We spend our 9th step making amends to those we’ve wronged, but what happens when someone won’t accept your amends?
Those of us in recovery know addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease. The desperation of addiction makes us say things we don’t mean, and do things we would normally never dream of doing. In the throes of our addictions, we hurt nearly everyone around us – family, friends, lovers, spouses: no one is exempt. The wreckage caused in active addiction can leave lasting damage that isn’t easy to repair. The 9th step amends process is a crucial part of recovery because it allows us to let go of the past and start fresh, with a brand-new future ahead of us.
So we start going to meetings. We get a sponsor, we get sober, and we start living right. We start doing the steps. We make our lists and change our lives, and work our way through the basic text. We find the people to whom we owe amends and we start to make things right. We admit our part and make the amends when appropriate. And then one day it happens: we go to make an amends to someone, only to be met with anger, indifference, or flat-out refusal. Our amends are rejected. We’re told that we could never even BEGIN to make up for the wrongs we’ve committed. This is a touchy subject for people in recovery. Rejected amends lead to resentments, and resentments lead to anger, self-pity, and eventually, relapse.
So what do you do when you attempt to make a sincere amends to someone you’ve wronged and they flatly refuse to accept it? The first thing is to respect that person’s wishes – you can’t cram an amends down someone’s throat. If your attempt is thwarted, thank the person for their time, end the conversation and walk away. Next, CALL YOUR SPONSOR. If your sponsor doesn’t pick up, call someone else. Keep calling until you get someone. After that, go to a meeting and share about your experience. It’s almost guaranteed that someone else in the room has a similar story to tell. Talk to other people in recovery about having your amends rejected, and be honest about how it made you feel.
Once you’ve got you’ve gotten over the initial shock of having your amends rejected, remember why you needed to make the amends in the first place. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to empathize with them. Remember, amends are designed to make the person you wronged feel better, not you. If the person isn’t ready to hear the amends yet, don’t rush it – the world isn’t on your schedule.
If someone reacts poorly to your amends, there could be any number of reasons for it. Maybe they have some drama going on in their life. Maybe they just lost their job. Maybe one of their loved ones recently passed away. Maybe they’re simply not ready to forgive. Or maybe they themselves are in active addiction. (side note: Do not attempt to make amends with someone in active addiction. Active addicts often find their friends’ newfound sobriety threatening, and may lash out at those trying to right past wrongs)
Just remember, if you made a sincere attempt at an amends and the other person wasn’t willing to hear it, that’s not on you. You gave it an honest try and they rejected it, so they own the problem now. If they choose to hold onto that anger, that’s their problem, not yours.
Ultimately, and most importantly, there is a reason this is the ninth step. No one should join a 12-step program and start making amends the next day. The whole point of each step is to prepare you for the next; so, with the help of a sponsor, work steps 1-8 thoroughly, and ask your sponsor when he or she thinks you’re ready to start making amends.
Ten Simple Facts About Rejected Amends and Resentments
The views shared in this blog are solely those those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Townhouse on Sixth, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other alcohol and drug addiction recovery program. Providing information about a topic does not equate endorsement. If you are having a hard time or feel that you are at risk, please contact your sponsor, counselor, addiction recovery specialist, or call 911.
Below you will find resources to help addicts and alcoholics find local meetings and support.