Her own guilt disappeared at the same time her anger did
ONE NIGHT, a woman asked at a meeting I attended, “How do you get rid of guilt?” This struck a nerve, because I was still full of my own guilts. After the meeting was over, an answer came to me: “Start forgiving.”
What–give up my dearly nurtured grudges? Forgive the people who had harmed me, either by word or deed, by sins of omission or commission? Give up my carefully tended grievance list?
At the time, I thought: “Look here, AA! I’ve made plenty of sacrifices since I came into this program. You told me not to drink one day at a time; I’ve done that. Then you told me I had to toss away my tranquilizers and to make meetings and to listen. Now, all of these things have gone greatly against my own will, but I was hurting badly enough to listen, so I did as you suggested.”
Yet I still had a great deal of internal discomfort. And the grudges, of course. After more than a year of abstinence and going to meetings, I was still a very angry person. I had dropped some grudges but still retained two deep ones; and one was against a woman who had been dead for thirteen years. I was told at the meetings, “Pray for the anger to go away.”
I had heard a lot of farfetched notions in these rooms, and that’s what this sounded like. A platitude. However, nothing I had tried so far had worked. So, just as I had done in the beginning, I threw in the towel and resolved to do as I was told.
I made up a blanket prayer: “I pray that I may forgive anyone who may have harmed me, dead or alive.” I said this several times a day for months. I feel as though I’m going to tell you that a fairy godmother waved a magic wand over my head and the anger went away. But that’s exactly what happened–it left. Not entirely, mind you–I held on to a couple of minor grudges–but those that had so deeply troubled me went away.
I had prayed only for the anger to leave me. But something strange and unpredictable happened: My own guilts disappeared at the same time that the anger did. Many months later, I realized that if I could forgive other people for being human and for making mistakes, I could forgive myself; the sources of my own deep guilts were just that–human error. People had harmed me, and I had, in turn, harmed others.
I found out that anger and guilt are inextricably woven together–they are threads in the same fabric. When I forgave other people for the wrongs they had done me, the anger I was holding against them went away. Slowly but surely, it left my heart and mind.
But the bonus I never expected was that my own guilt would also disappear.
I do not believe it is an accident that the Lord’s Prayer reads: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is written as part and parcel of the same sentence.