong so that he could stop feeling guilty.
So yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of somebody making amends.

I agree with you. I don’t think the steps take the burden being placed on the recipient of the amends seriously enough. Your birds analogy fits the concept of living amends which I referred to in an earlier post–the amend is living differently so as not to cause further harm. And, yes, that means more than not drinking or using.

I haven’t done the amends steps yet, and I wouldn’t in any case reach out to past friends or acquaintances–I was a very solitary drinker and wreaked my havoc quite locally–but this thread has given me a lot to think about when the time comes. So thanks for starting it!

When I was 19 a former classmate knocked on my door and said he was going on a Mormon mission and he had to clear up his debts before he could leave. There had been an incident in junior high and he owed me $50. He apologized and handed me a check.

I was shocked. He was always a little bitch about everything and here he was acting like he’d grown up. I said “hey man, I appreciate that, and it means a lot. But really I’ve completely written off the idea of ever seeing this money again, and I’m not holding a grudge or anything. Why don’t you just keep the money and we’re okay and I hope you have a good experience on your mission. Thanks for stopping by.”

He took his check back and said “oh, you’ve forgiven me? Or you just know I’m right and I never actually owed you anything to begin with! WELL THEN I UNAPOLOGIZE!!!”


I was the recipient of a “sort of” making amends. It was from a woman I had known in my twenties. An alcohol and drug enthusiast, very immature, loud, rude, and cruel. She and I had it out and she said some things that were just breathtakingly nasty.

Cut to my late thirties: this woman had apparently found God, was married to an Evangelical Christian, but according to some people I knew that knew her, had not changed very much except for stopping the alcohol and drugs. She very occasionally came into the place I worked because she did freelancing for them sometimes.

One day I was in my office and she came in and handed me one of those big soup mugs that were popular back then. She didn’t really say anything, so I’m only surmising it was some kind of way she thought she was making amends. I didn’t buy it. Several years later I found out she was divorced and shacking up with some other guy. I hope for her sake she did change, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t.