Whether you’re deep in the throes of an addiction to drugs or alcohol or you’ve been in recovery for some time, the importance of practicing forgiveness both for yourself and for others is vital. Forgiveness in recovery is an integral part of the addiction recovery healing process. In fact, forgiving yourself in recovery is often the first of many healing steps that you will take towards dispelling negative feelings, resentment and powerfully negative emotions from your inner psyche and making an intentional decision to work toward overcoming the sense of guilt and shame that became ingrained within your mind as a result of your addiction.

Understanding the Concept of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a tough concept for some of us to handle. It’s not necessarily that we don’t want to have a forgiving heart, but sometimes the power of underlying pain and resentment that comes as a result of the wrongs that have been imposed on us simply make it too difficult to consciously forgive without assistance. But forgiveness and mental health actually have related benefits.

Research has shown that forgiveness is actually linked to positive mental health outcomes and, actively working on forgiving yourself and others in recovery can lead to reduced anxiety and depression while also improving various other psychiatric disorders along the way.

As children, we are taught to forgive one another at a very young age. This instinct is carried with us into adulthood as we build careers and actively engage in our social lives. However, addiction, often fueled by the past trauma, abuse or pain caused by others in our lives can create an underlying struggle when it comes to forgiving others. How do we forgive those who hurt us so deeply, abuse us so horribly, or inflict such devastating harm to us that our lives are forever changed?

Most addicts understand the struggle of forgiveness all too well. They struggle to forgive those who have hurt them and they struggle equally to forgive themselves for inflicting pain on those they love as well as upon themselves. Unfortunately, hanging onto shame and guilt, resentment and a deep underlying inability to forgive yourself or others can be extremely toxic. That’s why we immediately begin working on taking steps towards practicing forgiveness in recovery when clients enter treatment at St. John’s Recovery Place.

We realize the in order for recovery to truly take place, a deep instinct for forgiveness must be reinstated into the lives of each client we treat – and that’s a very tall order.

Why Addiction Leads to Resentment

Addiction can leave us full of feelings of resentment and shame. Often times, new clients in recovery at St. John’s Recovery Place mention a laundry list of the grudges and resentment they carry around. It’s common for these grudges to be the foundation on which clients justify the poor behavior that has been exhibited. For example, a client will say, “well, I wouldn’t have used drugs if it weren’t for the fact that my parent’s fought all the time and abandoned me when I was a teen.” Or “my wife is always nagging, and the bills are always behind, and the stress is all just too much without a drink.” In both cases, a grudge against someone or something else lays the foundation for an excuse to drink or use drugs and continue on a path of addiction – these are common occurrences, albeit unhealthy.

Rationalizing with addiction may seem like insane behavior to an outsider, but to an addict, it makes perfect sense. In each case, instead of recognizing drugs or alcohol for the destruction that both cause in the life of the user, the user instead blames the destruction further on the individual or situation in which they hold the resentment or grudge towards. In fact, the rationalization of an addict may continue on in the case of the wife and bills, the addict will not realize that his or her spending on alcohol is contributing to the budget problems. They instead justify drinking to release stress or to otherwise “cope” with the current situation.

Active addiction often results in the following elements of resentment:

  • Expecting others to live up to extreme standards, despite having low standards for yourself.
  • Resenting a loved one because he or she tried to tell you how to stop drinking or demanded that you give up the substances that are “reducing your stress.”
  • Resenting a loved one for “telling you what to do.” Addiction often makes everyone around you feel like an authority figure rather than a loved one.
  • Resenting others who have “let you down,” or “not cared” when in actuality they may be showing tough love or actively engaging in steps to disengage from your active addiction.

This is not to say that resentment is always unfounded. Many addicts have been deeply hurt by sexual or physical abuse which occurred in childhood or throughout their adult lives. The anger you feel towards someone that hurt you in this manner is certainly justifiable, but managing that anger with drugs or alcohol only adds to your own suffering and does nothing to hurt that of your abuser. In fact, moving forward in your recovery and letting go of resentment is a vital step towards validation and empowering yourself to heal. Drugs or alcohol will never empower you to do either!

Resentment and grudges in everyday relationships are recognized by certain common underlying causes in addition to drug or alcohol use. It’s not just the active drug or alcohol user that suffers from resentment, it’s the loved ones who are hurt by the addiction that suffers strongly as well. Resentment in relationships can be hard to forgive, especially when built-up problems resulting from substance abuse or addiction are allowed to intervene in the relationship creating toxic patterns such as:

  • Keeping score on who’s who in the relationship. We see this when a husband or wife has essentially “Check out” as a result of their addiction and the other half is doing the majority of the heavy lifting in the relationship. Things like taking care of the house, the kids, the finances, and always being the instigator of intimacy or emotional connections often lay with the sober partner, and, as a result, they may begin to feel resentment towards the individual suffering from addiction.
  • Addiction or underlying health issues leads to a caregiver versus relationship partner. We see this when addiction or an underlying health problem has one partner acting more as the caregiver than the partner in a relationship. Over time, the partner will often feel resentful of the other individual, especially when their own needs are historically unmet.
  • Addictive behaviors result in hurtful communication. We see this when active addiction causes a partner to use hurtful words or abusive behaviors towards their partner and, over time, the other partner doesn’t even want to communicate anymore. The partner may resent the hurt and shame that addictive behaviors cause resulting in a desire to disconnect emotionally.

Addiction and the resentment that comes along with active patterns of addiction in relationships can destroy even the most powerful relationships between two people. In recovery, much of the focus is on healing the resentment felt towards one’s self as well as helping to heal family dynamics so that loved ones can overcome resentment they feel towards the addict.

Dangers of Resentment & Holding a Grudge

Forgiveness is important for your mental health and psychological well-being, but what happens if you cannot let go of what happened and you find yourself holding a grudge? Unfortunately, resentment and bitterness will only impact the grudge holder, and not so much the individual that the grudge is held against. In other words, if you cannot let go of something and forgive, you are only hurting yourself more.

Holding a grudge, feeling bitter, or struggling deeply with resentment towards others does not negatively impact those whom you are unhappy with. The same is true when you’re holding a grudge against yourself in recovery. Doing so is only hurting you more!

Forgiving yourself and striving to let go of resentment in recovery is about making conscious efforts to let go of the emotions that are causing you pain and suffering. Often times, at St. John’s Recovery Place, clients mention feeling a “weight lifted” or a “burden lifted” when they are finally able to forgive themselves for something that they did in active addiction. The same is true when a grudge is finally dropped and the resentment that was being carried for so long is finally gone.

Breaking the Cycle of Guilt & Shame

The art of self-forgiveness in recovery begins with breaking the cycle of guilt and shame that has been a powerful player throughout times of active addiction. Forgiving yourself begins with the following intentional steps towards breaking the guilt cycle:

  • Step 1: Face Wrongdoings & Admit What was Done in the Past – Covering up what has happened, lying to yourself, or attempting to hide the things that were done or downplay situations that occurred in active addiction will not help you to bury the feelings you have towards yourself or others as a result. In fact, if you do not face your wrongs and actively work to admit and accept what was done in the past, you cannot move forward.
  • Step 2: Correct Your Wrongs – You may not be able to fix everything you have ever done wrong, but you can certainly engage in actively trying not to repeat past mistakes. As you work to correct your wrongs, be gentle on yourself, and try to do good for others whom you may have hurt in the past.
  • Step 3: Seek Forgiveness – Sometimes all you have to do is ask for forgiveness. If you can speak with those who you hurt when actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, ask if they can forgive you. Be careful of your actions and only speak to those who would not be hurt more by your presence or communication.
  • Step 4: Practice Self-Forgiveness – You should also continue to work on forgiving yourself – remember you are still learning and that patience is very important in the recovery journey. Be patient with yourself, allow yourself grace and forgiveness as you heal.

How Therapy Helps Deliver Self-Forgiveness in Recovery

Therapists at St. John’s Recovery Place work with clients to help them develop viable coping mechanisms that make resentment, and self-guilt unnecessary. The focus is on letting go of the past and learning how to intentionally develop value and meaning in everyday situations that lead to a sense of fullness and satisfaction in life.

When clients are struggling to find forgiveness for themselves or others in recovery, therapy can help them to focus more on the underlying reasons for the resentment and find a way to forgive. Forgiving yourself in recovery begins with letting go of the past behaviors and making a commitment to do better. At the same time, you must harness grace in order to accept that forgiving yourself and forgiving others is a learning process – you may not always get it right the first time, but patience can help you tremendously in this recovery journey.

Holding onto resentment prevents us from moving forward in recovery, so the first step to healing is to determine what’s preventing a client from letting go of the resentment. When a client resents others or holds onto a significant need to “blame others” it’s usually because doing so is easier, and taking the victim stance is, simply put – the path of least resistance. But staying angry, ruminating painful memories, and holding onto a grudge is unhealthy. So a major step in the therapy process here at St. John’s Recovery Place is focused on taking responsibility for our behaviors, both in active addiction and in recovery, so that we can begin to identify toxic patterns and relationships and find ways to express forgiveness while letting go of the pain and suffering that has come with holding a long-term grudge.

If you or someone you love needs help moving forward in recovery, please contact St. John’s Recovery Place at 1-833-397-3422. Our addiction treatment programs feature various levels of support and therapy to guide the forgiveness and healing process. Here at SJRP, we’ll love you until you learn to love yourself!