When the time came in my recovery to apologize to and make amends with all of the people I hurt during my using, I expected I would finally be free of all of the guilt I carried.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The Value of an Apology
First of all, not everyone accepted my apology or wanted to make amends, which was devastating for me. I felt stuck with my remorse, and it became a constant, uncomfortable reminder of all of the things I had done to those people.
It went a little bit better with those who decided to give me another chance, but most of them were still a bit guarded, as if I was on probation in their minds. I didn’t blame them. Who wants to trust someone who has repeatedly lied and stolen from them? Who wants to take yet another chance on their hearts being broken?
People say that when you accept someone’s apology and forgive them, it is for you, the victim, not for the person who wronged you, but I have learned firsthand how much power someone’s forgiveness really has over the wrongdoer as well.
Guilt, Shame, and Self-Punishment
I spent years getting high, feeling guilty about it, then getting high again to dull the shame I felt over getting high. After a while, I saw myself as a bad seed, the black sheep of my family, and simply unlovable. Now that I was sober, I had a deeply rooted need for approval, because I had no idea how to love myself. Without forgiveness, the best I could do was to put myself on probation and punish myself for every subsequent infraction, whether real or imagined.
I felt like I wasn’t making any progress in my sober life, and I sank into a deep depression fueled by self-loathing. I stopped going to my AA and NA meetings, ignored my sponsor’s efforts to reach out to me, barricaded myself in my apartment, and lost my job. People assumed I started using again, and I actually thought that maybe I should. I even contemplated suicide.
Bad Choices vs. Bad Person
Thankfully, my sponsor refused to give up on me even though I had given up on myself. When I stopped taking her calls, she wrote me a letter, the contents of which saved my life.
She told me that just because I have made some bad choices in the past, it did not mean I was a bad person. And now that I have done everything I possibly could to repair any damage I may have caused to another person, my work was done. It was now time for them to make a choice.
How I Forgave Myself
I called my sponsor immediately, and we talked for an hour. That one-on-one sharing helped me immensely. I started a journal, writing down any negative feelings I was having towards myself, which really helped me to see the reality of any given situation. I resumed going to meetings. Listening to others share their own mistakes helped me keep mine in perspective. I also started writing down what I did right each day. I even posted a note on my fridge, right at eye level, that said, “You will never be perfect. Neither will anyone else.”
Every morning when I get up, I remind myself that I am now free, free to make choices that won’t hurt anyone else, or myself, choices I can be proud of because I am a good person. Life is now a precious gift, not a burden. I had to learn that I deserved love in recovery.
If you or your loved one needs help, contact us today and feel free to talk to us about addiction treatment programs at our affordable drug and alcohol rehab that fit your needs. The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective addiction treatment center in Southern California.