Many people who are recovering from commonly abused substances frantically search the internet for articles that answer the question, “How can I REALLY forgive myself…..NOW?”

There’s a reason for this hurried need for self-forgiveness. It’s called guilt.

Why So Many Are on the Frenzied Search for Forgiveness

You see, forgiveness is the only antidote to guilt. There is no other cure, remedy, or fix for guilt other than good old-fashioned forgiveness. And, chances are if you’re recovering from an addiction to heroin, prescription opiates, meth, cocaine, speed, or alcohol, you’ve decided you’ve got a whole lot to feel guilty about.

The thing is – guilt will keep you up at night. It will haunt you in your sleep and give you nightmares. It will disturb you in the most powerful and profound ways. Understandably, you become willing to do anything to escape your own guilt.

Forgiving yourself is the only way you will find peace from your gut-wrenching guilt. You know this, which is how you wound up here. And, so, you ask – how do you REALLY forgive yourself?

Pull up a chair… We’re going to be here for a minute.

The no-nonsense truth is that forgiving yourself – REALLY forgiving yourself is a process that requires time, action, and commitment. There is no quick fix. But, if you follow these seven steps to achieving self-forgiveness, you’ll be well on your way.  

#1 To Forgive Yourself, You Must Understand What Forgiveness Is

When discussing forgiveness, it is important to understand and define exactly what it is. This topic is widely confused by many people.

Webster’s Dictionary defines forgiveness as “giving up a resentment for.” Forgiveness basically means to let go of. Forgiveness is not saying something is okay. This is the point most people struggle with. Forgiving yourself is basically about saying, “I did it, but it’s done.”

Yes, it happened. Yes, it was totally wrong. But, basically, you say, “I give up my resentment towards myself for committing wrong. I forgive myself. I let go of the past. I acknowledge what I did, but I also acknowledge I cannot change it. What’s done is done. I leave it here. I forgive myself today for what I did not know yesterday.”

Forgiving yourself is an important part of the recovery process. If you are truly going to find freedom from your addiction, you have to overcome the past you created when it was running your life.

#2 Know That You Do Not Need to Be Forgiven for Becoming Addicted

Addiction naturally brings a sense of shame all by itself. No one wants to be addicted to heroin. Not one single person is thrilled about the prospect of being a crack addict. With addiction comes this overwhelming sense of shame. There’s something that feels very shameful about using drugs against your own will. And, oh the guilt.

But… know this – addiction is not a moral failing. You haven’t done anything wrong. You don’t need to forgive yourself for becoming addicted. You have an illness. It’s called the disease of addiction. There’s no shame here. Only recovery.

So, if you’re struggling to find forgiveness within yourself for being an addict, know now that your addiction is not your fault….. but your recovery is your responsibility.     

#3 Understand This: Forgiveness is a Process That Takes its Sweet Time

Pack your bags… we’re going on a guilt trip!

You have to learn to forgive yourself through the process of letting go of your own guilt and righting the wrongs of your past. Unfortunately, this process seems to have a mind of its own and moves at its own pace.

Guilt is the haunting emotion that keeps us stuck in the cycle of self-pity. It reminds us what we did wrong over and over again. It can keep us captive for decades if we allow it to. We want to forgive ourselves, but it feels like the guilt won’t allow that to happen.

You can’t wave a magic wand and do away with guilt. It’s an emotion that is worked out slowly with time and commitment to change. Many people are frustrated by this, but it is often a reality of the recovery process. However; you can take steps to alleviate your guilt and move closer to forgiving yourself.   

#4 If You Want to Forgive Yourself, Stay Committed to this Sobriety Thing

Forgiveness happens with an ongoing commitment to the recovery process. If you continue to make the same mistake over and over again, you will continue to give yourself things to feel guilty about, which will make forgiving yourself impossible. If you’re using drugs or alcohol, stop now and get into treatment. This is the only way to turn off the guilt-making machine.

You feel guilty when you abuse drugs. You do. It stopped being fun a long time ago. What’s worse, you feel guilty about the things you have to do to sustain your habit. When you stay committed to the recovery lifestyle, you get to feel good about yourself again. You stop feeling guilty all the time.

If you want to forgive yourself, you have to give yourself a reason to stop feeling guilty. This starts with staying steadfast in your recovery. One day at a time.

#5 Respect the Fact that Everybody Forgives Themselves Differently – This Means You

There is no real way to forecast the experience you will have at that blessed moment when you come to fully forgive yourself for your past wrongs. Everybody forgives themselves differently. Sadly, some never do and continue to suffer from guilt for the remainder of their lives. This doesn’t have to be you!

Many people in recovery say they woke up one day and made the decision they were going to forgive themselves. They decided they had walked around with the guilt of their past long enough and wham! They went about their merry way and lived happily ever after without drugs and alcohol.

Others say they continued to battle with guilt for years. Forgiveness came slowly and suddenly. One day, the burden of the guilt was gone and they felt a sense of freedom.

Don’t focus so much on the event of forgiveness. Stay committed to the process. One day at a time – one next right decision at a time – you can find forgiveness. It will come. It may take its sweet time, but it will come!

#6 Work Steps 8 & 9 – Make Amends and Right the Wrongs of Your Past

Many of us said awful things; stole, lied, and cheated our friends and family. We feel incredibly guilty about this. No one in the whole wide world can beat us up worse than we beat up our selves.

If you are working a program of recovery in a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, you will get to address the wrongs of your past in Steps Eight and Nine. This is called the amends process. Here, you make a list of all people you harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. You take responsibility for your actions both in word and deed.

Making a proper amends to each and every person you harmed in your addiction goes a long way in terms of being able to forgive yourself. You feel a sense of peace and assurance when you complete Steps 8 & 9 because you know you are right with your fellow man.

Day by day, you are walking the path of recovery and you can look yourself square in the eye. By continuing to work the rest of the steps, you come to forgive yourself. A lot of this will happen when you work Step 11 and start the practice of meditation.

#7 Give Yourself Permission to Forgive Yourself

When we were in our addiction, no doubt we conducted ourselves in ways we wished we wouldn’t have. No one is exempt from confronting unsavory lapses in character, embarrassing behavior, and poor choices when we look back on the days when we were drinking or drugging. To be sure, if you stay clean long enough, you will be confronted with some guilt as you come face to face with your past mistakes.

Guilt is what prevents you from forgiving yourself. You feel terrible for what you have done, and you believe you are unworthy of continuing on as a happy, healthy human being. You may even believe, on some level, that by carrying the weight of guilt in your soul, you are repaying the universe somehow. This is simply untrue.

You did what you did. You have acknowledged what you did. You have worked through the amends process. You have done what you can to right your wrongs. You are staying clean and working a program of recovery. You are doing the next right thing.

It is okay to let go of your guilt. It is okay to move on with your life. It is okay to forgive yourself. Give yourself permission.

How have you learned to forgive yourself? Share your experience here.