Active addiction was a rough time for me. My drug and alcohol abuse, along with the choices I made and situations I found myself in, damaged me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It was also a rough time for the people around me. Between the lying, stealing, abusive behavior, and generally acting like a crazy person, I made a lot of people unhappy. The people closest to were the ones I hurt the most. I can’t count the number of times I left my parents and close friends angry, worried, and afraid about what I had done and what might happen to me next. I lost some friends, and even some of my family stopped talking to me. At the time, it felt like a betrayal, but now I accept that I brought it on myself.
When I finally entered recovery, I began to heal. It was a slow process, but I started to look and feel better. My thinking and behavior improved. My relationships started to mend too (or, at least, they stopped getting worse). When it comes to physical damage, stopping the substance use is often enough to start healing. But when it comes to relationships, it’s not so easy. Not only did I need to fix my behavior, but I had to go back to each and every person I had harmed and do my best to make things right. It was time to rebuild bridges.
Today, addiction is considered a disease, and I agree with that classification. Some people take that first drink or drug and have an abnormal reaction. It’s not some kind of moral failing—it’s just the way their brain works. They shouldn’t be blamed for something they can’t help. But the difference between addiction and cancer is that cancer doesn’t make you rob your grandmother. Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous put a heavy emphasis on the process of making amends, and there’s a reason for that. We may have been suffering from a disease we never asked to have, but the fact remains we did things that hurt other people. It’s up to us to make it right if we want things to get better.
I’m very grateful that most of the people in my life understood I was sick. They were hurt and upset from the things I had done to them, of course. But they were happy to see me sober and doing well. When I approached them from a place of humility, acknowledged the wrongs I had done, and asked what I could do to make things right, they were quick to forgive me (although probably not so quick to forget some of my more insane behavior). Sometimes, I had to make “living amends,” meaning the only thing I could really do was make the right choices in life. It still feels good when the people who used to worry to death about me tell me they’re proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Not all of the amends were as easy as that. Some people weren’t even ready to see me until after I had been sober for a year. Some people didn’t want to see me at all. Some said they did, but things were never quite the same. This is where practicing acceptance comes in—not every bridge can be rebuilt, and some of those that can will never be quite the same. But making that effort is one of the most important parts of recovery.