Making Right, Not Making Nice


Oops...my bad.

Oops…my bad.

I am in the hospitality trade.  Where I work now, we host many functions – tour groups, weddings, post-convention get togethers, corporate gigs, holiday parties and a slew of other special events. That is on top of several dining outlets that we have in the building.  At this time of year, we do more of the corporate stuff.  The other day was no different.  I was in charge of one party, a buffet, and didn’t notice the group name.  I usually don’t look at the client identity – I am just in charge of feeding folks, not billing them or schmoozing them.  But I ran into one person who was part of the group, the convener (liaison) and it was someone I knew from the industry.  I then realized that the group was from a place that I used to work.  The convener said to me “I am sure you will recognize a few people,” and winked at me.  Curious, I made my way to the function and low and behold, I recognized a whole slew of folks – people that I used to work with, people I had passed in musty hallways and others that I knew the face, but not the name.

Now, please note that that this old workplace was a place in which I was in full-on, DEFCON 5, no-holds-barred, caged match alcoholism. I was surrounded by people who I resented, hated, mistrusted, lied to, manipulated, embarrassed, cheated from, judged, and feared.  I was a shell of myself at the time, and could barely function.  I loathed them, and yet desperately sought their approval.  I pushed them away and yet wanted to be with them, to be a part of, accepted. I did everything to people please and control things, yet sought respect.  I was a con, a liar and a fraud.

So, when these same people came spilling into the room where I stood, and was amidst them as they paraded past, what happened?  Hugs. Handshakes.  A lot of surprised glances.  Waves of recognition.  Some “Wow you look great, Paul!” comments.  Laughs.  Smiles.

They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile.  I don't know what this guy is doing, but he's going to need Ben-Gay.

They say I have a beautiful smile. And I do – but you just need to get past the first seven layers of skin and joy.

What?

You see, there is only one reason why I was able to be present and solid and grounded and centered in this situation.  There is one reason why I could look at these same people I harmed and not shy away or fling myself into a vortex spiral of shame, regret and guilt.  There is one reason why I could happily mosey on down to greet and enjoy the company of people that I could never enjoy the company of before. And that reason is amends.

Making amends is one of the steps in 12-step recovery.  One doesn’t need to be in a 12-step recovery program to make amends, but it’s recommended that one seeks counsel before getting all My Name is Earl on the township.  In AA, we are brought to that point through some work where we identify the self-destructive patterns we have had in our lives, and then share them with a confidante, and then ask our Higher Power to remove or lessen these shortcomings of ours.  And the apex of the willingness to live a life unencumbered by the weight of our own history is going out of our little comfy igloos of isolation and knocking on doors.  Racking clicks on the odometer.  Making cold calls to cool hearts in hopes of warming relations.

Been there, done that.

Been there, done that.

So what are amends?

It might be easier to describe what amends are not.  Amends are not just apologies.  They are not opportunities to place blame on someone else.  They are not half-hearted attempts to reconcile.  They are not a chance to drag up the past and argue about it.  They are not flimsy attempts at having someone ask for your forgiveness.  They are not chances to get the girl or the boy back.  They are not a place to air grievances.  They are not emotional negotiations.  And clearly they are not for causing more harm.  Although it does happen now and then.

To make amends: To repair a relationship; to make up; to make reparations or redress.

Reparation: the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged.

Redress: remedy or set right (an undesirable or unfair situation).

Nowhere in these definitions are apologies mentioned.  And there is one reason why we just don’t march into someone’s office or den (do people still have dens?) and just say “Sorry I stole and drank all your tequila that one day, urinated on your Aunt Mae’s ashes urn, kicked the kid’s bunny rabbit and sucker punched the grandfather clock before throwing up in your Lexus.” It’s because they’ve heard it all before, that sorry thing.  They stopped believing us. And with good reason.

I mean, who *hasn't* done this?  Ho hum.

I mean, who *hasn’t* done this? Ho hum.

My whole sad sorry life was a series of sad sorry’s after another.  My convoy of conciliatory comments were mere false utterances meant to buy me time.  To pacify the masses.  To drizzle soothing and calming oil on choppy Atlantic seas.  My sorry’s weren’t worth the paper they weren’t written on. “Sorry” passed my lips as many times as alcohol did.  I was a serial apologist, even for things I wasn’t responsible for.  Just in case.  Play with some house money.  There are so many times one can say sorry about the same things.  It loses currency the more it’s played out.  Sure it may come out sounding like a million dollar bill, but it takes one trillion dollars to buy a loaf of bread.  Or a feasible reason not to sleep on the couch.  Or get fired.

So when making amends, “sorry” is out of the lexicon.  I might actually apologize without using the word “sorry”, but that’s just the croûton on the salad.  What sets an amend apart from just apologizing is that it goes deeper.  If I wreck your fence, I just don’t say “Sorry Bill, didn’t mean to run over your white picket” (do people still have white picket fences?) and leave poor Bill holding the shattered wood.  I mend the fence.  I make an amend.

When in doubt, I just ask myself - what would Urkel do?  And life glides like a penguin on ice.

Don’t be so smug, Urkel.  I know there’s some dastardly skeletons underneath those cheery suspenders.  ‘Fess up, dude.

And so when I approach someone who I have harmed in the past, I sit them down and tell them why I am making the amend.  I tell them that I have harmed them and I tell them specifically what I did to them.  If I owe them money, I bring a cheque. I then ask if there is anything I have left out, or if there is anything else I need to know. And then I shut up. And I might get an earful.  I might get tears.  I might get nothing.  And then the meat and potatoes – I ask them if there is anything I can do to make things right.  And I listen.  And unless it’s illegal or immoral, I do it.  End of sentence.

This step scared the living daylights out of me (do people still have living daylights?) when I thought about it early on in my recovery, but as I moved through the work, I found myself bolstered more and more by my progress, by my faith, by my ability to rely on the Creator to be there with me.  Because when I make an amend, there are the three of us in that place.  I am never alone on these wheely dealies.  I’ve got the ultimate Wing Man.  And here’s the deal with amends – it doesn’t matter how the person reacts, we are still clean on the matter.  If they scream and holler, if they toss us out of the office, if they storm out of the cafe, if they hang up the phone…then we’ve done our Rock ‘N’ Roll duty.  Mission accomplished.

As they say in 12-step recover,  we “clean up our side of the street”.  We don’t take responsibility for how the other person reacts.  How they react is none of my business.  I am taking responsibility for me and my actions and my trying to make reparation and redress. You see, in the end I am trying to free myself from the burdens of these old ways and harms of mine.  I am freeing myself from the shackles of regret and remorse.  I am taking the action of putting my life in order by embarking on a path of healing.  And it’s amazing how many times we help others heal.  It’s absolutely Ab Fab the way things turn out when we come to another person in complete and utter honesty and without cap in hand.   We don’t come begging and we don’t cower before others.  We come with head held high.

Honest work, yes, but it does a job on the ol' mani / pedi.

Honest work, yes, but it does a number on the ol’ mani – pedi.

The final, final thing about amends is the aftermath.  The ultimate reason in making my amends to someone is to mend my old behaviour.  If I stole from you, tell you I stole from you, pay you back and you tell me that things are good with us, that’s great.  But the meat and potatoes, the real takeaway is this: don’t steal again. From anyone. Ever. See how that works?  I made my peace with that person, I owned up to my actions and have vowed now not to do that action again.  Or else I am wasting my time.  And you know what – the next time I think about removing something that isn’t mine to begin with, I will think about that amend.  And if I still do it, I need to make yet another amend.  Until I learn.  And it’s in the learning that my behaviour changes.  And I feel freer.

I have some wonderful stories of amends of my own, and have heard countless utterly fascinating ones from others.  I do believe there is a time and place for each amend, and all amends require a bit of discussion with someone who is familiar with the process.  Sometimes I found that I thought I needed to make an amend when really I didn’t (does Billy from Grade 5 need to hear you feel bad about pushing him in the mud that muggy day at recess?) And there are times I found myself needing to make an amend when I thought I didn’t (dang!)  But in the end, how do I know if I need to make that amend? Simple.  I listen to my heart and that little tiny voice that likes to tell me the right thing to do.  I listen carefully, in silence, in meditation, in dreams, in mindfulness.  And sometimes it’s the stern loving voice of my counsel telling me to get off my ass and knock on that door.

Sigh. Knock. Nerves. Prayer. Talk. Joy.  Freedom.

It's not *that* bad, ok?  So chill.

Oh stop being a drama queen – it wasn’t that bad, okay? Jeez…

People will often mention “living amends” – that is, the mere fact that they are not drinking absolves them of making certain amends, or any amends at all.  Or if there is no real other way to make an amend.  In my case, where I endangered my own son in my drinking and driving incident, I wouldn’t make a formal amend to him.  But what I do is make sure that I am ever present and available to my boys at all times.  That I am there emotionally for them, that I am there when they need me.  That I am the best dad that I can be.  That is my amend there.  But often people will justify not getting out there and putting themselves out there by using the umbrella of “Well, I don’t drink any more, so that’s that.  Everyone should be happy”.  And while that may be true in some instances (the cashier from PayLess probably is okay without you making amends for being snarky or bitchy one day), there are times it is suitable to sit face-to-face and lay it out.

There are countless and imaginative and divinely inspired ways we make amends – too many to recount here, but it’s been interesting at times helping other people with their amends, especially for specific instances.  What if the person is dead already?  What if I can’t find the person?  What if it’s something that will make things worse? What about the person who did more harm to us than we did them?  What about the person we absolutely hate?  What if coming clean will mean prison time?  What if my amend will implicate someone criminally?  There’s an app for that.  An app-roach, that is. Tons of questions, and they all have answers.  They all do.  I have had to make several amends like this myself and/or help others with theirs.

blackboard

In the end, this is not about making nice, but about making right.  You may still lose the love of your life, or you might face jail time, or you might find yourself broke paying everyone back, or you may spend years hunting people down or you may be highly inconvenienced making amends…and that’s okay.  No really, it’s okay.  Because no matter what, you will find freedom.  You will find that you no longer need to look over your shoulder, or shudder when the phone rings or get anxious when there is a knock at the door or when the inbox ding from your computer chimes.  You will find freedom in knowing that you’ve done your part.  That you’ve extended yourself out there to someone else.  That you’re putting the past to bed for good and all.

This process may take years, and that’s okay too.  I have stalled at times.  I am in my last few amends, and it’s time I really got to them.  They stick on my conscious like Post-It notes which means they clutter my soul and spirit.  Which means I need a good Molly Maid clean on them and get my ass off the couch and knocking away on doors.  These are on the Creator’s time, and not mine, but I still need to do the leg work.  And it can be tough.  But faith and perseverance, in the guise of courage, ploughs the road for us on these things and gives us clearance to clear the path further.  And we are clear to land.  We are safe.  We are pushed outside our comfort zones and reaping the rewards of it.

It was a great joy the other day to meet these people, these ex-colleagues of mine, in the eye, press flesh on flesh and smile with true joy and love and camaraderie.  To laugh out loud and be right in the moment, to be clear, be mindful and be respectful.  And most of all, be free to be me in spite of my old me…or maybe because of my old me bringing me to this new me.  Reaching out not only helps me in my journey of serenity, but often times it helps that other person heal too, because we never really know the damage that we’ve done until we come back to it.

Let the healing begin…reach out.

Tiny-Chameleons-Reaching-Out-610x343

30 responses to “Making Right, Not Making Nice

  1. I’m really glad you wrote about this because I am not in AA nor have I done any steps and I’ve always wondered about the ‘amends’ thing and what it entailed. It always strikes me how brave you’d have to be to front up to people and accept whatever comes back at you. Which is worse, indifference or rage? I bet there are some fascinating amends stories… So great Paul and thanks for sharing. I haven’t been around for a while.. hope all is well with you xxxx

    • Mrs D!! So glad to see you here. I know that you’ve been very busy, writing, graduating…all those head-in-the-book kind of things that make it difficult to move away from the important things. And that’s how it should be.

      I am glad you wrote because I didn’t want to make this so AA-heavy – I think amends are something that many of us can do, but at the same time, it’s always better to run it by someone else to see what they think. But yeah, it’s always been a good experience for me. I had one guy who thought I was there to punch him out or sue him…lol. Next thing you know, we are both crying, he’s talking about reaching out to his dad, discussing deep personal stuff and it’s amazing. Another ex-boss wanted to hug me. I’ve had people deeply touched and amazed that I would do such a thing. And it is pretty groovy. Fear does creep in, and for my case, laziness.

      I will have to tell the story of an amend I made to an ex girlfriend. Crazy “coincidental” stuff on that one.

      Anyway, have a fabulous weekend, Mrs. D.

      Thanks for being here 🙂

      Paul

  2. I’ve learnt through mistakes not to go up to someone and say “hey I was really jealous of you and said all this shit behind your back sorry. But I’m good now. Bye” cringe!!

    Like you I believe it best to make amends by living a better life today and hopefully tomorrow. That is real amends.

    • You will have to forgive the late response, but for some reason I found two of your comments in my Spam file…which is strange since you have written here many times. Sorry about that.

      Anyway, I think there is some validity to that example you used. I guess for me it would depend on the situation. If I just said one little catty thing off the cuff, I probably won’t go make an amend unless that person was right there in front of me when I said it. But if I have been talking crap about someone non-stop and trying to derail something like a possible job promotion, etc…then yeah, I would have to make the amend. That is why they are all so different 🙂

      But changing our ways…that’s part of the whole package.

      Thanks Graham, and sorry for the lost comments!

      Paul

      • Thanks for fishing the comments out of the spam folder – for some reason I’ve been branded a spammer by the spam software on WordPress. I think it is because I put some links in some comments … that is verbotten is appears.

  3. Hi Paul,

    I need to come up with a way to say, “this post came at exactly the right time, Paul,” because I feel like I say that every time.

    First though, excellent job on laying out the amends process… anyone beginning step 9 should be required to read this piece of work!

    For me, I have completely stalled on amends. I know who I need to do next, and, frankly, I have let too much time go by, and now I have a barrel of resentments going on that are blocking my willingness. I am going to read this post every day until I clear the channel.

    Because freedom is what it’s all about!!

    Thanks, as always, for the inspiration.

    • Thank you Josie for showing me that I am not alone in thinking the way that I (and you) think. I too have felt that there has been “too much time” gone by, and then starting to justify my not doing it. “Oh, they won’t remember that”, or “it wasn’t *that* bad” and whenever I do this (and I do this, believe me), I just feel this gnawing feeling at me, knowing that I am full of it. I may have to actually write my 8th step list, and go over it with my sponsor and an oldtimer friend of mine. Get two perspectives, as mine seems to be getting a bit warped, methinks.

      anyway, thanks for the kind words – I felt I could have said more, but I didn’t want to get too technical or preachy or anything like that. But I am glad that it has struck a chord with those in 12-step and those not in it.

      Freedom, indeed Josie.

      Thanks for the comments, as usual 🙂

      Paul

  4. I love what you say about apologies and how saying we’re sorry can lose its meaning. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t be sorry, be different.” It gives me a chance to acknowledge that I need to do something differently and make better choices. It’s something I’ve taught my kids too because we all know that a simple “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything if the person does the same thing again 5 minutes later (which happens a lot with kids). I attended AA very early in my recovery and didn’t continue but there’s so much truth in the 12 steps.

    • I love that saying – “Don’t be sorry, be different” I am officially stealing it 🙂

      But you are absolutely right – it’s about changing something. Going along another path. Saying sorry for the sake of sorry doesn’t carry much weight, and people are usually intuitive enough to know when someone is genuine and when they aren’t. I know many times I was just sorry that I got caught. So for me, I had to learn the same lesson you are teaching your children. I am just late to the lesson…ha ha.

      I am really glad that you were able to see something in this, not being in 12-step recovery. But there are many simple truths in the program, if one was to just focus on that alone. They borrowed from many of the major religions and teachings, so even stuff like A Course In Miracles will have some similar things involved in it, etc. Anyway, another topic for another day. 🙂

      Thanks for the comments – wonderful stuff.

      Love and light,
      Paul

      • Good morning Paul,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You really do have a way with words that penetrate to the core of my being. I should mention that I have much empathy and compassion for what you are going through. My brother has been battling alcoholism for several years. It happened after he was falsely accused of a serious felony.

        He was treated as guilty before proven innocent and with no real evidence, was convicted and sent to jail. He was acquitted 18 months later, after they found the actual perpetrator, but not until the damage was done. He’s an attractive and non-aggresive man, so you can imagine what was done to him while in jail.

        He’s never fully recovered from the experience (PTSD), and sometimes he still has relapses and will go on a drinking binge. But he’s one hell of a strong person, and so are you. You have my utmost respect, Paul, for owning up on your end. My brother has done the same, and when he relapses, we are there for him without judgement.

        • I just had to say something to your reply to Paul, because it encourages me, believe it or not. People that are willing to help folks through the hard times that come along in life are truly great and those willing to understand that those hard times can cause folks to have problems that are long term and are still willing to be there with love is truly beautiful. Keep up the good work and don’t give up.

        • I am so sorry to hear about your brother, Victoria. I can’t even imagine what he must have gone through, and how he must feel now. And you guys too. I love that you guys are there for him. It eats us up inside when a relapse happens, and knowing there is no judgement…what a win for him. Believe me.

          Thanks for your beautiful, kind and warm words. You really have made my day with what you have added to this corner of the world.

          Love and light,
          Paul

  5. Thank you, Paul! I, too, have always wondered what, exactly, making amends means and entails. Am I doing it right? How many times should I reach out to people who refuse to reach back, or reciprocate, or have anything to do with me? I think I’ve realized from this post that the act of reaching out is part of an amends, but if the other person outright refuses to engage, then there is no way you can offer them something in return to fix the fence, so to speak? Anyway, very lovely post. Food for thought until you post again! 🙂 xx

    • Reading your comments reminded me of the struggles you have had in that department, through your blog. In the case of someone who refuses to reach back out, or even pick up the phone or return an email, or who may even slam the door on you – we don’t hound them down. Sometimes people may wait a while (months, years, more) and then try again. And maybe again, but when it comes to amends, the literature puts it so well:

      “There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don’t worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right them if we could. Some people cannot be seen – we send them an honest letter. And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases. But we don’t delay if it can be avoided. We should be sensible, tactful, considerate and humble without being servile or scraping. As God’s people we stand on our feet; we don’t crawl before anyone.”

      The part about not being servile or scraping and not crawling before anyone is what stands out for me. We don’t go begging for forgiveness, etc. That’s not the point. If we are humble, honest, open and willing…then that’s the gravy. How the other person reacts isn’t for us to take on. We have taken care of things on our side of the street. There are times though that someone will call us, who may have spurned us before…and that’s great. Just because we are ready to tidy things up, others aren’t, and we have to respect that. Remember, we cause harm out there!

      Anyway, didn’t mean to ramble, but your comments really had me thinking here.

      Thank you for this 🙂

      Love and light,
      Paul

  6. This is so freaking brilliant it’s hard to put into words. I’ve made the amends that I know about but still find myself nervous when I meet someone from my former life…I guess that will just take time.

    But the way you explain it is just wonderful! Plain English. Not preachy. Just BRILLUANT!

    Thank you thank you thank you.

    Sherry

    PS…did I mention the brilliance here or say thank you? Oh…okay. Just checking.

  7. Another good one!!! Making amends is a tough thing yet it is essential in maintaining the struggle. Now I need to go and work on my own stuff, still trying to figure out how to make amends for that pangalaticgargleblaster experiment gone coo coo for cocoa puffs.

    • JRJ, that was really thoughtful of you to comment. I’m all about understanding. It is through understanding that we can find forgiveness. Several years ago I read the Big Book from cover-to-cover in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the healing process. I’ve attended AA meetings with my brother. Our mother has as well. I’ve also read a lot of brain research regarding this subject.

      The brain is fragile and complex, and we are at the mercy of our genes, too, thus certain circumstance in our environment can turn specific genes on or off. Circumstances in our childhood can affect the development of neurotransmitter receptors, i.e., dopamine and serotonin. I’m not making excuses for addiction, but it does no good what so ever to pass judgement. We have to step outside of our own social conditioning, our emotions and perceptions, and that isn’t always easy; but it is certainly possible and the results are productive.

      Thanks again for your comment. There are many out there who care. I wish you all the best in you journey. =)

      Victoria

      “Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalia Lama

    • Thanks JR! I am very curious about that pangalacticgargleblaster…sounds like right out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide there…ha ha.

      I am very blessed to have you here, kind sir.

      Love and light,
      Paul

  8. An excellent post, Paul. A solid, grounded read, and so very real.

    I have always endeavoured – & I do mean always, though it started as low self esteem being the reason – to not harm, hurt, but I find this far through my life that I have accidentally hurt people, accidentally caused upset. Even drinking to blind drunk in front of mys on is an example. That’s damage to my son whom I LOVE right there.

    This is truly a wonderful post – & all the comments are testament to that.

    • Thank you Noeleen,

      Low self-esteem fuelled a lot of things, and in return those things brought remorse, guilt, shame which brought my self-esteem lower and hence the cycle repeats. Ugh. I feel deep down that we are not out to harm any one. But we get to places where we make poor choices and we seek things that make us feel good and that is when we step on people’s toes.

      You are a fantastic mother and role model – I see that in the comments in your own blog and seeing how things have worked out. In being that strong supportive mother, you have made amends in the best possible way.

      Blessings,
      Paul

  9. I have been wanting to comment on this post ever since I read it, but my iPad kept crashing out on me. So…baby is napping and I am on my desktop. Hoorah! Anyway, I really love this. I was so scared of the idea of amends at first- it was a big reason why I thought that AA wasn’t right for me. I mean, how embarrassing! No way am I doing that!

    As I gradually get a little more sober time under my belt the idea isn’t so scary. In fact, I think it is necessary to move on with my life and not have anxiety and self-esteem issues that come with running into people that I have had weird/bad experiences with (especially after reading this post!) I need to decide if I am going to go back to AA in order to do this or if I can do it on my own with some extra support.

    Thanks Paul!

    • I loved nap time with the young one – I could actually get stuff done!

      It’s very common to feel how you felt – that whole “no way, Jose” kind of deal. “You mean I have to go back to those people and do what???” Ha ha…not funny at the time, but I look back and see how I was like that too. But once we get the strength and courage behind us, and support, it’s not that bad. It really isn’t. We just make it bigger than it is. I am doing that too, so hence my balking. But I have the experience of knowing how it has been so far, and it’s been pretty nice to be freer.

      I know you can do it…either in AA or not in AA 🙂

      Love and light,
      Paul

  10. “And so when I approach someone who I have harmed in the past, I sit them down and tell them why I am making the amend. I tell them that I have harmed them and I tell them specifically what I did to them. If I owe them money, I bring a cheque. I then ask if there is anything I have left out, or if there is anything else I need to know. And then I shut up. And I might get an earful. I might get tears. I might get nothing. And then the meat and potatoes – I ask them if there is anything I can do to make things right. And I listen. And unless it’s illegal or immoral, I do it. End of sentence.”

    Exactly the way my sponsor told me to do it, to the letter. And he added that, when it comes down to it, their reaction is up to them because at the heart i’m doing this for my sobriety.

    Great post, man!

    • You’re right, Al – their reaction is theirs to take on…nothing to do with us! It’s hard to accept that new perspective, but I have found it freeing. Doesn’t mean that I don’t *care*, but in the end, it’s nothing that I need to take on. This is for our sobriety, and want to heal old wounds is all.

      Thanks for being here, kind sir!

      Paul

  11. Great post. I did so many amends during my first shot at sobriety 4 years ago. But I held onto the biggest one of all. I’m still holding it. It’s what caused me to relapse. I’m not ready yet, but if I don’t get ready really soon I’m going to enter dangerous waters again.

    Gotta go. Apparently I’ve got some praying to do. Thanks!

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