Forgiveness in Recovery
Forgiving others is tough for recovering addicts. In fact, 12-step programs have steps designed to show them how to get past resentment and anger with others. This is relatively early in the recovery process, right around steps 4 and 5. Part of the reason this is so tough is due to their own sense of guilt and shame for things they have done to remain active in their addiction.
If there is a way to transfer that guilt and shame onto others, it is the addict who has mastered this skill. They are quite capable of doing something wrong to another person and then helping that person find the culprit. In 12-step meetings, it is often heard by recovering addicts that they would “…steal your money and help you look for it.” This is not uncommon practice for those who are behaving as those who are actively practicing an addiction behave.
Forgiving others is the first part of the process of recovery. Learning about their own part of the problems that have occurred in their lives is the purpose of Steps 4 and 5. It really isn’t about learning to forgive others so much as it is about learning who is really at fault in most of the cases that are cited. This is going to continue to be true for them, as they project their own behaviors onto everyone around them. This is an important concept to master for ongoing recovery. Learning to forgive themselves, therefore, is the lesson to be learned in this case.
Forgiving themselves for the horrors that they have inflicted on their own lives, the lives of those who care about them, and on everything that has been tainted by their addiction is a tall order. It is difficult to imagine that the simple act of forgiving of self is so deeply rejected by addicts that it takes all 12 of those steps to achieve just that, self-forgiveness.
The entire process of 12-step recovery is to produce the necessary Spiritual conversion that will allow an addict to stop the cycle of repeated relapse and addiction. In order to allow the Spiritual component to become an active part of their lives, addicts need to see that they are fit for a Spiritual relationship with a Higher Power. Most addicts are seen as lacking in self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-esteem. Therefore, they do not see themselves as worthy of a Spiritual relationship. Changing this view to one of allowing them to be worthy of such a relationship takes all of the work that is done in all 12 of those steps. This process is all about forgiveness of self and acceptance of self; a very tall order for anyone who has spent the entirety of their time actively destroying themselves and everything good and fine about their lives.
Those who work with addicts in recovery are often astonished to see the levels of self-destruction and self-loathing that exist in the addicts frame of reference. This is another symptom of addiction, self-hatred. In order to fully embrace their own recovery, it is imperative that they begin to understand this concept and to learn to love and honor themselves, but mostly to learn to forgive themselves.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.