Learning how to forgive yourself is one of the most important steps in your recovery. Let’s face it: if you’ve struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction, chances are that you might be pretty angry at yourself.
You might have shown up to your child’s graduation high on cocaine, gotten too drunk at the family Christmas party or crashed your mom’s car while driving under the influence. Addicts tend to do things that leave them feeling ashamed, embarrassed and full of self-loathing.
In reality, though, staying angry at yourself isn’t helpful. The side effects of detox on your brain can already leave you feeling depressed and anxious. Self-hatred is only going to exacerbate the negative emotions you have after you’ve quit using.
If you’ve recently quit drinking or using drugs (or even if you’re currently using but thinking about quitting), you’ll probably benefit from giving yourself some slack. Forgiving yourself will help to relieve some of the heaviness that comes along with sobriety and could even work to prevent a future relapse.
But I’ve Really Messed Up in My Life…What Can I Do?
Even when you can’t change the past, you can take steps to be a better person as you move forward. This will not only help you to avoid making similar mistakes in the future but will help you to break out of the cycle of negative thinking.
Our mistakes, after all, tend to haunt us like ghosts. You might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the time you forgot to pick your kids up from soccer or spend days in bed regretting the fact that you spent your savings on pills. You’ll never be able to take those things back but you will be able to make better decisions as you move forward.
Sometimes, forgiving yourself is the first step toward living your best life. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Identify What’s Important to You
One of the reasons why you can’t stop beating yourself up over the things you’ve done is that you know those things don’t align with who you really are. When we spiral down the steps of addiction, we often act out of character. You know that your childhood self wouldn’t have stolen money to pay for drugs and you certainly wouldn’t do that now, so why on Earth did you do it 5 years ago?
You can start the process of forgiving yourself by identifying what your values are. Ask yourself what kind of person you truly want to be. Once you’ve outlined your morals, you’ll have a better idea of what you do and don’t deem as acceptable behaviors. You’ll have parameters for your own actions and will be able to avoid making decisions that you’ll regret in the future.
Think of Your Mistakes as Challenges to Overcome
It’s important to remember that your past mistakes don’t define you. Instead of seeing your mess-ups as being who you are, think of them as events you learned from. You made mistakes, you understand why you were wrong and you’ll do what you can to prevent similar things from happening in the future.
At a certain point, you have to take responsibility for whatever went wrong. When you can acknowledge that you acted out of character and that you regret it, you’ll be in a much better position to move forward with your addiction recovery.
Ask for Forgiveness
There is a reason why Steps 8 and 9 of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs are “Making a list everyone you’ve harmed” and “Making amends wherever possible”. The reason is that, in order to truly forgive yourself, you need to make an effort to show others that you’re sorry for your actions.
This can be extremely difficult to do. Calling up your best friend from high school and telling her that you’re sorry for ruining her wedding isn’t exactly how anyone wants to spend their Saturday afternoon but you’ll be better off for doing it. Even if the individual is still resentful toward you for your actions, calling to make amends will show them that you’re growing as a person.
How to Make Amends
Are you in AA or NA and ready to tackle Step 8 and Step 9? Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go through the process:
- Amends and apologies aren’t always the same thing: Ideally, making amends means doing what you can to repair any damage you’ve caused. If you stole money from someone, your amends would be paying them back. Of course, you’ll most likely want to apologize to them during the process if you are able to get in touch with them.
- Making direct amends isn’t always possible: If someone is dead or unreachable for any reason, you probably won’t be able to make amends with them or even apologize to them. That’s okay. By making the conscious decision to be a better person and avoid hurting people the way you hurt that individual, you can make “symbolic amends”.
- Don’t point any fingers: When you make amends and asking for forgiveness, don’t blame the individual for anything they did. The best way to approach the process is to let them know what you did wrong and to explain that you’re sorry for it. Even if the individual has wronged you in some way, remember that it isn’t about them. Leave it up to them to decide whether or not they feel that they have something to apologize for.
- Making amends is the best path to forgiving yourself: If you’ve hurt a lot of people in your life and haven’t made any amends, then there are probably a lot of people and places you can’t be around. When your entire life is dictated by the things you feel guilty about and the people who you’ve hurt, it’s tough to forgive yourself. Once you apologize and make an effort to repair the damage you caused, you’ll be on your way to living a healthier and guilt-free existence.
Forgiving Others is Just as Important
The best way to start forgiving yourself is to let go of any resentment you have toward other people. If you can relieve yourself of any grudges you hold toward friends and family, you’ll have an easier time forgiving yourself for the things you’ve done.
At some point, people may approach you to make amends for the harm they’ve caused you. As someone who understands the heavy burden that guilt can be, you should give them the gift of forgiveness. Forgiving other people will help to improve your mental health and make you a bit happier. You’ll feel better knowing that a huge weight has been lifted off their back.
How to Forgive Other People
Acknowledge that you were hurt: It’s okay to be angry at someone. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that someone hurt you. Once you recognize that someone’s words or actions had a negative impact on you, you can start the process of forgiving them.
Remember that we’re all human: No matter what type of harm someone may have caused you, it’s important to remember that all people are complex beings. The guy who stole your wallet has had a life just like you and has done much more than just steal your wallet. Even if you’ve never stolen anything, you should be able to understand that he made a bad decision and can still be forgiven.
Forget about “getting even”: The concept of getting vengeance on someone who wronged you is a toxic idea that will only make it more difficult for you to forgive yourself. Honestly, if you want other people to relinquish the grudges they have toward you, you should start thinking in terms of forgiveness and stop thinking about the possibility of getting someone back for what they did.
Be Nice to Yourself
It helps to remind yourself that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. When your entire life is governed by alcohol or drugs, you’re certainly not going to make the best decisions. Now that you’re clean, though, you have a much clearer picture of what’s right and what’s wrong. The fact that you’ve even come to terms with your addiction and taken steps toward getting sober means that you’re already in the process of becoming a better person.
Whenever you start beating yourself up, think about what happened and consider what you can do to repair it. The more you work to fix any problems you caused, the better you’ll start to feel about yourself.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
When you’re having a particularly difficult time forgiving yourself for something, it might help to reach out for support. You can discuss the problem with a trusted friend or family member. They might have an objective view of the situation and be able to provide you with some advice on how to repair the situation.
If there is no one that you feel comfortable discussing your guilt with, you may want to get in contact with a licensed therapist. They’ll be able to help you understand why you’re feeling so guilty and provide a course of action for overcoming the thoughts that plague you.
Want to discuss your feelings with a member of our staff? Give us a call today. We’ve seen hundreds of addicts learn the art of self-forgiveness and transform into happier, healthier individuals.