You’ve probably heard a lot about forgiveness when it comes to recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Forgiving others – especially when there has been a negative history or even trauma – can take a lot of effort to work through. Even with that being said, for those who have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction forgiving themselves can be the most difficult form of forgiveness. Do you tend to come down hard on yourself? I know I do: I get angry with myself when I miss an exit on the interstate and have to drive to the next one – and calculate in my head how much further I had to drive, how much time I wasted, how much gas was used. I become upset with myself if my home-cooked meal doesn’t come out the way I wanted it to. I feel bad about myself when I don’t finish a to-do list. In the grand scheme of things, these are very minor offenses – but in my head, they can be catastrophic. Unfortunately, being “too hard on yourself” is a common trait of people who become addicted to drugs or alcohol – and often times, it surfaces as a form of self-hatred. This trait often follows people for years, even into their recovery. Even in recovery, negative emotions such as loneliness, sadness, fear, guilt, grief and regret can resurface. While these emotions are natural at times, when you come down hard on yourself, it’s easy to let those feelings slip out of control and impend your recovery. Giving into these emotions may feel like you are beyond forgiveness after hurting so many friends and family members, and doing so many things wrong. However, what you will need in your recovery process to lift you through these times is strength and confidence – both of which surface from self-forgiveness. Below are five ways to begin to forgive yourself, and move forward with your recovery – and your life.
One of the best ways to begin to forgive yourself is by identifying what it is that is causing your self-hatred and inability to forgive. Identifying specific instances instead of general outcome (ie. the time I was high and didn’t make it to my little sister’s birthday party – versus getting high “all the time”.) For me, writing out what I did and why I’m angry with myself helps me to face my past. Because writing can be therapeutic, it allows us to see exactly what it is that’s bothering us, and contain it on a piece of paper. Writing also allows us to express what we’ve done with complete honesty – something that was rare in active addiction.
At Vertava Health, we often stress how important it is to make connections in addiction recovery. Connecting with sponsors or friends in recovery, a support group, a counselor, therapist or pastor can be critical in helping you through difficult times and hold you accountable. Sharing with another person, one-on-one can help in releasing some of the shame you’ve been carrying. When you choose to share these negative feelings with another person, make sure to confide in someone who won’t be judgemental, as you’ve already been judged very harshly by yourself. The person you open up to may be able to help you see that the things you are feeling ashamed of may not be as bad as you think, and can help you in walking through them.
- Be Aware
One of the biggest problems that people struggle with in early recovery – and beyond – is negative inner dialogue. It’s hard to love yourself and forgive yourself when you’re constantly beating yourself up over every minor occurrence. You may not even realize how negative your inner dialogue is, which is why it helps to become more aware of what you’re telling yourself. Telling yourself that you’re going to fail, or you look like an idiot, or you messed up is a lot more damaging than you could imagine. But, by taking a step back and questioning that negative inner voice, you can reverse the conversation – stay in the positive, and stop being a slave to the negativity.
- Develop Self-Compassion
The best way to get rid of the bullying thoughts in your head is by replacing them with a voice of compassion. That critical, negative inner voice isn’t there to stay – it’s just a habit. Kick the habit by deliberately saying nice things to yourself. Eventually, this more compassionate, positive voice will replace your negative habit. Developing self-compassion will not only make you feel stronger in your recovery, but you’ll also find yourself stronger in your battle with anxiety, depression, worry and chronic stress. Self-compassion can lead to self-forgiveness – and also put you on the road to develop compassion for others, as well.
- Give Yourself Credit
Another healthy habit to work towards is giving yourself some credit. Yes, you have spent many days of your life in active addiction – but now, you’re working hard to lay the foundation for a better future. Just like your recovery, celebrating your successes and giving yourself credit for what you’ve done right, happens one day at a time. Each day, think of at least one thing that you accomplished or did right that day, and give yourself some acknowledgement. Doing so will give you a sense of achievement and a motivational boost to move forward. Understand that you aren’t perfect and never will be – but know that each day, you’re doing the best you can and accepting yourself. Eventually, this mindset can help you to stop being so hard on yourself and find self-forgiveness.