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As we’re working to heal ourselves and stay committed to our sobriety, there are certain emotions that can linger well into our recovery and bring us so much turmoil and conflict that we feel tempted to use our drugs of choice just to escape them. One of these painful and destructive emotions is the anger we’re still carrying within us. As recovering addicts, many of us feel we have a great deal of justifiable anger. We feel justified in being angry with the people who abused us, the people who traumatized us so deeply we formed addictions to cope with the pain. We also feel justified in still being angry with ourselves, for how much we’ve hurt not only ourselves but the people closest to us, for how we’ve destroyed our lives and ruined our finances, our homes, our careers, our relationships, our mental, emotional and physical health.

Anger can be a very dominating and controlling force. When we’re angry, we don’t usually feel just a little bit angry, we feel overwhelmed and driven by our anger. We spend a considerable amount of time and energy thinking about how we’ll enact revenge on the people who’ve hurt us, how we’ll hurt them back, how we’ll prove to them why we’re right to be angry, how we’ll show them and the world that we’re justified in our anger. Similarly, when we’re angry with ourselves, we allow our anger to dominate our thoughts and feelings. We drown ourselves in guilt, shame, remorse and regret. We become self-hating because we’re angry with ourselves. We feel tormented by our anger. We feel compulsively driven to self-harm because we’re still so angry with ourselves. We struggle to find enough peace within ourselves to make amends to the people we’ve hurt or to address the mistakes we’ve made. We’re essentially running on a hamster wheel of anger, bitterness, spite, resentment and shame – recurring cycles of toxic emotions that don’t help us to heal and move forward but which instead keep us stuck, worsening our mental health issues and driving us to our drugs of choice for comfort, relief, distraction and escapism. How do we get off the spinning wheel of our anger? The answer lies in choosing forgiveness.

When working to recover, we want to give ourselves all of the mental and emotional support we can get. We want to be our own allies and sources of motivation, encouragement and inspiration. Anger does the opposite for us. It causes us additional mental angst and turmoil, and considerable emotional imbalance and pain. It contributes to our depression and anxiety. It makes us feel sad, angry, confused and overwhelmed. We feel haunted and burdened by our anger. We replay memories of hurtful incidents over and over again, whether things done to us or things we’ve done. We dwell in our anger and obsess about it. Our anger therefore becomes a part of our self-destructiveness. It impedes our ability to have the mental and emotional clarity and peace we need to focus on getting well. It robs us of our ability to feel free. It keeps us constricted, restricted, stifled and in pain. We need the opposite in order to recover. We need light, love and faith. We need to feel free and at peace. We need to choose forgiveness.

Having forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone hurtful things. It doesn’t mean we accept being mistreated or allow others to hurt us. Similarly, forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re letting ourselves off the hook, shirking responsibility or justifying the things we’ve done wrong. It doesn’t mean we’re misplacing the blame and directing it at others who aren’t at fault. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we let toxic people back in our lives, people with whom we can’t have healthy connections. It doesn’t mean we bend over backwards and sacrifice ourselves in order to make amends to people who don’t value us. Forgiveness very simply means we’re choosing to release the anger we’ve held onto so tightly for so long. It means we’re easing up on the hold we have on our anger, our deep attachment to it, our dependence and reliance upon it. It means we will no longer use our anger to make us feel better about ourselves, for example by putting others down and judging them, instead of healing our self-esteem in real ways. It means we won’t cling to our anger to bring us a sense of validation and to justify the pain we feel. Forgiveness means we will work to release and detach from the pain we feel rather than staying attached to it in clingy, needy, compulsive ways that only exacerbate both our anger and the conflicts we’re experiencing. Forgiveness means we’ll look for solutions rather than staying focused on the problem. It means we’ll open our hearts to the resolution of our conflicts rather than holding onto anger as a coping mechanism, in an attempt to protect ourselves from more hurt.

We can’t heal ourselves if we’re giving all of our energy to being angry, either with ourselves or with others. We need to create a mental and emotional foundation of clarity, openness and peace in order to focus on our healing. Forgiveness is having the discernment to follow our intuition about which relationships, which situations and which experiences are good for us, which ones will contribute to our healing, and which are adding to our pain and self-sabotage. Forgiveness is choosing to be at peace. It’s choosing to let the energies of light, love, calm and balance be our dominant energies rather than strife and discord. It’s choosing harmony over conflict. Forgiveness is prioritizing our wellness so that we can move forward and achieve lasting recovery, happiness and inner peace.

Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you uncover the issues fueling your addictions. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.