Forgiveness for self after battling mental health and substance abuse is tricky for anyone in recovery. We can say out loud that we have found understanding and forgiveness for ourselves, but usually, underneath the surface, shame is buried so deep, it’s hard to set it free. Finding forgiveness for yourself is easier if you have an understanding as to why you behaved the way you did. But where do you start?

Understanding physiology

It is extremely important to understand that most, if not all, of our decisions are as a result of our nervous system trying to protect us from harm. Our body is extremely intelligent and will make decisions for us and influence our thought patterns so we don’t come to harm. Substance abuse and other self-harming behaviors are closely related to our fight-or-flight response, particularly for people who have had negative responses to trauma from their past. Our brain creates neural pathways to protect us from emotional pain because the body doesn’t know the difference between physical and emotional harm. All it knows is that it is distressed and that distress must be soothed.

Okay, so we can make choices on how we soothe. We can choose quick fixes which are readily available in the form of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling etc. We can also choose to change our lifestyle, seek therapy, educate ourselves about trauma-informed care and learn to self-love. The latter takes some time, commitment and energy and is of course the way to go. But if your body is in a constant state of upheaval, flooded with stress hormones, your brain will choose the quick fix every time.

Unfortunately, a lot of people still process addiction as a selfish behavior and not a physiological one. Thankfully that concept is changing rapidly because of people like Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Jamie Marich who understand deeply the connection between addiction and trauma. They also highlight the importance of trauma-informed care. So, it’s important for you to also understand this and research a little more. Facts bring a new perspective and knowledge is power. When you know better you do better.

Where to begin

The best place to start is always at the beginning, but the beginning can be really tough. Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool, where you can examine each stage of your life and follow a sequence of events that led you to where you are today. When you sit and write and examine your life from your earliest memory to where you are today, new realizations appear. When you read and understand your early life through the eyes of an adult, things may not have been as rosy as you once believed.

How did you react to daily bullying in school? Were you told to man up, or that life is hard and suck it up? How deeply did you feel the loss of a parent, sibling or other important family member? Perhaps the sexual abuse you experienced still lives inside you buried deep. How have those things that you had no control over led you to make decisions about the next stage of your life? Did you live with anxiety, fear, and lack of self-worth? If those things hadn’t happened, would you have made different choices for yourself?

The harm to others and finding peace

Addiction ravages all members of the family, not just the active addict. The greatest amends we can make to them is to start taking care of ourselves so they may live in peace. Of course, they may have their own issues to deal with and sometimes they can be the ones who caused our trauma that led us to addiction. There may come a time when we have to distance ourselves from loved ones because the damage inflicted by one or both parties cannot be repaired. However, taking personal responsibility and owning our own actions offers an opportunity for a whole family to heal. Once you can be truthful with yourself about your life, you can then make the correct choices for yourself going forward.

To truly heal, we must understand addiction from a mind, body and soul aspect and address it with trauma-informed therapy so we may find forgiveness for ourselves and perhaps in time for others too. Your family’s generational trauma can end with you!


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