The Importance of Forgiveness in Addiction Recovery

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Forgiveness is the practice of choosing not to be angry any longer by letting go of past pain and hurt. Those in recovery can further begin the healing process by not wasting energy and time self-perpetuating past pain. In this frame of reference, the practice of forgiveness is easily viewed as intricately linked to the recovery process. The active approach of either forgiving others or oneself directly mirrors many of the healthy behavioral patterns taught through the therapeutic modalities integral to recovery. Both practices involve self-identifying problem areas in a person’s life, acknowledging how past actions contributed to those scenarios, and taking an empathetic approach to resolving those issues. Essentially, by practicing acts of forgiveness, clients are also learning how to better maintain their sobriety in the long term. 


How exactly do clients begin this healing process of forgiveness? Following the four steps, we have listed below will greatly help begin the crash course on forgiveness:


  • Don’t take things personally
  • Practice empathy
  • Acknowledge wrongdoing and confess with sincerity
  • Learn to let go


Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the hurt or excusing the behavior; instead, it means acknowledging culpability and moving forward with the intent to do better. 


Benefits of Practicing Forgiveness in Recovery


Forgiveness, like addiction recovery, can be a process. Some wounds will take longer to heal than others, but through practice, forgiveness provides noticeable benefits in life. Holding on to hurt and pain is akin to holding on to the past. For most in recovery, holding on to the past means holding on to addictive behavior and thought patterns that need to be left behind. 


Reliving that pain and emotional turmoil is a huge burden that can lead to irritational thoughts and actions as well as increased stress and anxiety. All of the symptoms from not practicing forgiveness are emblematic of major triggers for relapse in addiction recovery. Not only will these symptoms potentially lead to relapse, but holding on to anger and bitterness will eventually seep into every relationship, and new experience tainted the newfound sobriety that patients have worked so diligently to achieve. By not forgiving, clients run the risk of becoming so intensely wrapped up in their painful past that they can hardly enjoy the present moment. 


Conversely, practicing forgiveness will improve patients’ chances of maintaining sobriety. Here are some of the top benefits from being able to forgive listed below:


  • Decreased depression and anxiety
  • Increased feelings of affirmation and purpose
  • Increased self-worth
  • Enriched connectedness with others


These are all conditions or states of mind that those in recovery should actively seek and promote in their daily lives to avoid the risk of relapsing. Aside from maintaining abstinence through a sober mindset, forgiveness will also bring about a more positive mindset and improved disposition, bettering the quality of life. There is a reason people refer to confessing guilt or vice versa practicing forgiveness as a weight being lifted off their shoulders. Forgiveness can be immensely freeing as long as you are willing to let go.


Forgiveness of Self


Although there is no exact manual determining when and where forgiveness should occur, we would recommend that before individuals seek forgiveness from others, they should first seek that same level of empathy from themselves. This process arguably takes place in the steps leading up to the 9th step of a 12-step program. Clients will find confessing unproductive if they have yet to forgive themselves for past transgressions. This largely comes with understanding both addictive disorders and the co-occurring mental health issues as a previously undiagnosed and untreated disease. This is in no way promoting a lack of accountability; however, holding one’s self accountable is completely different from constantly berating oneself for mistakes. If the intent was never to harm, feelings of guilt and shame will do nothing to support recovery.


Asking Forgiveness from Others


In the 12-step program, the 8th and 9th steps handle taking account of a patient’s previous transgressions and asking for forgiveness from those individuals they may have wronged. These two steps are crucial pieces to the recovery puzzle. They can help reconcile past relationships while also teaching patients to better self-identify problem areas with their addiction or co-occurring mental health issues. 


Although beneficial, clients should be reminded not to rush into this healing process of forgiveness. There is a reason both steps are listed higher up in the ladder rung of recovery. Individuals in recovery need to remember that their part is only to acknowledge potential wrongdoing, confess sorrowful intent, and make amends by committing concerted efforts to avoid those same actions in the future. They are not supposed to seek out forgiveness but rather simply admit fault and ask for forgiveness. Addiction recovery is a humbling experience, and reconciling relationships with the past can help clients grow to take a more empathetic approach in their daily life. 


Addiction with co-occurring mental health issues can disrupt the lives of diagnosed individuals and their close family and friends. Relationships tend to become strained as addiction governs all aspects of life. Asking for forgiveness is one of the steps toward healing. Choice House offers men the opportunity to achieve initial sobriety as they begin to build a new, sober foundation based on love, empathy, and forgiveness. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our treatment programs use various therapeutic modalities to teach men the skills necessary to maintain sobriety. These treatment services include our 90-day inpatient program, an extensive outpatient service, and the chance to take up residency at our sober living campus. By learning how to practice acts of forgiveness and empathy, clients are brought out of the past and into the present, further reconciling their relationship with themselves and their support network. For more information regarding Choice House facilities or treatment, call (303) 578-4977.

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