When addiction ends, negative emotions creep back in: loss, loneliness, sadness, fear, grief, regret. Guilt is something that every person in recovery must struggle with. This emotion is useful as long as it impels you to make amends for the feelings you hurt and the toes you stepped on while you were using, but it can become an impediment to your recovery if you let it get out of control. It’s easy to feel like you are beyond forgiveness, that you’ve hurt so many people and done so many bad things that nothing can ever make it right again.
What you need most in recovery is strength and confidence, and these come through in forgiveness. It’s important that you rebuild the bridges which were burnt during your addiction, but before you seek anyone else’s forgiveness, you must forgive yourself. Obsessing over past misdeeds and focusing on negativity will ultimately hinder your journey toward sobriety. Below are five easy ways to forgive yourself and move on with your life during and after recovery.
The past is past. As much as you’d like to change it, it can’t be done. You have to live with the consequences of your actions. Dwelling on past wrongs and planning future rights won’t help you advance. Focus on the here and now. You’re not the same person you were when you were addicted. You’re smarter, stronger, and wiser.
You’ve earned some forgiveness, especially from yourself. Even after you’ve gained perspective on your addiction, your past will intrude on your thoughts from time to time. When this happens, step back from the immediate feelings of anger or guilt and instead try chronicling the experience. Write your thoughts or feelings down in a diary or journal. You’ll feel a sense of emotional release and you can revisit your thoughts giving you insight into your feelings. You’ll see that you’re in a much better place than you were before and are making serious strides towards a permanent recovery.
Identify why you felt like you needed to use. Were you depressed? Were you self-medicating? What caused you to begin using in the first place? Think about the causes and influences behind your addiction and attempt to pierce the veil—to truly understand the emotions, situation, or desires behind that choice. It’s easier to forgive yourself for the fall if you know what it was that made you stumble. You’re only human. Everybody stumbles sometimes.
Take a hard look at the standards you’re using to judge your past, those around you, and yourself. Are you really being fair? Are you denigrating yourself based on a rubric of moral behavior that’s out of date or overly harsh? Are your values to blame for your frame of mind, or is it a thought or belief that has led to you see past events in a recriminating light? Review your personal values and, if they’re outdated or too severe, update them.
At some point during the recovery process, you will probably make a list of people who you hurt with your addiction. When you do, don’t forget to include yourself. Ask those people for forgiveness, and obtain it from your own soul. If forgiveness is difficult to find, either from without or within, remember that some people may not be able to forgive at the present time, as they are still processing their own emotional baggage. Give it time. Things will happen at their own pace.
Above all, don’t expect yourself to be perfect. You’re human, no more and no less. Don’t look for perfection from yourself, others, or the world. Bad days happen and bad people will get in your way. You will rise above. The clouds will clear. The skies will darken, brighten, darken again, and brighten once more. This is a fact of life.
It may help to join a support group and reveal your experiences to others. Recovery is a difficult process, but difficulty is always easier to bear when it’s apportioned out between individuals. Don’t feel that you need to bottle up your feelings, hide your past, or endure the long journey toward recovery alone. If privacy is more comfortable to you, then consider venting to individuals with similar struggles online.
Joining a support group, regardless of the type, is crucial to recovery. In any case, be honest and open about your experiences, it will help you heal. Furthermore, know when to be silent and hear others’ stories without judgment, just as you would want yours to be heard.
Allow yourself the chance to move on by really forgiving yourself. Each step you take toward recovery is a step further away from your past and the person you were before. Every inch of progress is an inch of freedom. If it helps, say these words aloud: “I give myself permission to move on. I cannot change what has happened but I can control what I do going forward. I am human. I will do the best I can.”
Accepting that you can be both mindful of what you have done and still forgive yourself is crucial to your long-term recovery. Understand that recovery is an ongoing journey. Continue to look deep into yourself for what drives you, both good and bad. Let other people help you, but most importantly, let you help yourself. Know yourself, accept yourself, and keep moving forward.
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