Forgiveness in my addiction recovery is important for my emotional and spiritual health. Addiction recovery takes much more than just going through the treatment process to become whole again, but it did provide me with the tools necessary to live a life that is free of alcohol. When I completed treatment four-and-a-half years ago, I had to put those tools to work and still have to remain vigilant to keep my recovery alive and successful. In treatment, I learned about addiction, triggers, relapse prevention, and the need for honesty, acceptance, and gratitude. However, there was another key element that has furthered my addiction recovery progress even more – forgiveness.
What is so important about forgiveness in addiction recovery? Well, when I think back to all the things that I said and did during my active drinking, I realize that I caused a lot of harm to others that resulted in physical, emotional, and financial damage. I had relationships that were damaged that I hoped to be able to restore in alcoholism recovery, and some I have, others were just too far gone. Much of the harm was caused by my drinking, and even though I have been sober now for a number of years, there are still things that I said or did, or that were said or done to me, that I regret and resent.
This is where the importance of forgiveness in addiction recovery comes in. Just getting sober didn’t fix those resentments and regrets. In fact, I’ve learned that holding onto grudges and guilt only serves to impede my alcohol addiction recovery and that’s scary. I know that impeding my recovery in any way could cause me to fall back into old behaviors that lead to relapse. I have had to work to let go of resentments and regrets so I am not held back from addiction recovery. That means I had to forgive myself as well as others.
It may seem like that is easier said than done, but forgiveness can be accomplished as long as you are willing. Here are a few of the things that I have learned about forgiveness in recovery.
Forgiveness in Addiction Recovery Is a Choice
Being able to forgive isn’t something that just happens like an emotion that comes over you, with or without your consent. Instead, forgiveness is a choice that you make – a state of mind. It’s a mindset that anyone can reach, but it takes work and practice to achieve.
How willing you are, and how long it takes to reach forgiveness are purely subjective, and it varies by individual. Forgiveness may come easily in some situations, but be extremely difficult in others.
Here are some tips that may help you let go of resentments and develop a mindset of forgiveness in addiction recovery:
- Passive neglect – This probably sounds like a negative way to address things, but it simply refers to time passing and the resulting lessening of importance that certain damages hold for you. You’ve heard that “time heals all wounds,” and while it isn’t always true, it does hold some valuable insight. As you address your resentments, you will likely find that letting go of the old ones is much easier, simply because of the passage of time.
- Reflection – Sometimes you need to reflect on the specific harm that you are holding onto. We don’t always remember things the way they really happened or we don’t get the context with which they occurred. This is especially true if the situations happened during the active addiction. Spend some time reflecting on what the meaning and intention was behind the harmful statement or action. Was it really meant to harm you or others? Perhaps, it’s time to let it go.
- Investigation – You may need to look into certain matters more closely, gather facts that you weren’t aware of at the time, in order to weigh your resentment. Maybe you misinterpreted the situation, or you’ve exaggerated the amount of harm done in your mind. Careful investigation and talking with the people involved is sometimes all that is needed to be able to let resentments go and forgive.
- Pros and cons – Forgiveness is a choice in addiction recovery. That means that you can make a decision to forgive; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a feeling that washes over you. It may be helpful to consider the pros and cons of holding onto resentment and not forgiving. What good will come from holding a grudge? What is the risk of letting it go? This should make it easier for you to understand the impact that carrying the burden of resentment has on your new life in recovery.
How to Forgive in Addiction Recovery
If you have gone to addiction treatment, then you have probably become familiar with 12-step groups and what they have to say about resentments and forgiveness. There are steps that will help you ask for forgiveness, seek it, and forgive yourself. But how exactly do you do it? The practical steps to forgiveness are sometimes easier to talk about than to actually act on.
The following are three ways for you to consider acting on forgiveness during your addiction recovery:
Anonymously – Sometimes the person who you have wronged, or who has wronged you, is no longer in your life, or contacting them would cause more harm to you or to them. When that is the case, you may have to choose to forgive without speaking to the individual. Again, forgiveness is a choice – you can do it if you decide to.
Privately – Whenever you able, it’s best to forgive or ask for forgiveness in person. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process, it can be a simple conversation in which you admit the things that you did wrong and ask for forgiveness; or in situations where you were the one harmed, you extend the hand of forgiveness to the other person.
Through prayer – Many times forgiving is difficult, especially when you feel justified in your anger. Additionally, it’s likely that there will be people in your life who are not willing to forgive you for the harm you caused. When these situations come up, sometimes the only thing you can do is pray about it. Ask for the willingness to forgive, or for forgiveness from the other person.
Remember, once you have unburdened yourself through forgiveness, you don’t have to revisit it again. Doing so will only cause more guilt and resentment, so once you have let it go, don’t go back there.
When you have relieved yourself of resentment and forgiven yourself and others, you will likely feel an intense relief. I know I have. Forgiveness allows you to move forward with your addiction recovery and your life. You might sleep better, have less anxiety and stress, and feel refreshed and renewed. That is when you will feel the real power of forgiveness.