Freedom in forgiveness: why forgiving yourself and others is essential
15th July 2019
15th July 2019
During our years of working in recovery, we’ve noticed a simple step in the process of becoming healthy and whole once again. At Iboga Tree Healing House, we’ve seen the power of forgiveness transform lives and free countless individuals from the pain and bitterness of the past. Today we’ll take a deeper look at a wonderful word that has brought light into the lives of those who are strong enough to put the past behind them.
When we think of forgiveness, we usually think of ourselves forgiving others. We let someone’s bad behavior slide, or accept the flaws of a loved one. Forgiveness can mean a lot more than that. It is one of life’s true blessings. Holding onto and nursing all of the wrongs done to us can have a toxic effect on our physical and mental health. Think of your friends, family, and acquaintances. Now think of the person you know who holds grudges the longest, or the person with the largest list of grievances. Ask yourself, is that the person I would like to be?
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past- but you sure do change the future!”
-Radio Host Brad Meltzer
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting all of your past traumas, and all of the transgressions committed against you. It doesn’t mean that the hurt you have suffered will disappear, leaving you whole and unblemished. As Sarah Montana notes in this powerful Ted Talk, which recounts her journey toward forgiving the man who killed her mother and brother, forgiveness isn’t a shortcut to healing. It’s a path to freedom. It means that you stop telling yourself the same painful story over and over again. You assess the damage done to you (not to others) and let it go. Many people think that withholding forgiveness is a way to punish those who have transgressed against them, but in reality, they are punishing themselves: refusing to move on from a painful memory, and wallowing in it rather than climbing out of the muck.
If you have lived with addiction, embracing forgiveness is a necessary step for moving on with your life. It will help to set you free from the anguish and trauma that caused you to lean so heavily on drugs and alcohol. But more importantly, it will help you learn to live with yourself. In recovery, it’s time to admit that you have not been your best self for the past months, years or even decades. You haven’t been the person you want to see when you look in the mirror and examine the choices you’ve made. What’s truly important now is not who you have been, but who you will become.
We would strongly recommend that you examine your choices and actions before and during addiction. Identify the people you’ve wronged, the pain you’ve caused, and the things that cause you shame and regret. If it’s possible, find a way to make amends to the people you’ve hurt, and do so, without conditions, justifications, or expectations. Ask them to forgive you, don’t try to persuade them.
If it isn’t possible to make personal amends, deal with your desire for forgiveness in another way. Pour your guilt and repentance into a letter you can’t send, make a pledge to do no more harm, donate to a charity the aggrieved person would care about, or perform a random act of kindness. The intention behind the act will help you to move on.
In forgiving, we recognize a sense of inherent worth in others that exists whether or not it is always reflected in behavior. You need to acknowledge your own inherent worth, or risk sliding into self-loathing, a mental prison which is often accompanied by the self-destructive behavior you are attempting to break free of. Self-compassion is a necessary component of recovery and a cornerstone of good mental health.
“Forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu
In order to forgive, it’s necessary to cultivate the mental strength to open that window. This wonderful article by Robert Enright outlines some key elements for building the mental muscles that will make forgiveness possible in his book, “8 Keys to Forgiveness.”
Forgiveness is the embodiment of empathy, compassion, tolerance, and hope. We recommend becoming fit for forgiveness to anyone trapped in the dark, dank room of addiction.