Happy April Fool’s Day! Today is a good time to forgive yourself for “foolish” things you did in active addiction. As someone who was reckless as hell when drinking and using drugs (my partner recently called me a “former expert” at bad intoxicated decisions), I am here to say self-forgiveness is possible. During active addiction, I did tons of dangerous, outrageous, inconsiderate, impulsive, and “foolish” things; I’ve learned to forgive myself for them.
Forgiveness is a process, whether it’s towards another person or yourself. If you’re not there yet, that doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future. More time in recovery might naturally bring some self-forgiveness, as you get distance from your past actions. But you can actively work to forgive yourself.
How Do You Work Towards Self-Forgiveness in Recovery?
We often feel guilty or angry at ourselves if our actions don’t align with our values. It’s hard to act in accordance with values when you’re not in your right mind due to substances. During active addiction, your brain learns to prioritize alcohol or drugs over all else. In recovery, it can be helpful—for a lot of reasons—to clarify your values.
SMART Recovery—a support group for people struggling with addiction—has a worksheet that can help you do this. After you identify core values, you pick goals that align with them. For instance, if one of your values is being emotionally stable, you might start a meditation practice or begin going to therapy.
Therapy is a good tool for learning self-forgiveness. In it, you’ll work on the underlying reasons you drank or used. This can give you more compassion for an earlier version of yourself that may have been in pain, dealing with trauma, or self-medicating. Your therapist can help you build self-worth and confidence, which will aid in self-forgiveness. They can also give you practical ways to treat yourself kinder.
Being sober is a huge accomplishment. Try to put your focus there, instead of on the past. If this is hard to do on your own, it can help to write down all the things you’ve accomplished since being sober (make sure to include getting sober itself—that’s a big one!). It will help in the moment to write it down, and you can also refer—and add—to the list in the future.
You Can Be Accountable Without Dwelling on Guilt
While it’s important to be accountable for actions you took when you were drinking or using drugs, you are not at fault for your addiction. Recognizing this does not mean shirking responsibility.
Tara Brach—a meditation teacher whose PhD dissertation explored using meditation as a therapeutic modality in treating addiction—has called self-forgiveness “the portal to healing.” When you forgive yourself, you can move forward and grow.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you work on the underlying reasons you drank or used drugs and move forward to a life in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.