12/04/2012 02:18 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Making Amends Isn't Always Enough

Making amends has been on my mind lately, mainly because of a conversation with someone new to recovery. Saying "I'm sorry" to someone you've harmed isn't always a simple situation, there are many factors to consider. The person we are seeking to make amends with may not be aware of the situation or may not talk to us, or we could potentially harm them without intending to.

All of these are worthy of consideration when preparing to take this step, but there are other issues as well which I hadn't prepared myself for. I suppose I may have been a bit one-sided in my viewpoint, being so frightened to make direct amends with some people in my life that I didn't realize they needed a longer, more in-depth one-on-one conversation.

You see, there was a person who has been around me as long as I can remember, someone who I felt knew me to the core. When I first took the leap onto this sober road, I did apologize to them for my actions; but in hindsight I can see how it may have felt like a sweeping gesture.

In Sobriety, I Began to Flourish

My life rolled along -- as the fog lifted from my muddled perspective, I became more open about my alcoholism and sought to help others. Both in real life and online, I put myself out there, not to prove myself, not for any skewed or egotistical sense of glory, but to be of service. I felt God in my life, in my choices and in my challenges.

To say my perspective, actions and motivation had changed in sobriety is the understatement of the century. It was obvious to those around me, because as is generally the case with me, I had verbal diarrhea about this new sense of joy that drove me everyday. Don't get me wrong -- I've fought depression, feelings of worthlessness, chronic pain and cognitive disabilities, but beneath all of these was the joy. The feeling of being blessed, which I still have to this day.

Over the first 18 months of sobriety, I was finding myself, but had noticed this person I referred to earlier pulling away from me. As I felt the pull I tried to engage more, inviting them to spend time with me, starting random conversations and making efforts to see them in person. Finally I pulled up my big girl panties and sent one of the most uncomfortable messages of my life, asking if there was something wrong between us. This went against every core instinct that screamed for me to paste on a smile and sweep the nagging feeling under a rug.

Facing the Music

What I was greeted with wasn't pretty: It was the messy heart of someone I had harmed in the past. Someone I cared about, who felt that I hadn't actually made amends with them.
This person was hurt that I didn't approach them with a detailed list of my offenses and offer an apology for each, and that I had an unreasonable expectation of their role in my life. This shocked me -- I was utterly unaware of this person's feelings and felt backed up against a brick wall.

My ego was livid... How dare this person do this to me! Haven't they seen the changes I've made in my life over the past 18 months? Don't they have a clue how difficult going against my base urges is? Why is this person attacking me, and what the hell can I do -- I was a blackout drunk who can't actually list my offensive behaviors because I can't remember them!

Yup, a fine example of my ego at its worst.

Rather than respond saying these things, I apologized from the heart. I knew that this person deserved better than I'd presented them with, and I owned that. The conversation went around in circles, I did my best to remain humble and honest. I certainly wasn't perfect, I would love to go back and give myself the perfect words to help this person heal... but I can't.

Ultimately I can't make anyone forgive me, I can't grant them the forgiveness that would lighten their hearts. That is between the other person and God, all I can do is be willing to make amends, to honor the grace God has shown me and live my remaining days sober and connected to God's will.

The weeks following this encounter were difficult, to say the least. I was confused and grieving. I felt that a relationship had been lost and was out of my depths. I beat myself up horribly, condemning myself in every way possible. It was what some folks call a "pity party," but I really was on the edge of losing everything I'd worked so hard for. It felt like my foundation had been seriously cracked, I had lost my footing and was slipping down.

God Sent Help When I Needed It

Thankfully I had the inclination to do the next right thing and turned to a person who I respect from my recovery program and happens to share my Christian faith. Within five minutes with this beautiful man, it felt as thought the world had righted itself once again. I wept my heart out to my friend, giving him the gist of what had happened, and once I'd finished he looked me directly in the eyes and told me that this person was right.

Blinking back the tears, sniffling in a truly unattractive way, I was stunned to silence. What??

My friend is a wise man -- he pointed out to me that I had indeed had unrealistic expectations of my relationship with this person. Simply because I had expectations at all. He pointed out that each of us is human, not to be relied upon for anything because ultimately there is one single entity upon which we should rely. Without realizing it, I had indeed put this person upon a pedestal, and it was only when it was removed that I could see this.

Making amends doesn't mean that I can have relationships with the people involved, it doesn't mean they will forgive me -- or that the process will be sufficient for them to forgive. Making amends means that I've done what I could to acknowledge my wrongful actions and clear away the wreckage of the past. It helps me to heal and reminds me of God's place in the center of my life.

These days I still have a relationship with this person, we've never spoken of the topic again and ultimately, things have changed. I've accepted this and am simply grateful for the lesson I learned... and I haven't put another person upon a pedestal since.

For more by Julie Elsdon-Height, click here.

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