Reconciling Relationships In Recovery-Forgiveness and Making Amends

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13

No one holds resentments and grudges like an addict. We are hypersensitive people, we feel things deeply, we are easily affected. These characteristics and character defects often drove our addictions-the challenges of life, the trials of relationships, and our overblown egos made it difficult to cope without a fix. We needed to simultaneously control the situation and escape it. Food, or the restriction of it, promised to grease the wheels of an unmanageable life.

What we learn in recovery is that we cannot get sober or stay sober if we do not begin to address life head on. We’ve stuffed our resentments, we’ve tried to avoid feeling our guilt, we haven’t known how to have healthy relationships with the people around us. And these are the very things that drove us to abuse food. While we may experience a temporary reprieve from addiction when we get into recovery, our deep-seeded resentments and unreconciled relationships will eventually come back to haunt us. That haunting usually leads straight back to the food.

God has commanded us to live reconciled to all those around us. Not only are we to tolerate our neighbors, brothers, sisters, and parents, we are to love and serve them. But this is impossible when we harbor grudges and guilt. Both must be swept away.

The Twelve Step program provides a practical process for relational reconciliation. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Human relationships are challenging-even for non-addicts. Fixing them is often unpleasant but do we prefer the alternative? When faced with the decision of growing up and taking care of past business, or being swept back into the addiction undertow, most will choose to buck up and take the high road.

The reconciliation process begins with Step Four and the personal inventory. Here we examine both our grudge and our guilt. The inventory asks the newly sober addict to list every resentment that he or she can remember. No grudge or irritation is too small. Every human being around us has at some point caused disappointment, stepped on our toes, or made us angry. If it’s still in our memory, it goes on the sheet.

But after looking at our grudges, we move quickly to an examination of our guilt. Where are we to blame? How has our negative behavior contributed to the deterioration of our relationships? We will be surprised to see that we are often more at fault than we thought.

When the personal inventory has been completed and shared with the sponsor, we proceed to the amends. It is not enough to forgive the other person or to make peace with our own guilt. We must go to the other person and verbally apologize, doing whatever we can to clean up our side of the street.

Here the wisdom of the sponsor is invaluable. With the help of your sponsor, compile your list of the people who are deserving of amends. For each person, write out a letter expressing your apologies and your sincere desire to reconcile the relationship. No accusations or blame shifting allowed. When the letter has been completed, plan to meet with the recipient in-person to share the contents of the letter.

Few things are more uncomfortable than this process. It is excruciatingly pride-slaying to go to the people we have wronged and own up to our faults. However, it is clearly Biblical and unavoidable if we plan to stay sober. There is no way around it.

Despite their initial fears and apprehensions, most recovering addicts experience a joy and liberation following the completion of their amends that they had not anticipated. Tired, worn-down relationships are revived, estranged friends are reunited, love is rekindled, partnerships are reconciled. God does this-these relational blessings are from His hand. But the action steps are ours to take in faith.

Not all relationships will be healed immediately-some will require more time for healing and the reestablishment of trust. But God is good and we can trust His work through the process. We do not seek to control the outcome, only our actions. God will bring the healing and the growth in His time.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32