I was taught to distinguish between a ‘contractual’ amends and a ‘living’ amends. Contractual amends are the easy ones. You confront, admit your wrong, ask what you can do to make it right, and then wipe your hands and check it off your 8th Step amends list. Confronting one of your old bosses is easy. Walking into a department store you stole from is easy. Being accountable to an old friend or colleague is easy. Why? Because you get to walk away afterwards, cross it off, and probably never see these people again. Or if you do see them, the slate is clear. But not so with our families. The slate is NEVER clear.
A living amends goes on until the day that I die. Those closest to me have no interest in hearing a quick “sorry” and then off I go. First of all, we don’t say “sorry” when we make amends. Our spouses and relatives have heard “sorry” more than they can stand, only to see us repeat the same destructive and heartbreaking behaviors, words and actions again and again and again. So no, “sorry” isn’t gonna cut it.
But neither will a one-time amends. The people who have stuck with us through our addiction probably don’t have much interest in hearing some rehearsed soliloquy. Our parents, spouses, siblings and close friends have had their hearts ripped open, their trust spat on, their patience, time, energy and love stolen. They are exhausted. These folks don’t need to hear some self-serving monologue, where the addict or alcoholic gets to clear their conscience and then off they go to enjoy their new found inner peace. Nope. The people closest to us want us to change into a different person each and every day. They want us to act right and give back every single day. They want us to be the son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister that they should have had. They want us to be a better person. They want us to just quietly do the right thing and not talk about it.
A friend up North told a story one time, where she called her parents after she had been sober for a year. She called out of excitement for her accomplishment, fully expecting them to shower her with congratulations. “Mom, dad… I’ve been sober for a whole year! I got my 1-year sobriety chip at the AA meeting today!” Her parents said nothing. “So?” they finally replied. “So what? How about you stay sober for the rest of your life without announcing it?” Exactly. What great and wise parents. How about we stay sober without expecting a trophy or a pat on the back for it? How about we skip the pride just because we stopped hurting people? So when I make a ‘living’ amends to my family or my wife, I don’t say much. Instead, I take action. I simply BE the husband, son, and brother they have always deserved but didn’t get for 28 years.
Amends to our families are the hardest ones. Why? Because they are never done. Plus, we’re talking about people with their own flaws, people who know how to push our buttons, people who may never do any work on themselves, people who may be pretty f’ing annoying. But these amends are by far the most important ones. We’re lucky to still have these people in our lives. God knows we certainly don’t deserve them. So don’t forget them. Ever.
God, please give me the willingness, love and tolerance to always honor my living amends…