Recovery Workshop: Lesson Sixty-Nine
Please note: All amends begin with recovery. For some, that may be all that is required; but for all, recovering first is a must. You cannot take responsibility for your past until you have taken responsibility for your present. And, in turn, your future. There are few things more damaging to one's self-respect than to make a sincere apology to a loved one that you have hurt, only to hurt them again the following month.
As you wind down the your active recovery, it is important to develop a healthy perspective as you move further and further away from addiction. There are three primary areas to consider in achieving this perspective:
1) Accept the life you have led...
Early in the workshop you were exposed to the negative impact of guilt and shame on the recovery process and you were asked to 'let go' of such guilt and shame — at least to the point where you were able to move forward with your commitment to developing a healthy life. Now that you have begun developing a foundation for such a life, it is time to re-examine the role of guilt and shame in the recovery process — as both can play important roles in furthering your self-awareness and defining your values.
Taking Responsibility for Your Past
One way people try to accept responsibility for the pain they have caused is to ensure that they experience similar pain through self-sabotage and sacrifice. The trouble with such an approach is that, while it may appease the emotional need for retribution and vengeance from those who have been hurt by you, it is not going to affect the core issues that led to the pain. Going to prison is not accepting responsibility for previous actions — it is being held accountable for those actions. Committing suicide is not taking responsibility for your past actions — it is ensuring that you will never have to take responsibility for them. Mutilating yourself, isolating yourself from society, turning your life over to God (when you don't truly believe in God)...each can be seen as a sign of remorse, but none are healthy ways of taking responsibility for what you have done. Why? Because none deal with the core issues of your addiction. None deal specifically with the pain that you have caused others. And it is in these last two areas where 'taking responsibility' can have constructive, lasting effects on everyone.
Taking responsibility requires a full commitment from you to change. No matter what consequences you may have been dealt as a result of your behavior (e.g. imprisonment, loss of family, loss of career), these consequences are not a measure of how much responsibility you have taken for your actions. How many times have you heard of a convicted felon who is released from prison comment, "I have done my time. I have paid my dues..."only to then repeat their crimes in the following weeks, months and years. Or an individual who clings to the fact that they have lost their family to their addiction as some type of measurement of how sorry they are. But feeling sorrow and suffering consequences have nothing to do with taking responsibility for their past. Taking responsibility requires action, not reaction. Taking responsibility requires a commitment to change the areas of your life that led to the destructive consequences. You are taking responsibility for your past by actively committing yourself to changing your life.
Lesson 69 Exercise:
While taking personal responsibility for your past through active change is important, it is also important that you do what you can to repair the actual damage that you have caused. Steps eight and nine of the Twelve Steps relate to making amends to those you have harmed. There can be no debating the importance of this in making a complete transition to health. To move beyond addiction, you must face the consequences that you have created and do what you can to minimize the damage. Whether these consequences were subtle or overt, recent or decades old, if you continue to harbor guilt and/or shame for the way that you treated another human being, then you need to come to terms with these feelings. This does not mean that you need to 'make things right' or completely eliminate these feelings of guilt or shame before moving on, only that you do what you can to make things right — in the situations where it is appropriate and safe.
The first issue to consider in making amends is who you should make amends to. Now that you have gained some experience in communicating with yourself using absolute honesty, the most consistent way to identify those individuals that you should consider making amend to is to allow your guilt and shame be your guide. Allow yourself to think back through your past and as memories come that involve people and/or situations where your actions have led to destructive consequences, write them down. This does not need to be a one-time event, but should be a process of awareness that evolves as you do.
Once you have such a list, consider the specific ways that you have impacted this person's life. Write down some of the more serious consequences in this person's life as a result of your actions. The purpose here is not for you to become depressed — making amends is not about you, it is about those who you have hurt in one way or another. And it is about finding ways that, when safe, can help repair that damage.
The next step in making amends is to go through the list and determine which people have been so significantly affected by your actions that some type of mending is needed. What action you eventually take is not important, your only goal here is to identify which people in your life deserve some type of additional attention.
Now comes the hardest part of making amends, determining who, of the remaining individuals on your list, would actually benefit from further action by you...and which might be further traumatized. As you consider these individuals, you will simultaneously need to consider just what actions would be appropriate given the consequences, the person and the situation. These are not easy issues to explore, and so you are strongly encouraged to speak with a counselor or someone you trust to help you work through these issues.
A few guidelines to remember when making amends:
- Should you find yourself uncertain towards whether or not to make amends to any given individual (or what action to take), always err on the side of safety and respect for the individual. You are not making amends to relieve your guilt, you are making amends to take responsibility for the damage that you have caused another person. If your continued involvement might further damage that person, don't get involved.
- You can only control the sincerity and effort of your actions; you cannot control how those actions are received. And so, it is imperative that you go about the process of making amends only when you have a solid foundation of your own, and that you engage in each action with a sincere heart.
- Remember that your goal is not to repair the damage that you have caused, it is only to recognize that damage and to offer to help repair it. If you reach out in a sincere way and are rejected, allow yourself to move on without trying to force your sincerity on the individual.
2) Accept the life you are living...
How frustrating it would be to spend months of active, focused effort on change, only to recognize that little measurable change has taken place. Your behaviors may have decreased. You may feel more confident in managing your addiction. You may feel better about yourself overall, but the real motivators for why you committed to putting addiction behind you — to develop strong relationships; to be a role model; to realize your full potential; to live a more fulfilling, stable life; to develop a more substantial meaning to your life — these are all elements of your life that remain elusive. Prepare yourself for this. Accept that it is human nature to look ahead and see where you want to be, as opposed to where you are. That is is natural to measure yourself in relation to the goals that you are striving for, as opposed to the goals that you have already achieved.
In addiction recovery, it is natural to minimize the importance of the changes that you have made to your life — mainly because there has been little real effect from these changes to date. At least form a healthy perspective. Yes, your behaviors may have subsided, yes your life may have stabilized, but what have you really gained? Not much...in terms of tangible measurements of a healthy life. But this is an unfair assessment of your progress. For the past month, two months, six months — however long it has taken you to get to this point, your goal has been to develop the foundation. To develop the structure for your recovery and your transition to a healthy life. This foundation, perhaps tangible to those closest to you, does not automatically translate to accomplishment and recognition. Prepare yourself for this reality.
3) Embrace the life you are developing...
As you know, the impetus for motivation in a healthy decision-making process is your value system. This is something that should already be ingrained in your awareness. What may still need to be ingrained is the reality that your values will be a fluid, developing entity in your life forever. It will be this developing foundation of values that will provide you with the majority of emotional fulfillment and stability throughout the remaining years of your life. Spontaneity, impulsive decisions, emotion-based actions...these will continue to provide a healthy spark, but should you ever find yourself getting off-track emotionally, return to this foundation and you will always regain stability. So, as you continue to take responsibility for the person that you are, embrace the values that will allow you to develop into the person that you are striving to be. See them as a consistent source of pride and energy. Select goals that are rooted in these values and pursue them with conviction. Make decisions based on these values and accept the inevitable rewards that come from such a life management strategy. Take pride in the life and the identity that you are developing, as this too — the embracing of your future — is also a part of the accepting of your past.