One of the steps in 12 step recovery programs is “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” I was first exposed to this step in my early 20’s when I sought recovery for my eating disorder. I was instructed to work the 12 steps if I wanted to find relief. I was desperate, so I dove in.
In those early days, “making amends” basically meant just saying I’m sorry for an outright obvious slight. An example would be if I accidentally bumped into someone or was late remembering someone’s birthdays. Easy stuff, but the type of baby step I needed to get started.
Gradually, making amends meant looking a little deeper. No longer those things that were minor. Things that were obvious. Things that didn’t require any risk. I had to start looking at behaviors and attitudes that I felt shame about. This was incredibly hard. I have some pretty core beliefs that “If I am perfect, you will love me and you will never leave me.”
I remember the moment I realized the next level impact of this belief: to admit to a true offense or to a character defect was also admitting I am imperfect. And here’s the kicker: If I tell you I’m imperfect, I’m essentially telling you NOT to love me and to go ahead and leave me.
That was several years ago, and I continue to push past the belief that I have to be perfect.
In the past year or so, making amends has taken on yet another level of meaning. Yes, it means to own my stuff, to apologize. But, it also means “to do something differently.” No longer is it enough for me to say I’m sorry. I need to change my behavior. And sometimes, I think making amends skips the apology and jumps straight to taking a new action.
How does this show up for me?
Well, about a month ago, I wrote a post that upset someone. I could apologize all day long. On the surface that would mean I’d made my amends.
Or, I could really try to empathize, to feel how they might have felt, and mean it when I said, “I’m sorry.” That would be another level of amends.
Or, I could say I’m sorry and change my behavior.
And so I removed the post. And it felt right. It felt like me taking responsibility for myself. It felt like choosing to do the right thing, even when I was triggered as hell. Even when it felt like I was saying, “I am flawed. I am not good enough. You really should just write me off.”
It’s been nearly a week. I no longer feel ashamed. I’m not wallowing in the fear of judgement. I am grateful for another opportunity to practice at this thing called life. I am humbled. I am here.