Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of Recovery Talk, brought to you by the Share Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about forgiveness, which seems to be a very tough or controversial topic when it comes to the idea of forgiving. When the topic has been brought up in the Facebook group or posts or memes that discuss forgiveness, inevitably there’s going to be someone who posts in there that says something along the lines of, “I wish I could do that,” or, “I’m never going to do that,” or, “Sounds good but that’s not where I’m at, at this moment. Maybe I’ll get there some day.” It’s such a tough pill to swallow, so why is there so much resistance to this topic?
I think that the idea behind forgiving gives off a sense of weakness or surrender or not standing up for ourselves or letting somebody get a pass. When you look at this from this context in many cases forgiving someone who has harmed us makes us vulnerable. What I find is, whenever the topic comes up about forgiveness, there’s immediate resistance and there’s immediate rejection of the topic. In other words, it’s a non-topic, we’re not having this conversation. I’m never going to forget this person. It’s very quick, it’s very reactive, it’s very heated. So what that tells me, is that’s coming from a place of fear, and when I’m afraid of something, I use my anger to protect me. If I’ve been hurt, if I’ve been rejected, if I’ve been abused and I have a difficult time communicating those feelings because they make me more vulnerable or feel more vulnerable, then I just go to the secondary feeling, which is anger. Immediately I put up these walls to protect myself from ever letting these bad things happen to me again, or letting this person hurt me again.
But make not mistake about it, not forgiving someone or not forgiving an institution, or not forgiving a situation harms you much more than it hurts them. The reality is that these events that have happened to us are simply just bad memories, bad thoughts that provoke a feeling. There’s nothing we can do about the situation that happened, yet we choose to hold on to these thoughts that provoke these incredibly painful feelings. When all we need to do is simply forgive the person, the institution, the situation, and those negative feelings go away. The thoughts you keep only as a reminder of a situation that you don’t want to repeat.
Now of course, as you’re listening to this, you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, I was really expecting something more than just, ‘forgive and forget,’ kind of.” But at the end of the exercise, you’re going to find that it’s simply a matter of letting that go and embracing the idea that we’re all just human beings, doing the best we can with the tools that we were given. You see, when you hold on to these feelings, these feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness, it drains your energy, your life force and completely disempowers us.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. I love the idea that life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. Every experience we’ve had, good, bad or indifference, is necessary in order for us to learn and grow as human beings. Every wrong turn in life is an opportunity for growth. This is easier said than done when it comes to forgiveness. I recently did an interview with Emily Hooks. She has a book that just came out called The Power Of Forgiveness, she also is the founder of The Forgiveness Institute. Man, she drops some value-bombs in that interview. So, for those of you that would like to do a deeper dive into forgiveness, I suggest you go back and listen to Emily Hooks’ interview, The Power Of Forgiveness. Just listen to her unbelievable story and the things that happen to her in her life, and her ability to forgive everyone around her, including herself.
This is something that was very important for me in my recovery, is my ability to forgive others and to forgive myself. Justified anger, justified resentment, depending on the circumstances and the number of years you’ve suffered through a traumatic life event at the hands of another is so hard to get over. So of course, when the topic of forgiveness comes up you’re like, “Why should I forgive them? Why should I give them a pass? They deserve to be punished for what they’ve done.”
This is something that was so liberating for me when I worked step four in the Narcotics Anonymous step working guide. It was such a daunting exercise, so introspective. It took me eight months to work that fourth step. It was so easy for me to write down all my resentments and write down all the things that made me so angry and was giving the opportunity to blame all these people. I remember showing up to meet with my sponsor and saying, “Here’s my resentment list. Let’s go over it,” because I wanted him to tell me that it was okay, that I was justified in my anger and in my resentment.
Then he grabbed all my resentments, he kind of leafed through them quickly, then he turned them upside down, face down, he says, “Okay, great. Now that part’s done. Now it’s time for you to write your part in every single one of those resentments.” We never ever even looked at their side of the resentment, we only looked at mine. I remember being beside myself in anger, hours and hours of writing all these down and I got nothing. My sponsor deadpan looked me across the table and said, “Time for you to write down your part.”
I had to. I had to sit down and write down every part, every part I played in these resentments. One of the most glaring character defects I had was unrealistic expectations of the people that I was blaming, or the people that had harmed me. They’re just human beings having a human experience, doing the best they can with the tools that they have been given. Man, that was a tough pill to swallow, because the simplicity in that answer made it very tough to grasp initially because it still felt like I was giving them a pass. But I also had to ask myself at the same time, what traumatic experience have they experienced in their life?
Take for example the movie The Shack, which is something I’ve recently seen with my wife. For those of you that haven’t seen The Shack, there are a few very powerful scenes in that movie, where the lead in the story was brutally abused as a child, and so was his mother. Come to find out that his father had been brutally abused in his own childhood and was just passing this on. It was a learned behavior. It was maladapted coping skills.
But all of this information, everything that I’ve just said to you, none of it matters unless we choose to take action. We can either find the person who harmed us and do harm back to them, an eye for an eye, or we can forgive them. But we don’t forgive them for their sake, we forgive them for ours. My sponsor used to say, “Why let people rent space in your head for free?” Here it is, me, reliving these events, getting angry, getting resentful, having all these horrible thoughts of revenge going through my head, and I’m doing nothing. I’m not going to do anything, but I’m going to carry these boulders, this bag of rocks over my shoulder.
I blamed so many other people for my mistakes that it made it impossible for me to progress in my recovery. Once I saw that no matter what the circumstance was, I had a role to play in each and every one of my resentments, then the anger, the resentment and the bitterness all went away, especially with my parents. I had a laundry list of blame for them. When it came time to look at my part, the glaring character defect staring back at me was unrealistic expectations. My parents didn’t go to school and take classes on being married or being parents, they figured it out like the rest of us.
They weren’t perfect, so why would I hold them to a higher standard than anyone else? They did the best they could with their life coping skills and tools they had, or was passed on to them from their own parents. It was then and there that the light bulbs went off and I was able to forgive them, let it all go, and immediately the relief came in. Anger, bitterness, resentment came from underlying feelings that are more delicate and make us more vulnerable. Feelings of being hurt, sadness, rejection, abandonment are feelings that are protected by anger and rage.
It’s hard to admit our vulnerability because it makes us vulnerable, but anger and rage keep us protected, and so we walk around with a chip on our shoulder. We are on edge, which in turn makes us edgy. We are perceived as moody, angry, cold, indifferent, a real asshole. This attitude is a maladaptive protective shield to prevent anyone else from hurting us ever again, but what it really does is push people away because our energy is so toxic.
When you forgive everyone who has ever wronged you, you’re able to finally remove and let go of those giant boulders you carry around. The best part is that no one that has hurt you ever has to know that you have actually forgiven them. Whether you want them to know or you don’t want them to know the best thing you can do is just forgive them for yourself without saying a word.
It really doesn’t matter what they did or what happened to them or the circumstances that led up to the event, or the years of abuse. All of that is irrelevant because there’s nothing you can do about it now to change what happened. The only thing you can change is what happens now moving forward. The best way to do that, to forgive someone, is to simply embrace the idea that we are all human beings doing the best we can with the tools we have been given.
We’ve hurt people, we’ve damaged relationships, we’ve caused wreckage, and regardless of whether or not we have been forgiven, we have not forgiven ourselves yet, and it’s tormenting us. We can apply the same tools for forgiveness on ourselves. We are doing the best we can with the tools that we’ve been given. There are so many things that have been passed on to us from our parents, from school, from society, from religion. All these learned behaviors, ideas, concepts that have led us to do things that we regret, that we’re ashamed of, that we feel guilty for.
Again, we’ve hurt people, we’ve damaged relationships and we’ve cause wreckage. We deserve the same forgiveness as everybody else does. Nobody’s perfect, nobody was born with a handbook or rule book. We had to figure these things out, in many cases on our own. For me, forgiving my parents, especially forgiving my mom, was something that I was able to do once I embraced that concept. But for me, even today, the reason why I’m recording this episode, is because my biggest resentment is not for my mother but it’s for mother’s religion. She’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and that religion ruined my life, ruined my family. It’s separated us. It created a divide and to this day has been an unresolved issue that immediately brings my anger to the surface.
Why? In order to protect myself, to keep that away from me, to keep it away from my family. Part of being a Jehovah’s Witness is a complete separation. It’s very cultish. Maybe I’m sounding judgmental, and you can probably sense the anger, still bubbling to the surface, but the idea behind this religion is that they are no part of this world. So, no birthday parties, no Christmas, no Easter, no Thanksgiving. No traditional holidays, so when I was a kid and I was in school, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any of these events. I was separated from, I was disconnected from my other peers because I couldn’t participate. I felt different, I felt less than.
As the years went on I got more angry, more bitter, and I blamed the religion. At first I blamed my mom, because my father had left the religion, but I kept blaming my mother. And then as the years went by and I got into recovery and I was able to forgive my mother, then I blamed the religion. I have to apply the same principles today for that institution as I do for any other human being.
This is a religion that was created by human beings having a human experience, doing the best they can with the tools that they were given. Even as I say those words, it allows me to recoil and let go of some of that anger. One of the tools that was also taught to me by my sponsor was one that I used when I first found out that my wife, who I was separated from at the time, was seeing someone else, and I wanted to set that guy on fire. I was furious.
How could she do this to me? How could she do this to us? Who does this guy think he is? I remember going to my sponsor, furious. I couldn’t let it go. I was angry and I had all these horrible thoughts in my head, and he goes, “You’re going to have to pray for this guy for the next two weeks, every single day you’re going to have to pray for him.” I was like, “Oh my God, I am not praying for this guy. You are out of your mind.”
Take into consideration, this is me without even 90 days clean, and I’m being told I got to pray for some guy that I hate. I’ve got no coping skills. I’ve got no social skills. I’m combative. I’m aggressive. I’m a wrecking machine. Being so passive, and not only that, being passive but also praying for good, and he said, “Pray for this guy to have all the happiness, serenity and peace that you would like in your life, pray that he finds the same happiness, peace, and serenity in his.”
Man, I’ll tell you, I did that for two weeks begrudgingly, and halfway through it, it was basically gone. It did work because I have allowed myself to connect with spirit. I have made the conscious decision to remove myself from the equation as a victim and become an active participant in the solution, actively seeking the solution, asking for guidance, asking for help from my higher power, which is something that I was not used to. I was still a very new concept for me.
One of the things that always stuck with me when it came to the idea with the practice of forgiveness, was when all the shit was going down with my ex and I confronted her with the guy she was seeing and I said, “Why can’t you just forgive me and give me another chance?” She looked at me and she said, “OH, I’ve already forgiven you. I just haven’t forgotten, and I don’t think I ever could.” For me, you hear that old adage that says, “Forgive and forget,” kind of deal, and I was like, “So, if you’ve forgiven me then why can’t you give me another chance?” She’s like, “First of all, I forgave you for me, because that’s what I needed to do to no longer hang on to this anger and resentment, but if I forget and I just let you back in, then I open the door for you to do it all over to me again. Just because I’ve forgiven you doesn’t mean that I’m going to allow you or give you the opportunity to hurt me all over again.”
And boy, I really had no response for that. She completely took back her power, and at the same time was able to forgive me and protect herself, all at the same time. So if you’re listening to this episode right now and you just can’t find a way to forgive someone or a list of people or an institution, then the easiest way to start and to begin this journey is to first start praying for these people, regardless of what happened.
Number one, pray for them. Number two, recognize that they’re human beings doing the best they can with the tools that they have been given. Third and more importantly, embrace the idea that this is not about them or for them. This is about you and for you. You forgiving them is all about you forgiving yourself and giving yourself that same grace that you would anyone else.
I had the hardest time forgiving myself for all the things that I had done. When I got to a point in my recovery when I can honestly look in the mirror and own all the wreckage that I had caused in my past, it became very difficult to point the finger at anyone else. All I could see was the wreckage I had left behind, and now the real work begins because I had to forgive myself. But I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “You know what, I’m just another human being having a human experience, doing the best I can with the tools that I’ve been given.”
Now, 14 years later, I have an arsenal of tools, values, spiritual principles. I have a network, I have a sponsor, I have friends in recovery that I can reach out to at any given moment and ask for help and ask for guidance. I can get on my knees and pray to a power greater than me. These are all the tools that I have at my disposal to deal with these emotions and these feelings, this anger, this resentment, this bitterness.
Forgiveness can be as difficult as we want it to be, or as simple as we want it to be. If we just give ourselves some grace, it will be a lot easier to give everyone else that same grace, drop those rocks and move on with life without that giant chip on our shoulder to weight us down.
I’ll end with this quote from Les Brown.
“Forgive anyone who has caused you pain or harm. Keep in mind that forgiving is not for others, it is for you. Forgiving is not forgetting, it is remembering without anger. It frees up your power, heals your body, mind, and spirit. Forgiveness opens up a pathway to a new place of peace where you can persist despite what has happened to you.” Les Brown.