Forgiveness is a word that we are all familiar with, but it’s a difficult concept to grasp in its entirety. As children, we’re forced to say we’re sorry quite often. In fact, you were probably pushed to say you were sorry to other kids even when you weren’t. Over time, the words “I’m sorry” become meaningless. We say them to get ourselves out of trouble or give the other person what they want to hear. But, true forgiveness is so much more than saying you’re sorry.
When recovering from addiction, you’ll hear a lot about the topic of forgiveness. It’s an integral part of the healing process, but it takes time, energy and determination. This can feel odd considering forgiveness is associated with saying sorry and/or feeling bad about what you did. These things are easy to do, but true forgiveness takes time. If you’ve been struggling to forgive yourself and others, don’t feel badly. This means that you’re working through your struggles and taking them seriously.
Why Forgiveness Matters
Forgiveness comes in many forms. During recovery, you have to learn to forgive yourself and others. You need to let go of bitterness and resentment that are toxic to a healthy recovery. By choosing to forgive, you’re making a conscious effort to stop feeling angry and resentful about life’s circumstances. Also, you are no longer seeking punishment for the person who hurt you.
An important thing to understand is that you can’t force forgiveness. All those years that you were taught to forgive and forget probably won’t help you here. You have to realize that bitterness and resentment only affect YOU, and by holding a grudge, you’re only hurting yourself and your recovery. The person who hurt you may be completely unaware of what they did in the first place, so hanging on to resentment is a waste of time and negative energy.
Do not confuse forgiveness with letting someone off the hook or giving them a second chance. In truth, you may not ever see or talk to this person again. Forgiveness is allowing yourself to stop feeling pain that a person may have caused so that you can focus on your recovery and surround yourself with more positive energy. Forgiveness is a state of mind. Forgiveness is for YOU.
The first step in forgiveness is releasing resentment, which is the accumulation of perceived wrongdoings that you carry with you. They may be real, they may not be. Either way, being resentful has zero benefits. It’s time to let go of this resentment. If a wrongdoing happened in the past, it probably doesn’t hold the same degree of importance anymore. These should be the easiest resentments to let go of.
Reflection is also important and gives you the opportunity to reflect on some of the things that were said or done to you. Perhaps your friend was racing through their thoughts and didn’t mean what they said. It’s easy to misunderstand or misinterpret words or actions. Finally, what risk do you have in letting go of the resentment? How about if you keep the resentment? It’s better to forgive, as there is no risk and only rewards.
Asking, Seeking and Doing
Part of the 12-step recovery process is asking for forgiveness, seeking it and doing it for yourself. But sometimes, it’s difficult to know how to go about forgiving someone so that you can finally clear yourself of the bitterness you’ve been holding. Forgiveness in your own mind comes first, but then you can move on to asking for forgiveness from others.
One way is to set aside time with the people you have strained relationships with and ask for forgiveness. You have to truly mean it in order for it to be valid, and you have to respect their decision to either forgive you or not. The person may gladly accept the apology or need more time. If the other person does forgive you, it’s important that you move on. There’s no need to rehash the past or keep revisiting what happened. Forgiveness is about letting go.
If all else fails, use spiritual methods to achieve forgiveness. If you’re religious, you may find this in prayer, or you can practice self-reflection, meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga or thinking about the higher spirit. Being spiritual lifts the spirit and removes negative energy, so there is no risk in connecting with a higher power.
We hope that you better understand why forgiveness is so important in early recovery. Through forgiveness, you’re able to wipe the slate clean and go forward in your life with enthusiasm, confidence and appreciation.