Whether your loved one is still in the throes of addiction or has gotten help and is now living a clean and sober life, the people in the addict’s life may still continue to harbor ill will toward the addict for things s/he did while abusing drugs and/or alcohol. It’s hard to forgive someone who has wronged you, especially when they are a grown person who should know how to take responsibility for their actions. But addiction is a disease; and more than anything, forgiveness is every bit as much for you as it is for the person who hurt you during their time as a substance abuser. So, what can you do when you just feel like you can’t forgive the things they have done? After all, many times, the things they have put you through have been hurtful emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. How do you get to the place of authentic forgiveness for the addict in your life?
Understanding What it Means to Forgive: It’s Not About Ignoring How You Feel or Condoning
It’s crucial to understand that forgiving someone does not mean you are “letting them off the hook” or just letting something terrible they did to you or another loved one go. Forgiveness is also not another way of saying, “Sure, what you did was okay, and I condone it,” nor is it a hall pass to repeat the offenses being forgiven. And, in many cases, forgiveness is private: yes, you may forgive someone just for yourself as part of recovering from living with an addict — it is not always something that is shared. And finally, it’s critical to understand that you have a right to feel hurt, angry, sad, or even outraged: these feelings are normal reactions to being wronged, abused, or neglected. As the old Jewish proverb implies, “Forgive, but never forget.”
How to Get to Forgiveness — Genuine Compassion and Understanding
When we think about genuine forgiveness, we have to consider that there have probably been dozens of offenses committed by the addict. Maybe they stole your jewelry or even your car. Perhaps they physically harmed you or another loved one. Maybe they stole your wallet or took medication you need out of your medicine cabinet because of their addiction. The list could go on and on. The issue is, when you engage in the act of tallying things up — making you the good guy and the addict the bad guy — and you constantly discuss this list of wrongs they have committed, you are not allowing yourself to let go of the past. It’s clear without tallying things up that yes, you have been hurt. But true forgiveness is for you, too; and if you can’t seem to find a place to start, you may need more time.
Once enough time has passed, start to see a therapist or counselor who can help you work through your anger. Discussing why your mad can reveal a lot you didn’t realize when a third party guides you down a path of forgiveness. If you’re still struggling to forgive, don’t get mad at yourself — surround yourself with loving, understanding people. One great way to do this is to attend Al-anon (for alcohol abuse) or Nar-anon (for drug abuse) group meetings. These are held nationwide, and even in the smallest and most rural towns, you’ll almost certainly find an Al-Anon group. This is a place where you can discuss your frustrations, fears, anger, and how hurt you are — and you’ll never be judged because you’re surrounded by other people who are also dealing with an addict or recovering addict in their lives. Oftentimes you’ll find that Al-anon and Nar-anon groups meet simultaneously or within the same group, especially in smaller towns.
Talking it Out and Living it Down: How You’ll Know When You’ve Truly Let Go
After talking, journaling, going to therapy and/or Al-anon or Nar-anon, you will find in time you have learned a lot about yourself, and that you have discovered a lot of things you should really be proud of. As a survivor of the abuses of an addict, by talking it out in group therapy, continuing to journal out your emotions and thoughts, and by acknowledging that what happened did happen but it is not your fault, you will begin to truly come to the place of authentic forgiveness. Realizing that forgiveness is not forgetting, nor is it a way of denying what happened is critical to your own recovery. Once you have jumped all these hurdles, you will come to a place of true forgiveness, realizing the addict who hurt you is just a person, and a person carrying the burden of an illness that is out of control. To forgive is to allow yourself to begin healing; it is not about the addict. It’s about you taking the wheel of your life back into your own hands.