Where Are My Amends?

Apologies Come After Recovery

When an intervention gets rolling, families tend to gear up for confrontation as if they have one shot to get everything off their chest. They see it as an opportunity to unload the trauma and emotional baggage that they’ve been holding onto. It is often followed with the expectation that the addicted person will capitulate, emotionally breakdown, and then accept treatment. 

This is not reality.  

Although the situation is unlikely to play out that way, it is not unnatural for a family to expect an apology. They have endured a chaotic cycle of addiction that has left a path of destruction in their lives. They expect the person of concern to acknowledge and apologize for the damage.  What the family seeks is something that Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as ‘amends.’ 

We educate families that an intervention is not the place to seek an apology. The purpose of an intervention is to get someone into treatment. We can all agree that the apology is much more sincere and heartfelt when it comes later, after a person has started their recovery.

Part of how an addicted person apologizes is through commitment to their recovery. The words, “I’m sorry” have lost meaning to families who have dealt with addiction and become numb to their utterance. True atonement happens when a person of concern shows their family that they are attending meetings, repairing relationships, and seeking a lifelong recovery. 

The 8th Step

Digging up the past or seeking an apology deviates from the mission of an intervention. Our purpose in that moment is to help our loved one choose recovery. The apology will come later, when the addicted person starts working through the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Making amends is the 8th step in AA for a reason. People need time in recovery before they are able to view the damage they have done with sober eyes. It takes several months for the fog of addiction to lift so that a person can really understand their past behavior and why it was wrong. Step 8 has the addicted person write down all of the people they have hurt and relationships they have damaged. Step 9 sets them out to mend, or clean up all of that damage.

Making amends in the AA program:

  • Make a list of all persons (the addicted person) has harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all (Step 8). 
  • Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others (Step 9). 

Recognizing that a certain interaction was wrong is part of a sincere apology. This will include relieving some uncomfortable moments like ruining a wedding with drunken behavior or creating a scene by shouting at a partner in public. The cringe caused by reliving those events will help the addicted person realize the significance of their recovery. The actual apology allows past relationships to mend even if they don’t continue. 

In active addiction, a person may have “ran a tab” with friends and family. Making amends may require some financial reflection and retribution. If the money was stolen, both an apology and a payback will be necessary. Those coming out of recovery may find that difficult to accomplish, but the subtle acknowledgment and attempt to at least pay something back will lead to mending a severed relationship. 

Show the Work

The most complicated and difficult part of making amends is when it has to be made with immediate family. Close relationships are typically cut the deepest from an addiction, and a simple apology is never enough. In fact, when someone leaves treatment I recommend that they refrain from making a verbal apology right away. For many families, addiction has caused years of toxicity and abuse, and quick apology feels empty or insulting. 

What I do recommend to a person coming out of recovery is that they apologize with actions instead of words. The family wants to see that recovery is working. They want to witness their loved one attending meetings and working the program. They want the “old” person back. 

For them to believe it, they need to see it. 

We refer to the process of making amends with a family as “living amends.’ The addicted person understands that to show their family they are truly sorry they must live out an apology. Making amends is a lifetime commitment to working on recovery.


About Adam Banks

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and the owner of Adam Banks Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company that was later acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long-term sobriety. His work has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach.

Adam has authored four books on addiction. His recent work, Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery, educates families on the entire intervention process. He also offers a free video course for families considering an intervention for a loved one. 

Adam is available for alcohol and drug intervention services in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally. 

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