"There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love." - Bryant H. McGill
Forgiveness is an inherent aspect of our humanity. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others are inescapable aspects of life, yet for those on the journey of recovery the act of forgiving can prove very challenging.
One might rightfully claim that for most people the feeling of shame and guilt they feel over their past behaviour may be so intense that they have a difficult time letting go of that, of perceiving forgiveness or pardon as anything other than a delusion. There is a part of us that wants to go on berating ourselves. There is another part of us that wants to remake the past, to feed ourselves excuses for our negative behaviours: “Come on! I wasn’t as bad as they say I was.”
Part of the process of absolution then – absolving other people and most importantly, absolving oneself – is learning to separate what’s real from what’s illusory.
Forgiveness is what’s real.
It’s a hard lesson for many of us to learn. That's why the 12 Step Program relegates it to Step 9 when we're relatively far along on our recovery path.
Believe it or not, it’s our sense of self-importance that most often stands in the way of our ability to forgive ourselves.
Paradoxically, negative behaviours often carry the same sense of distinction that positive behaviours carry. How many times in the midst of our chemical or behavioural addiction have we secretly relished the thought that no one else has ever felt quite the way we do before? We’re the only person in the history of mankind on this planet ever to feel this ravaged, this defeated, this helpless, this overwhelmed! If we forgive ourselves for this behaviour, then we’re surrendering something that made us feel bad but also made us feel… special. Made us feel… unique.
Another obstacle that stands in the way of forgiveness is the thought that by forgiving wrongdoing, we are somehow condoning that wrongdoing. But that is simply not true. For when we forgive ourselves we don’t do so with the caveat, “Oh, and by the way – it wasn’t that terrible!” Forgiveness is not a Get Out of Jail Free card that entitles us to go on behaving badly. True forgiveness means we accept the consequences of our past actions fully; by forgiving ourselves, what we’re really doing is giving ourselves permission to move past them. Shame and guilt are psychological infections; only by relinquishing them, can we move to become fully functioning, productive members of society again.
Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Forgiveness, then, is the ultimate act of personal bravery. And courage is really the essence of what forgiveness and recovery are all about.