Amends – how, when, what?

A reader asked, “I’m wondering if you would consider writing some posts about making amends… how, when, what…? Thanks for considering it.”


The amends of Step Nine are an effort to clear away wrong-doing of the past, to make those things right in as much as that is possible.  I believe that many people have difficulty staying sober when they think about the bad things they’ve done, the people they’ve hurt.  Alcoholism as I understand it works this way.  I feel bad and guilty, so I drink to suppress or forget those feelings, or to black out entirely.  This causes more bad behavior.  This is bad behavior in itself.  So I drink more to deal with those feelings.  Making amends is an effort to break that cycle.

amends: reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense. 

make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult.


It’s a stark and ugly realization for many of us that we can’t actually undo the harm we’ve done.  But if we want to live, we can’t take that hopelessness as an excuse for further drinking.

The Big Book and the 12 and 12 have many suggestions for how, when and what.  It’s important to discuss these with someone else because this stuff is so emotionally laden it is easy to go wrong.  How is in the most tangible way possible.  Pay back money, that sort of thing.  Recently some women in the program and I had the chance to care for the pets of someone in rehab.  I saw it as a kind of way to make amends to the cat I had while I was drinking.  When would be as soon as possible.  Sometimes it’s possible right away, other times it’s never possible.  What can also be difficult.  As I’m about to help someone with this step, I’m concerned that she will either apologize for too much, or not enough.


The step can’t be done perfectly and more can always be added in the future.  Part of the not so fun part of recovery can be remembering things we’d rather forget, sometimes years later.

Of course the important part, the part I can control, is the changing part of amends.  I am to try as I can to not repeat my bad behavior of the past, and not find new ways to behave badly.

Part of our literature describes a time when Dr. Bob went around making amends to everyone he could think of, the day of his last drink.  We can see now that he surely had changed permanently, but I’m sure there were some doubters at the time.  Whatever he felt was different for him, inside, he expressed on the outside as a true and lasting change for the better.

One thought on “Amends – how, when, what?

  1. Lovely post. I am so glad you emphasised amend as in repair or make good. I thought it meant saying sorry. Actually, that was quite strait forward, as well as quick. But repairing damage done took longer ( and felt better, when it was accepted)

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