Forgiveness in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery requires dealing with emotions often covered up for years by substance abuse. Emotions are a reaction to a situation, a conversation or an event, and in the case of repressed emotions, they are usually painful. A recovery program helps you walk through these emotions and put them to rest, so you can move forward in building your happy life.

Your first instinct when you are in pain is usually to find the cause and point the finger of blame. When the subject of that blame, however, is more powerful than you or beyond the reach of justice, you internalize the hurt. That blame lives in side of you and keeps you stuck in that horrible moment. You cannot continue on with your addiction recovery steps unless you release that pain.

forgiveness in recovery

What Does Forgiveness Mean?

There is a lot of misconception about what forgiveness really is. It does not mean you forget what happened. When you forgive someone for hurting you, you are not saying what they did is okay. You are simply saying you are no longer going to carry that burden of anger and hatred with you.

The phrase, “forgive and forget” is not really true. In forgiveness, you do not vow to forget what happened, how you were treated and the pain it caused. When you forgive someone, you actually remember what they did, but you let go of the anger and pain you feel and do not give them the opportunity to hurt you again.

Forgiveness is not a reunion. It does not imply a return to a relationship as normal. You can forgive someone and never see them again. There is no rekindling of a relationship required for forgiveness. If anything, forgiveness is a return to a neutral status. You no longer hate the person, but you also probably do not go back to loving them. Forgiveness relegates your relationship to zero.

let go of blame

Forgiveness is also a type of empathy that cements the lessons you learned. In forgiveness, you are not letting go of the blame, but you are letting go of your need to carry that anger or exact some type of revenge. You recognize the anger and blame do not serve you anymore, and forgiveness really benefits you more than the other person.

The Role of Forgiveness in Recovery

acknowledge your anger

At the heart of almost every addiction is a gentle person hiding from emotional pain. If this is the case for you, it may take a long time to recognize who you hold responsible for your pain. Often it is someone close to you, which makes it hard to confront. It is easier to pretend the person who was supposed to love you the most didn’t hurt you. You may take on the blame yourself, at first, and assume it was your fault.

Through counseling in addiction recovery, however, you eventually come to accept the truth. You peel back the layers of denial and deception and face the facts. With your support team in place and through the clarity of abstinence, you acknowledge what happened and who did what. You come to understand the bare truth of your situation and who you hold responsible.

This clarity usually leads to anger that you have denied for a long time. You refused to feel this anger while you were using drugs. The drugs helped you hide it or helped you feel safe expressing it wildly. Now it is out in the open, though, and raw anger is powerful. You are angry at the person who hurt you. You are also angry at the world for letting this happen, and you are angry at yourself for hiding the truth. You are just angry.

While some emotions, like anger, can be scary to experience in their extreme, there is no such thing as a bad emotion — you just have to make sure you feel an emotion to overcome it. Therefore, in the case of anger, you have to acknowledge it in order to release it and move forward in your healing. That is where forgiveness comes in.

Steps to Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be a lofty concept to address, especially when it involves the type of pain that leads to addiction. However, one of the many strategies you learn in recovery is that by breaking big goals down into smaller steps, it is easier to move forward.

You may not be ready to ascend to forgiveness all at once. You’ll eventually get to the place where you are able to, though, with helpful steps in addiction recovery:


The first step in approaching any problem is getting really clear on what it is. You need to spend some time exploring the facts in your own mind. Counseling will help bring you to the clarity you need in a safe and comfortable environment. You want to understand exactly what happened to you, how it made you feel and how you feel about it now. This step will bring up the anger, and you want to be very clear with yourself about the rightful subject of that anger.

counseling for forgiveness


Anger can be powerful, and you need to recognize how destructive it is to you. Find your determination to move forward with your healing. Moving forward requires feeling that anger, but then also releasing it. Develop a strong sense of determination to see this part of your recovery through, no matter what it takes, so you can enjoy a lasting recovery.

Define Forgiveness

Realize that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Your anger is something you will want to hang on to at first. You may think the subject of your anger doesn’t deserve forgiveness, but forgiveness is not something you will be giving to them — it’s for you when you are ready to step out from behind that shield of anger.

forgiveness is a gift you give yourself

Change Perspective

Look at what is causing you more pain, what happened to you or your emotional reaction to it. The original incident was painful, of course, and there is no reason to diminish that. However, what you feel now is the emotional pain you have attached to it and continue to relive. Seeking relief from that pain will require releasing the anger.


This entire process is extremely stressful, and that stress will reach a climax just before the end. Prepare for the anxiety of forgiveness by practicing some stress management techniques. You’ll want to reduce your stress at those critical moments when it threatens to hold back your progress.

Break the Rules

Part of your anger in this situation is based on an unwritten rule book in your head that says certain people have to behave a certain way. Parents are supposed to protect their children. Husbands should provide for their wives. True friends do not betray confidences. These rules set you up for expectations. Unfortunately, as you have learned, people do not always follow these rules. Part of forgiveness is giving up these expectations and simply dealing with whatever comes.

Help Yourself

Part of your anger probably has to do with unfulfilled wishes. There was something you expected or something you wanted from the situation that you did not get. Instead you got hurt.

Now that you’ve played out some of your anger, try to shift your focus back to the thing you wanted in the first place. You can find other ways to fulfill that wish by channeling your energy into positive ideas. You cannot go back to the original situation and make it turn out differently, but you can create a new event, with different people, that brings you your desired outcome.

Play up the Positive

Reliving the old hurt over and over again in your mind fuels your anger, but it also drains your energy. Focusing on the positives — a lesson learned, a life changed for the better, the fact that it is over and behind you now — will recharge you for the rest of your healing journey.

forgiveness for positivity

Be the Hero

Once you have walked through all of these steps toward forgiveness, it is time to rewrite your story. You have played the horrible incident over and over again in your head, but now it is time for you to be the hero. Revise the story in your mind by adding a happy ending, one in which you found your power, recovered from the pain and went on to live happily ever after without the weighty burden of anger and hate.

You may not proceed through these steps to forgiveness in a linear fashion. At some points in the process, you may have to circle back and repeat some steps. This list provides you with a basic framework to follow, though, and will help you know when you are there.

Self-Forgiveness and Addiction

Addiction creates a lot of shame and embarrassment. People try to hide their addiction, especially from the ones they love. They are afraid it makes them look weak or out of control, and people suffering from addiction keep secrets — even from themselves.

In addiction recovery, once you start gaining clarity and pointing that finger of blame, it is impossible not to point it at yourself. When trying to protect others, we tend to take on blame that is misplaced. When it comes to addiction, however, there is usually enough blame to go around.

Forgiveness takes time and work, but forgiving yourself is an even bigger challenge. One thing you learn in recovery, though, is that the biggest challenges bring the greatest rewards. By breaking this challenge down into the same steps you used to reach forgiveness for someone else, you can learn to forgive yourself as well.

forgiveness in addiction recovery

A good portion of addiction recovery is focused on your relationship with yourself. You will find that the breakdown of that relationship is one of the underlying conditions of your addiction. For as long as you spent abusing drugs, you were abusing yourself. You took risks with your health and safety and ignored any self-care routines you once had.

Forgiving yourself starts with the recognition of what you did wrong, to yourself and others. It’s not easy to look at yourself with an objective and critical eye, but the clarity is important to the outcome. This recognition will likely bring up the same type of anger that blaming others does.

To move forward with your recovery, you have to feel the anger you may be harboring and release it. Part of forgiving yourself is accepting your faults and letting go of the past. Continuing to punish yourself for past mistakes serves no purpose in your new healthy lifestyle. Your path to a lasting recovery requires a more positive relationship with yourself.

path to forgiveness in recovery

Practicing self-care is one good way to show yourself forgiveness and make up for some of the time when you were not taking good care of your health. Many self-care rituals are soothing and stress-relieving as well. Here are some ideas for self-care activities you can make part of your routine:

  • Take a long, hot bubble bath. Close out the rest of the world and spend some time in the tub. Put on some soft music for added ambiance. Spend at least twenty minutes soaking and retreating from the stress of your day. Add oils or salts to the water for a luxurious feel and aroma. Close your eyes and try to think about nothing at all.
  • Go for a walk outside. Being in nature will reduce your stress, naturally. Walking is a gentle repetitive exercise that will increase your circulation. Find a convenient, safe place to walk — maybe on a wooden trail or bike path — and consider it a moving mediation. While you walk, taking in the sights and sounds of nature will clear your mind of other thoughts.
  • Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Skip the drive-up coffee and donuts and sit down to a real breakfast at home. Include fresh fruit, whole grain cereal or toast, a protein source — like some cheese or an egg — and your favorite hot beverage. You don’t have to do any fancy cooking, either. Just make some healthy food choices and sit down at the table. Spend at least fifteen minutes calmly and quietly nourishing your body for the day ahead.
  • Treat yourself to a massage. Massage is a healthy way to focus on your own well-being. It increases circulation and relaxes muscles. If finances are an issue, book a hands and feet massage. You will get the same benefits at a reduced cost.

promoting forgiveness in recovery

  • Spend quality time with a close friend. Choose someone who makes you laugh and supports your recovery. Plan to meet for lunch the same time every week. The scheduled interaction will keep you from isolating yourself, and enjoying the company of a friend will feed your soul.
  • Create a soothing bedtime ritual. Night is a good time to set aside for self-care. Infuse your routine of washing face, brushing teeth, etc. with products that make you feel pampered, like special lotions and powders. You can even include cozy pjs, a special pillow case and a favorite prayer or poem. While you prepare for bed each night, focus on pampering yourself and relaxing for a good night’s sleep.
  • Take a dance break. Find a time during the day when you can put on some happy music and dance around the room. The movement will get you in touch with your body and encourage better fitness. The music will also draw out the stressful thoughts of the day and bathe your brain with some feel-good chemicals, naturally.

Forgiving yourself means recognizing you are worthy of very special treatment from yourself. You may not get the care you need from others, but that does not diminish your worth. Forgiving yourself for past mistakes and the flaws you know you have is the next step on your path to a lasting recovery.

Seeking Forgiveness

Once you have forgiven yourself, you are ready to seek forgiveness from others. Gaining forgiveness for your past mistakes is another important part of your recovery journey. Seeking forgiveness requires humility which is an important trait you will need to develop. Being forgiven by the people you have hurt will add a sense of peace and tranquility to your life.

achieving forgiveness in addiction recovery

Here is a three-step process for requesting forgiveness:

  1. Admit your transgression without any excuses. Be as plain spoken and deliberate as possible. It can be hard to admit your mistakes without explaining yourself or offering excuses, but you must. Honesty, another important lesson from recovery, is crucial here.
  1. Specifically ask for forgiveness. Asking is the key. You must tell the other person what you want. You want forgiveness and nothing else. This is not the time to negotiate any deals, reconciliation, new terms of the relationship or anything. Just ask for forgiveness in plain language.
  1. Listen to the response without interrupting. This might be the hardest part, but it will seal the deal for you. If the price of forgiveness is listening to a rant, here’s where you pay up. You have already forgiven yourself, so no matter what the other person says at this point, you will be ok.

There is never a guarantee that someone else will grant you forgiveness, even when you use this three-step process to ask for it. These three steps assure that you have met your obligation, however. If you are not granted forgiveness, you know you have done all you can do.

Forgiveness is a tough concept for some people, so be sympathetic to the person who cannot grant it. Maybe in time their answer will change. Remember all you have been through in your recovery program to forgive others and yourself and realize the person you are speaking to has not had the benefit of all of that growth and guidance.

Learning to forgive will forever change your perspective on people. It will make you more sympathetic to the human condition, imperfect as it is. Kindness grows from forgiveness, and the energy you put out will come back to you. Forgiveness can be the start of a whole new experience for you in a kinder world.

There is no way around forgiveness on your path to healing. Once you have mastered it, you will be unstuck and moving forward on your journey to a healthy, happy life. For added support along the way, contact 12 Keys. Our compassionate staff is here to assist you with forgiveness and all of the other milestones along the path to recovery.

At 12 Keys, our approach to recovery includes 12 step rehab in a holistic approach to healing. We offer a combination of the latest science-based treatment services in an individualized program specifically designed for your needs.

Our holistic approach to addiction recovery includes treatments for your mind, body and spirit because we know you are more than just your addiction. An integrated approach to recovery gives you the greatest chance at a lasting recovery, and at 12 Keys, we are committed to your success.

The Addiction Blog