Forgiveness is an emotional process. Too often we take shortcuts. In order to avoid conflict and/or to preserve existing relationships, we tell ourselves to simply, “let it go.” In this light, what we’re really doing is denying ourselves the right to feel what we feel and the right to express it. This approach tends to be at the heart of our anxiety and depression.
It’s also yet another example of our black and white thinking. We reason that we can either confront the person who harmed us or simply deal with it alone. Problematically, we are people who don’t expect accountability from others – least of all, from those who have harmed us. So, we repress pain and anger, which is the recipe for resentment and further “baggage.” We make excuses for those who harmed us, and when we say we “let it go”, what we really mean is, we’re pretending like it all just went away.
The wisdom of 12 step programs reminds us that holding on to resentment doesn’t harm the person who hurt us. It hurts us. What needs to be added to this perspective is that holding on to resentments results in repeating patterns of behavior and perpetually achieving heartbreaking results. We date the same people, we befriend the same folks, we work and give to those who are selfish.
Conversely, when it comes to ourselves, we are accountable for the harm we caused to others but not the harm we caused ourselves while using. We let nothing go. We hold resentment against self as a means of self-control.
For most of us, this means being highly critical of ourselves. It usually includes maintaining impossible standards and expectations. Ideally, these become healthier through the course of recovery, but we are often unwilling to forgive ourselves for past choices. We fear that doing so will result in forgetting or making the same mistakes again.
Of course, forgetting is impossible, and the poor decisions we made while using are extremely unlikely to be the choices we make when clean/sober. I promise you that you can have far greater control through self-acceptance than you can ever have by being hypercritical and overly self-conscious.
Letting go of pain and anger is a process. It is not a one-time event. Forgiveness, whether of self or others, is something we can choose simply because it results in greater freedom and in spiritual growth.
Many of us get stuck in the idea that we don’t know how to forgive/make amends to ourselves. I say that if you know how to do something for others, then you know how to do it for you. It works exactly the same way. Take responsibility, process emotions, clear up misunderstandings, apologize and recognize that a true apology is not only a statement of regret, it is also a promise not to repeat.
Folks in recovery always want shortcuts: Go to a mirror. Look only into your own eyes and say, “I’m very sorry for how I have treated you. I promise I will do better from now on.”
Practicing this will develop resolve and conviction – rock-solid belief that no matter what, treating ourselves poorly only honors our abusers and will never result in the growth that we seek.