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The guilt of addiction and the power of forgiveness

The recovering addict has left the rehabilitation center. Their body is now clear of the toxins and their mind is ready to take on the world once again. This doesn’t mean the past is all gone. It still has the potential to haunt this person.

Drug addiction is a powerful force for many stuck under its thrall. For example, narcotic painkillers bind to opiate receptors in the brain which are typically bound by special hormones called neurotransmitters. When drugs such as vicodin or oxycontin are used for a long period of time, the body slows down production of neurotransmitters and makes the body less effective in relieving pain on its own. That is because narcotic painkillers fool the body into thinking it already has enough transmitters. Once an addict finds a way to reject this process and get help, there is still the painful path of the body readjusting back to its natural processes. There is also the emotional journey of accepting life the way it’s supposed to be.

Before accepting the problem as something to be treated, it can be common for an addict to hurt the ones around them. For example, drug addiction is far from a cheap hobby for many. To fuel this problem, they may steal from family members. A family member may feel guilty saying “no” to a relation if they ask for money or resources to fuel a bad habit. However it happens, this kind of enabling not only perpetuates the addiction but will eventually grow into resentment.

When a recovering addict looks back at those times, there can be extreme guilt. They will think about the pain they have caused and wonder how they could ever make it right. Family members may perpetuate this train of thought, giving the person “guilt trips” long after the incidents happened. In this case, it is essential for families to learn forgiveness of a recovering drug addict:

  • Learn about addiction: Society still has a stigma against drug addicts and this seeps into our personal lives. There are so many myths surrounding people struggling with this disease and it’s important to learn about them
  • Forgive but don’t forget: Your addicted loved one likely caused you physical, emotional and financial damage. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean forgetting what was done. Instead it is acknowledging what happened, how to keep it from occurring again, then emotionally embracing this person regardless
  • Give it time: Forgiveness isn’t a single act. This is a process of self-exploration that can take weeks, months and even years to follow through. Stick this out. In the end, everyone will benefit
  • Let the hate go: Hate is a toxic emotion. It takes incredible effort to let this go when it feels justified. Yet hate has rarely built anything worthwhile in relationships. This emotion also takes great effort and time, both of which are better spent elsewhere
  • Changes in the dynamic: Forgiving a loved one doesn’t mean you have to welcome him or her back into your life. If this person has not made positive changes in their lives it is perfectly okay not to let them back or at least keep contact to a bare minimum
  • Don’t wait for repentance: Forgiveness helps the forgiver more than anyone else. Don’t wait for the other person to ask for penance. Though he or she will probably feel guilty at some point, don’t wait around for that day to come

It is important to remember to try and even if a stumble occurs, simply get back up and keep trying. Forgiveness, like recovery, is a road everyone walks on and it is one that never really ends. Staying vigilant and making the effort is really the most important step toward finally having peace in one’s life.

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