Forgiveness is a Choice in Eating Disorder and Addiction Recovery

Eating disorder and addiction recovery requires us to forgive in order to move on. Yet some of us have been taught a false definition of forgiveness. Some of us forgive the people who abused them but find it most difficult to forgive themselves. Here’s how forgiveness is designed to set us free.

It’s my belief that at our deepest level we want to forgive those who’ve hurt us. But instead we sometimes hold on, white knuckling through the pain of circumstance, as though the tightness of our grip equates to us winning the most spacious prison.

Holding on feels like control when we’re spinning down. We sometimes hold on because we don’t know how to let it go. We’re scared that if we unfurl our fingers, we’ll be left empty. We often think that something is better than nothing, even if that something is bitterness, even if that something is like a poison IV in our veins.

Emptiness is scary. Emptiness is terrifying. Emptiness is a void and our human consciousness grasps for something to hold to still our dizzy spin.

But the beautiful thing about empty space is that space is a vacuum. It’s only when we’re empty that we can be filled. So often in addiction they talk about rock bottom, the place where you finally meet you, the black hole of darkness where you begin to rebuild the solid foundation of your life.

Even so, there are always storms and the things we build in this life are like shifting sand. It’s the person we meet in recovery that’s our constant, that journey’s with us in every storm.

In the abyss, we meet the darkest parts of ourselves. In the abyss, we meet hope, often in the form of higher power or God. It is when we open our arms, hands, and heart and surrender, that we rebuild.

Too often bitterness has planted its thorny seeds, and they grow in a furry, eclipsing our hearts like the vine forest in Sleeping Beauty that the prince raged against with his sword and shield.

But there’s an easier way than raging, than chopping through with angst and revenge. We don’t gain control over the person by building a wall of thorns around our hearts.

The way through the abyss is to release what has been done.

We have a difficult time with this because we’ve been taught lies. We’ve been taught that forgiveness means that we let a person continue to hurt us, or that what they did was right. These aren’t true. It doesn’t mean that we must forget, pretend it never happened, or that it didn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that the pain is gone or that the person is released from the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t mean that we wait until we get an apology (for often people do terrible things without even a shrug).

The truth about releasing something to God’s greater hands (or your higher power, something great than yourself) is that we make a choice that one person will not destroy our castle. One person will not take up residence in every cell our being. One person will not hold us prisoner. We make a choice to release, because we want to be free and at peace.

If we understand the truth of forgiveness, and releasing our pain, we can see that it’s about the state of our hearts. It’s always our choice, but the way to freedom is gently plucking the thorns from our hearts, because in the end, it’s us that bleed.

Although we will all be touched by pain, sorrow, and heartache, we can choose to release. We can choose to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean that we ever have to speak to that person again or invite them into our life in any way. They don’t even have to ever know that we forgave them, because forgiveness is for us. We can forgive and still keep ourself safe. . .

After a tragedy in my life, when a friend of mine had passed away, I had a dream. In it, I was writing an exquisite poem in which everything suddenly became clear. I remember feeling that if I only showed this poem to the world everyone would understand. As I was pulled into morning, the words slipped out of my head like ether and I was left with only one sentence, perhaps the most important. I stared at it on the tiny piece of paper, which I’d scribbled:

“Tragedy is only that which love cannot fill.”