Forgiving the Unforgivable
For many years, I blamed my parents for causing my 20-year battle with depression and alcoholism. As a young child, my mother deserted me and I never saw her again. Worse still, she left me in the hands of my father, who controlled and abused me. Together they not only stole my childhood but were responsible for my lack of self-worth and fearfulness that I carried with me into adulthood.
In my mind, their actions were unforgivable and my bitterness, anger and resentment towards them were justified. However, holding onto this negativity kept me emotionally stuck and caused my cycle of depression and alcohol abuse to spiral out of control.
An alcohol-induced suicide attempt was my catalyst for change. After a stay in the hospital, I moved to residential drug rehab and began the journey to physical and mental well-being. In 17 years, the single most significant element to my continued recovery has been learning to forgive.
It was a counselor who initially suggested that I should seek to forgive my parents. At the time I didn’t understand why. Not only had my mother abandoned me but I learnt years later that she had told everyone I had been killed in a car crash. So how could I forgive her for leaving me and then denying I even existed? I couldn’t understand what difference it would make because I was never going to see her again. My thought process was similar in thinking about my father. He had died years previously, so what was the point of forgiving him?
The problem with my thinking was my misunderstanding of the definition of forgiveness. I failed to realize that forgiveness wasn’t condoning their behavior, it wasn’t making excuses for them, and it wasn’t allowing them to get away with anything. In fact, it had very little to do with them at all. But it had everything to do with me.
For as long as I held on to those torturous memories, and whilst I retained the hatred towards them, I would always have a reason to be depressed and an excuse to pick up a drink. The reality was that in order to heal, I had to find a way to forgive.
Finding a Way to Forgive
Before I could progress to forgiveness, I had to start with an acceptance of my past and recognize that it couldn’t be changed. I also had to face the fact that neither of my parents would ever show remorse nor seek to make amends. This was made easier by remembering that the purpose of forgiveness was to heal myself.
Forgiveness is not a one-off event and for me it was a difficult process that took time, tears and courage. Supported by my faith, I allowed my thoughts towards my mother and father to change. Instead of suppressing the memories with alcohol I allowed them to emerge, but I refused to give them the opportunity to steal anything more from my life. They had stolen far too much already.
Even during the times when I felt it wasn’t right or fair, I chose to affirm that I had forgiven them. Because as I made that transition of letting go of my destructive thinking patterns, I moved into a place of emotional stability. As I closed the door to turmoil and upset, I opened a new one to peace of mind and happiness.
Christian author and ethicist Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I have found that to be the truth. In forgiving the unforgivable I found freedom to be compassionate with others and myself; freedom to live without medication and alcohol; freedom to enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow.
Do You Need to Forgive?
If the actions of others have negatively impacted your life, particularly if you are suffering with substance abuse, seek support to help guide you through process of forgiving. The greater the need to forgive, the greater the freedom to be gained. So make the decision to set yourself free today.