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The Art of Forgiveness and How it Transforms Lives

“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” ~ Desmond Tutu Forgiveness may be one of the most difficult aspects of the path to recovery. For many, forgiving their loved ones is harder than giving up alcohol or drugs altogether, and as a result, they can go years trying to forget the wrongs against them without fully forgiving those who wronged them. In the long run feeding on this pain, on negative thoughts, and on bitterness is detrimental not only to relationships but to the emotional health of the one harboring this negativity. Research has shown that the act of forgiveness is associated with more satisfaction in relationships and even better physical health. Because of this, forgiveness is key to recovery and can actually transform lives. The art of forgiveness is this: to forget is not to forgive, and forgiveness does not mean forgetting.

What Forgiveness Looks Like

If forgiveness does not simply mean forgetting the past, what does forgiveness actually look like? According to the dictionary definition, to forgive is to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong or to stop blaming someone for their actions. While certainly simplistic, this idea of forgiveness goes a long way toward building an understanding of the freedom that forgiveness offers. While speaking at a healing conference, psychotherapist Rokelle Lerner provided a more holistic understanding of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is not forgetting o denying the effects of wrongdoing, and it is not pardoning or excusing. Forgiveness is the road from resentment to a connection.” Clearly, the art of forgiveness is not a cheap attempt at glossing over wrongdoings, nor is it simply trying to forget the wrong that was done altogether. Both of these approaches have more in common with avoidance than forgiveness. True forgiveness is letting go of the burden that wrongdoing places on relationships and personal happiness. This is a difficult, contemplative process that should not be taken lightly. But to begin on the path to forgiveness is to move toward healing, toward peace, and toward transformation.

The Art of Forgiveness in Recovery

Recovery from addiction often requires simultaneous recovery from resentment. For those suffering from addiction, blame and resentment can often take the place of recognizing and dealing with the addiction itself. There is never just one source of the bitterness and anger experienced by individuals struggling toward addiction recovery. Instead, these negative emotions can stem from personal experiences, internalized stigmas, a damaging self-perception, and the cumulative effect of the actions of others. The source of grudges for recovering addicts can include:

  • Bitterness toward those who have tried told them what to do
  • Real or perceived injustices
  • Hypocritical behavior from friends and family
  • Trauma from sexual or physical abuse
  • High expectations for others and low expectations for themselves
  • Failure of loved ones to live up to these high expectations

Some of these grudges may be justified given the circumstances, but that does not mean that they are healthy. Holding on to these grudges can get in the way of recovery, keeping recovering addicts back from transforming their lives and their relationships for the better. There is danger in holding on, rather than forgiving. Holding on to a grudge in recovery can increase the chances of a relapse, sap motivation, lead to a negativity trap (also known as “stinking thinking”) and essentially prevent emotional sobriety in the long run. No matter how hard it may be, forgiveness in recovery is always a good idea. There are many reasons to forgive on the road to recovery. Just some of them are:

  • Recovering from addiction means getting a second chance; recovering addicts should consider offering the same to those around them
  • Forgiving others usually gives more freedom to the one offering forgiveness than the one receiving it
  • Forgiveness can be one of the first steps toward developing relational empathy and personal freedom, setting up those on the path to recovery for success.

The Art of Forgiveness for a Transformed Life

The transformational power of forgiveness is not just psychospiritual mumbo jumbo. There is real scientific research that supports forgiveness as beneficial for mental and physical health. For instance, the American Psychological Association says forgiveness “aids psychological healing through positive changes in affect, improves physical and mental health, restores a victim’s sense of personal power, [and] helps bring about reconciliation.” Forgiveness can do as much for the one doing the forgiving as it can for the one being forgiven. In short, it is just three little words can help recovering addicts find the freedom and transformation they are looking for: I forgive you. Recovery centers and support groups can go a long way in helping those who suffer from addiction start the process toward recovery. Reach out today.