From Unconditional Forgiveness
The Eight Steps to Freedom and The Twelve Steps Recovery Program: Partners in Transforming Dysfunction to Serenity
Learning how to forgive, in real terms, significantly empowers one’s recovery program. In fact, we can say that the process of forgiving self and others is central to the Twelve Step Program. The Eight Steps of Freedom and the self-forgiveness exercise are a perfect adjunct to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They empower this time-tested recovery path by bringing new clarity to the steps that some have termed, “the muddle in the middle,” thus accelerating the process of healing the dysfunctional past.
If you take a step back and observe the Twelve Steps in several larger chunks, you can see that the first three steps are about starting a good relationship with a Higher Power, the middle steps have to do with forgiveness and cleaning up the past, and the later steps help us to deepen our spirituality and build new integrity into daily life. Here I a look at how Steps Four to Ten in The Twelve Steps are about forgiveness.
The AA Steps that are Related to Forgiveness
Step Four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
We are encouraged to make a list of our resentments towards others, as well as our mistakes and character defects. This is a very difficult step, but recovery is not possible without it. Step Four makes us face our shame, guilt, anger, grief, and regrets, because those are the things that are keeping us sick and feeding the overwhelming power of our addictions. We identify our forgiveness issues: those towards others and those towards self. We now have a list that we can work through methodically, releasing old hurts and resentments towards others, one by one. Each time we forgive someone on our inventory list, we drain away some of the emotional reactivity that tempts us to use alcohol or another substance, and we install more Higher Power energy and connection within our body/mind.
Step Five, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” We put an end to denial and isolation and aloneness. We get together with another person, and with them and God as our witnesses, we speak aloud the details of the actions and the attitudes that have caused so much shame and destruction within us and around us during our using years. We put it all out on the table honestly.
Steps Six and Seven, “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character,” and “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” We express our willingness to live in a new and better way, and to allow God to remove our problems and character defects. We clearly ask Him to do this for us. The Self Forgiveness Exercise taught in this book is a technique that combines Step Six and Step Seven, and gives you a practical way of accomplishing these steps. If you need to, you just make the translation of “self forgiveness” to mean “Higher Self (God) forgiveness” of the personal self, and you will accomplish the release that Steps Six and Seven are all about.
Steps Eight and Nine, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all” and “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” We give ourselves a chance to apologize to others and request their forgiveness, if it is appropriate for us to do this with them. This step is so much easier to do if you have already forgiven yourself for your harmful actions. It’s easier to make those phone calls and have those awkward meetings with people in your life, if you have already faced and cleared out the deep shame you felt about hurting them when you were out of control. In other words, if God has already forgiven you, what power do others hold over you if they choose to remain unforgiving? You can make peace with doing so or not.
Step Ten, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” We are encouraged to stay honest and realistic about our behavior, and promptly make an adjustment when we are off the mark. Here again, self-forgiveness is so valuable in giving us the courage to face our disappointing behaviors and still love ourselves unconditionally. When we tap into the vast reservoir of patience and encouragement that exists in our Higher Power, we become willing to admit our failings and dust ourselves off each day as we make a decision to do better tomorrow.
Prevent Relapse by Using the Eight Steps to Freedom
The disease of addiction has been declared “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” It is often a tangled knot of tendencies that arise out of one’s ancestry and genetics, post-traumatic stress from untreated trauma, physical allergy, and stubborn subpersonalities which function as psychological defense systems. The complexity of this disease accounts for why most addicts must make healing from addiction a life-long concern, and recovery practices a lifelong habit. Chief among the obstacles to recovery is the common tendency to have a messy relapse into the disease behavior, which renews more of the attendant shame and hopelessness the person was struggling with in the first place. Relapse prevention has many components to it, and one of the best ways a person in recovery can progress and prevent relapse is to utilize the Eight Steps to Freedom to heal latent emotional problems. It is the old, untreated emotional wounds that created the psychological pressure that triggers the desire to use a substance. On the path of recovery, the work of healing old wounds and resentments and forgiving one’s self for the dysfunction of the past and present is absolutely necessary in order to get us onto new ground in our life and be able to stay there, building a new story for the future.