In recovery for drug and alcohol addiction, unresolved issues such as grief, conflicts, and loss can resurface and create the potential for relapse.  Forgiveness by both the recovering addict/alcoholic and their loved ones is central to overcoming the conflicts and disillusionment that may exist in the relationship.  It can be difficult for the loved one of a recovering person to let go of past hurts, blame and disappointments.  They may feel the addictive person “chose” drugs or alcohol over the relationship.  It is also very likely that the behavior of the addict or alcoholic resulted in harmful consequences to both the recovering addict and their loved ones.

To restore a relationship, it is crucial that issues from the past be resolved and not carried forward into the future.   Understanding and acceptance are a good place to start.  There are 3 key factors in implementing forgiveness in recovery.

1.  Understanding Addiction:  Understanding that addiction is a disease can help everyone affected by addiction gain perspective on why an addict continues to use in spite of the serious consequences to themselves and their loved ones. It is important to understand the compulsion to use, how addiction erodes a person’s will, impairs their thinking and negatively affects their behavior.  Addiction causes a person to behave in ways uncharacteristic of their true selves.

The recovering person must also understand the nature of addiction in order to deal with the very common feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-judgment.  Loved ones can benefit from understanding that these emotional states may affect the way the person in recovery deals with others.  Shame, inadequacy and negative self-judgment may cause a disconnect in the relationship leading to a breakdown of communication and feelings of alienation.  These heavy emotional feelings may also be emotional triggers that could lead to a desire to begin using again in order to numb from the emotional pain.

2.  Accept Reality:  Accepting reality as it truly is begins the next step toward forgiveness. Accepting your loved one as they truly are and the actual true state of the relationship is very beneficial.  We can get stuck in the fantasy of how we wish things were.  This can lead to feeling diminished, defeated or angry.  This wishful fantasy sets us up to never be happy and instead we live in disappointment and regret.   Although not easy, it is possible (and critical to your long term health) to accept the reality that you or your loved one has a disease called addiction.  This disease is part, but not all of, who a person is.  Look for the good qualities you and your loved one have and the positive aspects of your relationship then build on these good things.  This will help far more than focusing on deficits and shortcomings and imagining how you wish things could be.  Remember: “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

For the person in recovery, forgiving oneself can be very difficult. Letting yourself move away from the transgressions of the past into your sober future with a renewed sense of self is imperative.  Learn from your past and vow not to repeat it, but let go of the emotional baggage that comes with reliving past mistakes. Through step-work you will be able to take a fearless moral inventory, make amends to others, and promptly admit it when future mistakes are made. Trust this process….it can help you heal if you are willing to forgive yourself.

3.  Letting Go of Resentments:  Another part of step work and recovery is letting go of resentments.  A major cause of conflict in relationships is resentment. Resentment is defined as “indignation or ill will felt as a result of a real or imagined grievance.” Letting go of resentments is also necessary to forgive. Here are steps to do that:  1) Identify the resentment, 2) determine what it will take to work towards a resolution that will allow all parties to leave the grievance in the past, and 3) move forward in the relationship without rehashing the past.

All relationships are influenced by mutual experiences. Any relationship that is affected by the consequences of addiction will no doubt have some painful and negative experiences that contribute to the current state of the relationship. It is important to create and build on new positive experiences. Intentionally spend time with the each other remembering why you care for and value each other. Enjoy and rediscover each other as you move into this new stage of sober life. In time, with positive experiences, restored health, and continued sobriety you can achieve a state of forgiveness.

If you are affected by addiction, please contact New Hope Recovery Center at 773-883-3912 or via email at info@new-hope-recovery for help.  We have seen many relationships survive and thrive following treatment.

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center