What Is A Living Amends?


When I first came to recovery, I was certain steps 8 and 9 would be a breeze. After all, I hadn’t hurt anyone (Step 8), so I didn’t need to make any amends (Step 9). I was wrong. So wrong. In fact, every day I make a living amends to my husband, son, Mom, and brother Ricky. Here’s how it works for me.

The List Of Wrongs

In Step 4, I took a “fearless and moral” inventory of my past. I made a list of everything I resented. I thought this was the part where I got to dump all of my anger on the people who abused me. It wasn’t. Instead, my inventory was an:

  • Examination of the part I played in past hurts
  • Unearthing of patterns where I repeated volunteered myself for abuse and manipulation
  • Analysis of my motives – almost all of my decisions were based on fear – I tried to control everyone around me to feel safe

Turns out, I was a bossy control freak who was terrified of everything. I was pushy and overbearing. I had all the answers, and I shared them with everyone. When they didn’t follow my advice, I let them know – repeatedly. When they had the nerve to do things their own way, I reminded them that I had first suggested a better plan. Yikes.

Three Ways I Make A Living Amends

My husband and son bore the brunt of my controlling behavior, so these days I work really hard at letting them do things their way using these three tactics.

1. I Keep My Mouth Shut

When my husband misses a turn because he’s in the wrong lane, I say nothing. When he runs out of medicine because he didn’t call the doctor for a refill, I trust he has the intelligence to solve his own problem. And I keep my mouth shut. When he handles a situation at work “the wrong way” I keep my opinion to myself.

For my son, I also took a big step back. He’s a teenager, so I try to let him function at that age level. I taught him how to do his own laundry. When he runs out of clean clothes, I don’t lecture or offer solutions. I let him decide if he wants to do laundry at midnight or wear dirty clothes. I no longer interrogate him about his day at school, so I can give my wise advice on how to handle difficult peers. If he doesn’t want to do his homework, I say nothing. It’s none of my business. I’m not his teacher, and I’m sure she’s skilled at handling that type of problem.

I applied the same hands off, lips sealed policy to my Mom and my brother Ricky. They are enmeshed in a toxic, symbiotic relationship. Instead of yin and yang, they are dependent and codependent.

My living amends to Ricky is simple. I don’t call him to see how his meeting went this week or what step he’s on. Nor do I play the peacemaker between him and our Mother. I let him live his life, and I live mine. If he specifically asks for my opinion, which he doesn’t, I will give it.

My Mom, on the other hand, loves to complain about Ricky’s behavior. Sometimes I can listen supportively for a short period of time. When she takes a breath, I ask if she wants my opinion. If she does, I say it once. If not, I change the subject. Over the years, in small bits and pieces, I have been able to share small pearls of my Al-anon wisdom.

2. I Give Them A PANDA

Another tool I love to use is a PANDA apology. Nicole Gehl over at Your Tango explains that PANDA stands for:

  • P: Promise it will never happen again
  • A: Admit you were at fault
  • N: No excuses
  • D. Describe how you would handle the situation next time
  • A. Act on your promise

After years of being bossy and overbearing, my basic apologies meant little. My living amends represents the last A in PANDA. I am determined to let my loved ones be independent. They don’t always see my hands off approach as sincere kindness, but my motives are pure. I’m doing what I think is best for all of us.

3. If I Must Say It, I Only Say It Once

Ninety percent of the time, I keep my mouth shut, but I am my son’s mother. I have a responsibility to parent him and speak out for his best interests. Likewise, my marriage is a partnership with my husband. I have an equal voice. Sometimes, my opinion is required. Early in my recovery, I learned neither my son nor my husband was listening to anything I said. So I said it again and again and again. Thus, I was a nagger.

Today, I know my words have value whether they pay attention or not. When it matters, I say something once. If they didn’t pay attention, I do my best to let them suffer the consequence. If they take my words for granted, sometimes, I take a break from talking. I don’t punish them with silence (although I did do that in the past). I write out really important things. They usually hear those messages loud and clear.

All of these tools have slowly brought more peace to my home. One final thought: watching my loved ones suffer any type of pain is a trigger for me. I want to rush in and save them. Sometimes, I need to take a time out in my bedroom with my door shut. This gives them freedom to do what they think is best, and I get to keep my serenity.