In recovery you are told to forgive yourself. To be kind to yourself. To praise yourself for every day of your recovery. I found this hard at the beginning and I still find it hard. Nearly every addict in recovery I have met started their journey filled with the same shame and self-loathing. Through their submission to the craving for a mind-altering substance they have taken their families and the people they love to the darkest of places. Trust, loyalty, dignity, health, compassion, honour, hope and truth have been destroyed and abandoned. It is beyond my understanding how forgiveness can be possible.
People in love stay with addicted partners, and families continue to support addicted family members until pushed beyond endurance. Many relationships end in divorce, families disown. Lie after lie after lie causes people to lose their sense of reason and doubt their own sanity. Every time one more chance is given and thrown away another part of the soul dies. Love is corrupted. Betrayal, pain, loneliness and tears. How can a person put a substance before anything or anyone? And through all of this their families are told they do not understand addiction. They more than understand the fall-out and impact but the difficult truth is that they can’t understand what it is to be an addict.
It sounds incredibly glib to say that only an addict can truly understand addiction. It takes a matter of weeks to clear your system of a drug if you stop using it. A few short weeks. A very close friend, a fellow heroin user at the time, once told me that cold turkey was no worse than a bad case of flu. The trouble is that psychological dependence can take a lifetime to conquer. The psychological damage inflicted on all concerned can sometimes be irreparable. An addict contemplating recovery is filled with shame, paranoia, anger, fear and feelings of low or no self worth. Depression. All of these are also experienced by the people around them. I believe there are selfish addicts out there who do not care about anyone but themselves but I have yet to meet one. The substance is in control. Nothing else matters but to feed the craving. Addicts can love their partners and families but are left powerless and hopeless in the wreckage they have created. The pain they cause the people they love pushes the knife of despair deeper every day.
Despite verifiable links with the many health-related consequences and its fundamental part in Alcoholics Anonymous, the scientific study of forgiveness in addiction and recovery has only recently begun. It is certainly time to expand research into the positive outcomes of the link between forgiveness and recovery. Understanding the subtle effect of forgiveness among people with alcohol and other drug problems, though not a magic bullet, will inform the development of more efficient treatment for individuals struggling with addiction.
One day every addict reaches the lowest they can go. For many this is death. For others it is the beginning of recovery. At this point, it is very difficult to be told to forgive yourself. You hate yourself. You are worthless. The idea of liking yourself is a foreign country. This, it would seem, is a very good place to start. I am working towards rebuilding the trust and earning the forgiveness of my family. Through that, I may find respect and forgiveness for myself.
“Because forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” (Desmond Tutu)