Futures Recovery Healthcare

How to Forgive Yourself (Even if it Seems Impossible)


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Forgiveness can be a tricky concept for many. Over the course of our lives, we are often asked to forgive others for harm they have caused (even when they aren’t sorry) and we ask forgiveness from others for our mistakes and transgressions. However, one of the most important types of forgiveness is learning to forgive yourself. And this can be the most difficult of all. 

For individuals who are around alcohol or substance abuse–whether they are the person with the substance use disorder (SUD) or a loved one of that person, forgiveness is vital. Anyone who has struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or SUD, has most likely found themselves making mistakes and hurting those that they love. Once they become sober and start the recovery process, they are most likely going to be looking at these mistakes and ask forgiveness from those they have harmed. And, as mentioned, forgiveness is essential to long-term recovery. 

In fact, forgiveness is one of the main tenets of 12-Step and other recovery programs. The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book outlines the 12-Steps of the program in detail and explains how the entire program works in Chapter 5, How It Works. One review of these steps listed in these pages immediately shows the importance of not only recognizing your mistakes but also asking forgiveness from those you’ve harmed. But, what’s not immediately recognizable in these steps is the need for forgiving oneself, however, the details of the book and program urge self-forgiveness as well. Each of the 12 Steps related to the forgiveness of others, also can be applied to forgiving yourself. 

Step Four is the beginning of this journey of forgiveness of oneself, others, and asking for forgiveness. Step Four states, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” 

This step’s instructions urge you to sit down, take the time to recall all the parts of your life–the good, the bad, and the ugly, as they say. In this step, participants are asked to take an honest and open look at their lives and not only the wrongs they’ve done to others but the wrongs they feel have been done to them. The inner workings of this step, then help you to uncover how you may have played a role in this perceived harm. Many times there has been harm caused by others–sometimes warranted, sometimes not. 

However, what the 12-Step programs teach is that resentment is the greatest enemy of anyone with an AUD or SUD. Resentment is holding on and not being able to find forgiveness for someone who has harmed you. It’s also important to realize that often those in recovery can hold on to resentments towards themselves as well. And, this self-forgiveness is a vital part of the recovery journey

Often, individuals in recovery–particularly early recovery–have a very hard time forgiving themselves. After a bit of time being sober, emotions and feelings begin to resurface and you are able to see the past a bit clearer. This past can be filled with mistakes, regrets, and things you wish you could change. Beating yourself up and not forgiving yourself for mistakes can hurt your recovery and even make relapse more possible. Often the feelings associated with these types of regrets are sorrowful, painful, and difficult to manage. Many who have an AUD or SUD use these substances to help numb this type of pain. So, when there is no forgiveness for yourself and others, these painful feelings continue and could eventually lead to drinking or using drugs again in order to ‘feel better’. 

However, many who do relapse say that this only made them feel worse and have one more thing to feel badly about. Remember, it’s important to play the whole tape of what picking up that drink or drug will really do to your life and loved ones. Staying close to a sober support system can help you stay on track with recovery much more than going it alone. 

Forgiving Yourself in the 12-Steps

As mentioned, forgiveness is a big theme of 12-Step programs. In fact on page 64 of the Fourth Edition of the Big Book the authors say the following in regards to resentment and forgiveness;

“Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.”

On page 66 they continue to talk about the dangers of resentment for the alcoholic (or addict); 

“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment only leads to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.”

The following steps five through seven have to do with admitting the wrongs done. The steps suggest doing this on your own with your Higher Power as well as with another person. Often, in 12-Step programs, your sponsor will be guiding you through these steps and is the person you’ll take this step with and confess your mistakes. Many people worry needlessly about doing this. It’s important to remember that a good sponsor or sober support friend will not judge you but tell you their mistakes that relate to what you’ve shared. 

Step 8 suggests that you make a list of everyone you have harmed and owe an apology to can become willing to do just that, ask for forgiveness, and make amends. Making amends may mean paying back money, fixing broken items, or the like. It’s important that you are willing to do these things in this step. 

Step 9 then puts Step 8 into action;

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.” 

This step is a process and will happen over time. However, one often overlooked person in need of forgiveness is one’s self. It is recommended to put yourself on the list too for those who carry resentments against themselves. Forgiving yourself takes time and is also a process. It’s important to start this process and work on actively forgiving yourself–no matter what you’ve done–from the start of recovery. It may seem impossible and like it will never actually happen, but with time and work it will. 

Many times people mistakenly believe that if they stop drinking or using another substance their problems will all resolve. And while many problems do begin to resolve immediately, there is work to be done beyond not using alcohol or another drug. Getting sober and being in recovery takes work, perseverance, and willingness. This is one reason it’s vital to not just go it alone but find an addiction treatment center that can help with your specific needs. And, what’s equally important is to have support outside of clinical treatment. 

When you are looking at the first of these, finding a rehab that meets your specific needs, you’ll want to consider the following: 

  • What types of treatment programs are offered

There are inpatient programs that have slightly different focuses. From the more traditional treatment center to luxury treatment centers what’s offered internally matters. For example, first responders often have specific treatment needs that others don’t. Finding a treatment center that offers this may be important to you. 

In addition, many people have co-occurring mental health disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2018 7.7 million American adults had co-occurring mental health disorders and an AUD or SUD. Often, it can be difficult to tell what is a symptom of the addiction and what is a co-occurring disorder like depression. This makes it important to find a treatment center that treats co-occurring disorders. Research shows that treating all disorders at once is the best route to go. 

Often at inpatient treatment centers, outside support group speakers come in so that you can get to know what each of the programs is like. This helps you to be prepared when you leave clinical treatment to connect with sober support right away–an important part of long-lasting recovery. Find out if support groups come in and what groups you’d learn about. 

  • What type of aftercare and alumni programs are offered

As mentioned, a vital part of staying in recovery for the long haul is having a strong sober support system in the ‘real world’. There are some treatment centers with very active, vibrant alumni groups and aftercare programs. At Futures, our alumni group is one of the most active around hosting events not only in Florida but in cities around the country. This helps our recovering clients stay connected and turbocharge their recovery when they need it. 

Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. As with many things, it’s often a work in progress. However, it’s critical that forgiveness and forgiving yourself is something you work on for life. Steps 10, 11, and 12 also encourage this. All of this may seem overwhelming–and that’s understandable. However, starting one step at a time, one day at a time is all you need to do. 

If you or someone you love is living in the pain of addiction to alcohol or another substance, Futures Recovery Healthcare can help. Discover our three treatment programs or call us to learn how we can help. 866-804-2098


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