In your history of addiction and acting out, have you ever said “I’m sorry” to someone you hurt? Maybe it was something for which you actually felt remorse. Maybe it was just the fact that you got caught, and the words “I’m sorry” were an attempt to mitigate the consequences you would face. Maybe it was said to a spouse or partner. Maybe to a daughter or son. An employer. A co-worker. A parent. Maybe you said it more than once. Maybe a lot more.
In my history – which included a lot of acting out – I have said “I’m sorry” more times than I can count or even remember. Mostly to the same person over and over.
At some point – again, during my history of acting out – these words became meaningless. I had said it so often, in so many circumstances… and without actually changing my behavior… that it was just an automatic response, mostly when I was caught at something. It carried no weight whatsoever. I might as well have saved my breath and the wear-and-tear on my vocal cords. As bad as this would have been, I might as well have said nothing.
The same phenomenon was true of my early weeks and months in recovery. The words “I’m sorry” carried no weight whatsoever. Though I was now working (with a sponsor) a program that had worked for others, and though I desperately wanted to be recognized and praised for each small step forward (and for each step backward to be ignored)… the words “I’m sorry” fell on deaf ears.
And yet… I continued to work the steps with my sponsor. When I got to Steps Eight and Nine, I began to understand and accept that living amends were the only amends that would be meaningful to someone I had hurt so deeply for so many years. Yes, I tried to make direct amends, but I also committed to my recovery as an attempt at making long-term, living amends.
Instead of saying “I’m sorry”, I started saying “I was wrong” and admitting the character defect I had displayed. I started committing (and re-committing and re-committing) to watch more carefully for that character defect. And I continued to work The Twelve Steps.
And gradually – oh, so painfully gradually – the words “I’m sorry” began to mean something again.
That has been my experience.