Life After Addiction Requires Forgiveness
Sobriety, even for just a single day, is miraculous. If you’ve been in recovery for days or weeks or months, you’ve received all that many more miracles. You’ve discovered that there is indeed a life after addiction. But, in order to maintain sobriety, there are two skills you must master: forgiveness and gratitude.
Most in recovery struggle less with learning to be grateful and learning how to forgive. In fact, gratitude happens quickly, and almost naturally, during recovery. A great example is the gratitude that comes from being out of jail or rehab, earning back the ability to drive, or even in the choice to fuel your body with nourishing foods.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
On the other hand, forgiveness is much harder and requires more commitment and energy.
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Forgiveness is Essential to a Life After Addiction
Since forgiveness can be so challenging, it’s difficult to know where to start. The best place to start is with forgiving others. It’s much easier to forgive others than forgiving yourself, so taking this first step is critical.
As children, we are instructed to forgive and forget. When we did something wrong, we learned to apologize by saying “I’m sorry.” And, when somebody did us wrong, we responded to an apology by saying “I forgive you” or “I accept your apology.”
Either way, the truth is that while some people actually did forgive, others learned to state those polite words while still nursing a grudge. While there are true “Gandhis” among us who really do say “I forgive you,” and actually mean it.
Learning how to forgive others is a good place to start when talking about forgiveness in general. Many people find it is much simpler to forgive someone else for wronging them than it is to forgive themselves for mistakes. Usually, when we are very young, we learn to say “I’m sorry” to apologize to someone for hurting them in some way. Some of us learn to say “I forgive you” in response, and others might learn to say “I accept your apology.” In either case, people generally fall into one of two categories: those that forgive even if they do not say so, and those that hold a grudge even after they say the act has been forgiven. Fortunately, there are the Gandhis out there who say “I forgive you” and genuinely mean it. Regardless of where you land on the forgiveness spectrum, it’s never too late to practice forgiveness to others…and to yourself!
RAGS: Resentment, Anger, Guilt, and Shame
Are you still wondering why it’s so hard to forgive yourself? In a life after addiction, we often carry around a big load of RAGS. This is an acronym for Resentment. Anger. Guilt. Shame.
R – We loathe ourselves and our addiction.
A – We are angry because we destroyed our lives because of our dependency.
G – We feel tremendous guilt for the bad behaviors and poor decisions we made.
S – We now feel shame over our entire situation.
Toting around RAGS can feel like a roadblock in one’s life after addiction. Once we are sober, we realize the immense damage we’ve caused to ourselves and our loved ones. The overwhelming feelings make it almost impossible to face those very people.
Some in recovery express that they felt these feelings a little at a time. Others said the feelings washed over them all at once like a giant wave.
Always remember this. You’re not alone. People before you have walked through recovery and gone on to thrive. While your feelings are very real, all of us in a life after addiction have faced the same feelings. This is why it’s important to attend therapy, build a supportive network and attend group sessions. These are the cornerstones of addiction recovery that allow you to sort out this negativity so you can move forward.
Later on, you will be able to return the kindness by inspiring and supporting a person who’s just starting their recovery.
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Lose the Heavy Weight of RAGS
In order to get–and stay–sober, we must free ourselves from both past and present negative emotions.
Think of the RAGS as having actual physical weight. Say each letter carries a weight of ten pounds. That equals forty extra pounds of weight that you’re lugging around all day, every day. If you carried around a backpack filled with forty pounds of bricks, you’d tire yourself out within an hour or two.
That weight is not just physically harming you. It’s also mentally exhausting. Rid yourself of those heavy RAGS through forgiveness. Remember that everyone makes mistakes; it’s a natural part of life. The next time someone cuts in front of you in the grocery store line, let it go. The resentment over their mistake is not worth the emotional upheaval.
Most of all, work on self-forgiveness. You also deserve this kindness. You might need to forgive yourself in front of the mirror saying the words aloud, or you might need to write yourself a letter of forgiveness. However you choose to forgive yourself, you must mean it wholeheartedly. This is the core of most outpatient programs.
Follow up by writing a mantra every day to remind yourself that you are a person of value who deserves forgiveness. Some good examples of mantras are:
- “I am an addict, but I won’t be ashamed of my past.”
- “My guilt will not dictate the course of my life.”
- “I will let go of all my anger today, and I forgive those who wronged me in the past.”
- “I am strong enough to release my resentments towards myself and others.”
- “I am a strong person. I am a survivor. I deserve recovery and all the gifts that life has to offer.”
- “My past will remind me, but I won’t allow it to define me.”
After you’ve written these mantras, share them with others in recovery. Write them for and to each other after you are comfortable with each other. Work hard to shed the dead weight of those heavy RAGS.
Once you’ve accepted an apology, don’t hold grudges, especially against yourself! Only gratitude and forgiveness can help you grow as you recover. This will help you feel better emotionally. Remember that gratitude and forgiveness will be critical steps to making yourself sober again.
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