WHAT is FORGIVENESS? As an alcoholic, now sober In AA, I think that I know what it feels like to be forgiven by other people. I could not feel forgiveness in my drinking days because I could not forgive myself. I was playing God and counted myself worthy only of punishment. With continuous sobriety comes a gradual and happy awareness of the forgiveness of God for our previous maltreatment of others and ourselves. Only with this gradual awareness comes the ability, I believe, to forgive others and ourselves to some degree.
At first forgiveness seems like a cessation of resentment, but later it becomes the putting of God’s love into action. True forgiveness means letting fall from the mind all hankering after recompense and all secret reservations regarding the protection of what we consider to be our own rights. We are only secure enough to do this when we have personal proof that God is “for” us and not merely “in spite of us.” We are then rich enough to forgive the world.
Forgiveness is the most transforming and healing operation in this world and I believe it is necessary to our spiritual, mental physical health. We are bound to receive it in order to receive sobriety and we are bound to give it in order to maintain sobriety. It is so the essence of love that sometimes we forgive without knowing it by falling to observe some action or attitude which we would have seized upon as an outrage before.
Where there is lack of forgiveness there is likely to be some resentment from which, sooner or later, we may seek, release. But when we have learned to forgive we shall not need any release.
It is written in the Big Book that half measures availed us nothing. Half-forgiving will not avail us very much either. It was described by a minister I heard recently as “holding a club in readiness behind our back and saying, beneath our breath, ‘so long as you don’t do it again.’ “
It seems to me that forgiving on condition is not forgiveness at all and will avail us nothing, whereas true forgiveness is the outcome of realizing that nothing except our own thinking can hurt us now. Other people, alcoholics and non-alcoholics, can give us what we are told to expect–injustice, criticism, ridicule, misunderstanding. They cannot harm us now, for they lost the power of injury when we lost our desire for self-destruction. Only our thinking, if it becomes negative and self-centered, can harm us now.
I find that as I try to live the new way of life in AA I am gradually developing a new way of thinking. This way of thinking, this attitude to all my affairs, is the only one I can have. It is the truth for me–that truth which is setting me free. In following this way of thinking and living to the best of my ability I find myself wealthy in love and friendship. This is the wealth that makes possible for me forgiveness of others, acceptance of their forgiveness, and forgiveness of myself.
Personally I find it more difficult to forgive myself than to forgive other people, perhaps because I have been in the habit for so many years of beating myself on my own head with my own brick-bat. It seems to me that now there is no question of whom to use it on. Since we are no longer our own property, but God’s, we must let the brick-bat go. With it goes that alcoholic love of punishment.
There is no doubt in my mind that God has made us new. Otherwise I would not be sober writing this now and you would not be sober reading it. This marvelous fact is in itself evidence of Divine Forgiveness, so what forgiving of self do we have left to do?
Now I see forgiveness as a loving spirit which cannot be misinterpreted. It knows nothing of fear and nothing of holier-than-thouness. It is without reservation. It is one of the greatest powers and blessings of our new way of living. It can only bring harmony and goodness–and sometimes tears of joy. It can bring these blessings to one who is forgiven, but in much greater abundance to the one who forgives. It is a power-line to sobriety.
Let us never pass it by.