How do you forgive an addict?
As an author and speaker on co-addiction, and as a wife of a recovering drug-addict, one of the most common questions I get is how do you forgive? Helping a husband with drug addiction is no easy task. While drug relapse and recovery may be connected, the cycle of addiction is exhausting. It is understandable that after all of the lies, betrayal, and pain that come with addiction that loved ones would have a difficult time forgiving. It can seem unjustifiable. After everything the addict has subjected you to, why should they be forgiven?
What forgiveness IS NOT
While the process of forgiveness may seem difficult in the face of everything you’ve been through, it is a vital step for recovery. The addict must learn to forgive themselves in order to heal, and we must learn to forgive the addict in order to move past the fear, anger, and resentment that can keep us stuck. To understand what forgiveness is, let’s first talk about what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not excusing or accepting bad behavior.
- Forgiveness is not denying your anger or suppressing emotions.
- Forgiveness is not eliminating consequences.
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
- Forgiveness is not letting people off the hook.
Forgive but don’t forget
The addict in your life likely did many things that caused physical, emotional, and financial damage. Even if he or she finally accepts help for their addiction a dark cloud can loom overhead. You might be holding onto bitter feelings, and these toxic emotions will affect your ability to have a full and healthy life. You don’t have to forget about what has happened. You can learn the lessons available and grow stronger. You can start to set boundaries and hold to them. The truth about forgiveness is that it’s a selfish act, (selfish in a positive sense). It is letting go of the anger inside of your own heart, and allowing yourself to move past the pain in order to find inner peace.
When you are hurt by somebody you might attempt to hang on to that pain. You don’t want to let it go because you want to show that person how much you’re suffering. You want them to feel as badly as you do. The hurt can turn into anger. After time, the anger turns into resentment. You are then walking around consumed by all of these horrible feelings. You are allowing an outside force to dictate how you feel within your own skin. By holding on and not forgiving, you are only hurting yourself.
Forgiveness is a state of mind
The more you learn about and understand addiction, the easier it becomes to forgive. It’s sad to think of what a prisoner an addict really is. To not have control over one’s own actions must be frightening. The guilt that gets carried around due to those actions must be overwhelming. They are hurting themselves far more than anybody else around them. Seeing them from empathetic eyes rather than angry eyes can help you to forgive.
Forgiveness is not a physical action — it is a state of mind. Not only can forgiveness help your emotional health, but forgiveness is good for your physical health as well. Studies have shown that working through forgiveness can lower blood pressure and lower incidents of heart disease. People who regularly practice forgiveness also have lower rates of depression and anxiety.
Top 10 ways to forgive an addict
So how is ‘not forgiving’ affecting you? Are you ready to let go of the past and work on forgiveness? If so, here are some tips for moving through the process:
1. Make an effort to work on forgiving. You have the power to let go of negative emotions. You make the choices for your future, so choose a healthy new path that includes forgiveness.
2. Educate yourself to understand addiction. Understanding does not mean accepting, but viewing things from the addict’s perspective can help you to forgive. The addict is not trying to hurt you, their actions are simply side-effects of addiction.
3. Find your lessons. What have these circumstances taught you about life? How will you be a better person as a result? When we can step back and reflect on what our experiences are teaching us, we can learn to appreciate the personal growth and wisdom that accompany them.
4. Don’t hold out for the addict to apologize or make amends. Remember that forgiveness is a process that you should be doing for your own emotional and physical health. The addict may still be struggling. He or she may not be capable of making their own healthy choices at this time. By moving forward with forgiveness you can set a positive example for healthy change.
5. Give yourself time. Just as physical wounds take time to heal, so do emotional wounds. If you are struggling with the idea of forgiveness, maybe the pain is still too fresh. Anger can actually be a healthy emotion as long as it doesn’t settle for too long. Be cautious not to allow anger to turn into resentment, fear, and/or depression. These emotions can negatively affect your well-being.
6. Seek help. I encourage you to turn to a counselor or therapist, a codependency support group, a clergy from your church, or a good friend (one who will not place judgment or blame). There are also many books on the topic of forgiveness that can help you with the process.
7. Don’t keep score. After months or years of struggling, an addict can build up quite a list of negative behaviors, legal problems, debts, failed relationships, lost jobs, and the list goes on and on. If the addict is working on recovery, clean the slate. You don’t have to forget, but if you’re constantly reminding the addict of past mistakes the burden and guilt can hold them back from their own recovery.
8. Only tell the addict if you choose. You do not have to say the words I forgive you out loud. When you truly reach forgiveness in your heart, and you release all of the negative emotions involved, you will have successfully completed the process of forgiveness. It is up to you when and if you ever say the words.
9. Forgive yourself. Just as it’s important to forgive other people, it is especially important to forgive yourself. So you have not always made the right choices. Who has? Maybe you screamed at the addict in front your kids — forgive yourself. You got down in the dumps and ate a whole gallon of Rocky Road ice cream — forgive yourself. You made an internal promise that you wouldn’t give the addict money next time he or she demanded, but you gave in and handed them $40 — forgive yourself. You are in a bad situation. Forgive yourself and decide that the next time around you will handle things in a healthier way.
10. Breathe. Working through negative emotions in order to reach forgiveness can take a toll. If you find yourself feeling anxious, or holding onto a knot in your stomach, try focusing on your breathing. Slowly take in five to ten deep breaths. As you exhale, imagine all of your anxiety exiting out and blowing away. It seems like such a simple exercise, yet it really helps.
Forgiveness is a journey
By letting go of your past you are free to move into a brighter future. Set goals. Allow yourself to dream. Start creating a vision of what you want for your future, and then begin moving toward that vision. Once you quit enabling an addict to control your life, your path to freedom becomes more clear.
However, forgiveness is a journey, so don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. The more disappointment, fear, and struggle you’ve been through, the longer your journey may take. But no matter how bad your circumstances have been, I urge you to work on forgiveness. You deserve to free yourself from the bondage of past pain.