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Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People around 12 step tables often discuss the topic of making amends, one of the steps suggested for attaining and maintaining recovery. What is this amend process? Consensus seems to be it is much more than identifying your mistakes and saying, “I’m sorry” to the person harmed by one’s behavior. Most people around the tables would agree that real amends consist of recognizing and owning your responsibility, apologizing for your behavior that contributed to  the problem in question, and then changing your behavior accordingly so that the same mistake is not repeated. Thus, making amends has to do with being responsible and performing what is called “living amends”—– amends made with sincere and observable long-term behavioral change. In other words,  “living amends” are made by exhibiting positive and sustained change.

This works well when making amends to known persons that are accessible to the recovering person, but what about making amends to unknown victims that may have been hurt when the recovering person was practicing his or her addiction? People enmeshed in addictive behavior are often not aware of harming or offending others…..or, if they are aware, they often do not care and are later unable to remember what occurred during their last drinking or drugging episode. Likewise, people in recovery sometimes need to make amends to people who have already died or those who cannot be accessed for other valid reasons.  How can amends be made in situations like these?

One method, particularly useful for those who have died or who are inaccessible for other valid reasons, is to write a letter to the harmed person and then read the letter “to the person” even thought they are not, in actuality, present. After completing this, some individuals like to burn the letter so the amend rises to the heavens and is in the hands of their Higher Power. This method can be effective if the recovering person sustains behavioral changes that will prevent a re-occurrence of similar problems.

However, making amends to the “invisible victim” of addictive behavior is bit harder. When one is high, intoxicated, or in a blackout  there are whole blocks of time and behavior unknown to the offending person. I have known people who are in recovery for decades before they start to comprehend some of the “invisible victims” they may have harmed. For example, if while driving intoxicated, a person damages another car in a parking lot, laughs, and quickly leaves the scene to avoid “getting caught”–how can amends for that offense be made? How can amends be made to the hundreds of lives endangered by decisions made to drive while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs—-even if a motor vehicle accident did not occur as a result? What if you are with a group of people at a party in a high-rise apartment building and you and other “mind-altered” individuals decide it is fun to drop jack-o-lanterns off the balcony onto the traffic below?  Just because the police did not come knocking at the door does not mean someone was not harmed.

I don’t claim to know the answers for everyone in recovery, but I know how I have made amends to invisible victims through the years. I have had to first recognize my responsibility in putting another human being at risk, even if I was unaware of it at the time. Next, I needed to ask my Higher Power to forgive the harm my behavior caused or may have caused. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I needed to make a conscientious effort not to repeat behaviors that would again put others at risk of harm. Once I took these steps, I was, with God’s help, able to forgive myself and complete one more important link in my spiritual journey.

Please comment on your ideas about making amends to invisible victims. I look forward to reading what you have to say. May God bless and keep you.

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