How and Why Addicts Should Forgive Themselves

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Forgiveness is consciously releasing feelings of anger or resentment toward someone who has harmed you. It means to stop blaming someone else for things that have happened to you. It means to cancel a debt and give up all claim for reimbursement, to stop looking for apologies or amends from the other person. As part of recovery, those who are involved in 12-step programs strive to let go of damaging emotions such as anger and resentment. Nothing positive comes of holding on to these negative feelings.

If you are like other recovering addicts and alcoholics, you may find that forgiving others is a lot easier than forgiving yourself. How do you let go of anger and bitterness toward the person who has done the most to damage your life — you?

Why You Should Forgive Yourself

As an active alcoholic or addict, you may have done some pretty bad things that you’re ashamed of. You may have stolen from people you love, cheated on your spouse or neglected your children. You may have screwed up your education or your job, or destroyed your marriage. You may have committed crimes that you wouldn’t have committed had you been sober. There are many possibilities of other things you might have done. All the mistakes you made during active addiction are things you can’t undo. If you continue to hang on to anger and resentment and shame for former behaviors, there is no hope for healing. Addiction is not a moral weakness. It is a chronic illness. You are not a bad person. You are a sick person who deserves a chance to recover.

If there are actions you can take to make amends to those you have harmed, such as repaying money that was stolen, part of recovery involves taking these actions. But if you can’t make up for what you’ve done, continually punishing yourself will prevent you from making true progress toward living a contented and useful life. Repeatedly beating yourself up blocks any hope of change and prolongs feelings of shame and guilt. For many addicts, self-destructive thoughts and self-abuse can lead you right back to your drug of choice. The best amends you can make to those you love is to make different choices today, including the choice of staying sober.

How to Forgive Yourself

One of the best ways to begin to forgive yourself is to write out what you’ve done and why you are angry at yourself. Writing can be very therapeutic and it helps you to face your past and sort out your feelings. It allows you to express what you’ve done with complete honesty.

It’s also important to share your negative feelings with someone else. Sit down and talk to a sponsor or another friend in recovery, or talk to a counselor or minister. One-on-one sharing with another human being can help relieve the burden of trying to hide what you’ve done. Choose someone who won’t be judgmental — you have judged yourself harshly enough. The person you choose may tell you that he or she has done something similar, or can help you see that the things you have done may not have been as bad as you think.

Get in the habit of giving yourself credit for whatever you have done right, one day at a time. Think of at least one thing you did right each day and give yourself a pat on the back for it. If nothing else, you deserve a pat on the back for your efforts to attain sobriety and learn a new way of life. Be gentle with yourself. You will never be perfect. Affirm to yourself each day “I forgive myself” and “I love myself.” Remember that you did the best you could in the past. You made the kinds of choices that active addicts make. Today you have the freedom to make new choices that won’t harm the people you love. Recognize that you’re human and part of being human is making mistakes. You can’t do anything about the past, but if you strive to forgive yourself for the mistakes and bad choices you’ve made, you will be able to make better choices going forward.

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