How can I forgive myself for the way I treated my parents when I was an addict?
anonymous Asks ...
I cannot forgive myself for how I treated my parents when I was using. I stole from them I abused them physically and emotionally and verbally and I scared and bullied them so I could get what I wanted (money and drugs). I do not know why but they forgive me but I can’t forgive myself. I don’t want to think about these memories all the time but I am always remembering new scenes from the past that I had forgotten and every time it is like a kick in the stomach and the pain and shame and guilt is more than I can take. I am trying to take care of them financially. I feel like this is the way I can work to repay them for their kindness. But they are also a constant reminder of what I did in the past and I feel like I can’t take it anymore. I am 6 months sober from cocaine but I am hanging on by thread. I need to either forgive or forget. I am supposed to pray for forgiveness but I know I don’t deserve it.
Penny Bell Says ...
Firstly I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations on being clean for 6 months! That’s not an easy feat to accomplish and you have done well. Not only that, you have integrated back into society as a responsible member and you are helping to support your parents financially. All of that says to me you are a truly repentant individual, and obviously your parents believe that to be true also. It seems that the only person not impressed with you is you! And I’m wondering what it would be like for you to quit blaming yourself, quit dwelling on the past and accept the new you? My hunch is that there’s a lot of anxiety there about letting yourself off the hook – if you relax, and truly put the past behind you, you may stop monitoring yourself and fall back into your old ways. It’s almost as if you have a sort of hypervigilance about yourself, and if you don’t keep it up you will lose control of your life once again. If I’m right about this, the solution is for you to work on your fear and mistrust of yourself. Take that to counselling, and if you’re not seeing a counsellor, now would be a good time to start.
When we offend others we do moral damage to ourselves because we transgress our own values. It’s important to see ourselves from the perspective that we do have a capacity for moral change and having taken responsibility for our actions, to reaffirm our values. We need to understand the difference between guilt and shame – guilt says I have done something wrong, and I can repent and make restitution to those I’ve hurt. Shame says I’m a bad person, and repentance can’t change that about me. Guilt is about behaviour, shame is about who I am. When we transgress our own values we give ourselves shaming messages, and we begin to see ourselves through that shame filter. Realising that shame is a lie being told about us can help us to release ourselves from its grip and the anxiety of never again being able to measure up.
Just the fact that you are so distressed by your past behaviour toward your parents tells me that you are not a person with bad character, rather, you are a person who made some bad choices. That is more about behaviour than about character. And of course, we know that once drugs come into the picture, behaviour is all about the addiction. Once the “addict is taken out of the man”, he can find his true self again. As time goes on and you continue to build your new life and create new memories, the past will become more and more just that, the past.
And as I said earlier, take this to counselling. Very important!