Forgiving the Alcoholic

Is it time to try forgiving an addict who caused you heartache and pain? Can you let go of the things an alcoholic has done that have practically destroyed your life? Is it helping or harming you to hold on to past resentments and anger?

By the time you finish this article you will have a few essential tools that will help you begin the process of letting go of the past and forgiving the problem drinker for the damaging things they have done.

Do you think they actually wanted to become an addict?

I cannot imagine that anyone when they were young said to themselves; “I want to be an alcoholic when I grow up.” With this in mind, try to get a grip on what the word addiction means. It would be a good idea to just pause here and think about that for a moment.

Do you understand that this is more about your spiritual health than anything else?

This is actually about cleaning out the emotional and spiritual negative-baggage that you are carrying around. It doesn’t mean that you have to associate with them, this is about you feeling better about your life. I like to say that you are cleaning up the trash from your side of the street. You can do this even if the alcoholic’s street is still riddled with garbage. This is about you and you alone!

When I forgive them do I have to trust them again?

Forgiving an alcoholic for what they have done does not necessarily mean you have to trust them. I would say it’s more about understanding that it is an addiction they have and having compassion for their illness. If someone has a deadly contagious disease, you can forgive them for any hurts they’ve caused and love them without necessarily interacting with them.

Consider setting healthy boundaries that will not exclude them completely from your life, but will allow you to be loving towards them. Setting boundaries will protect you from their irrational behaviors. That is if they are still actively drinking. Detaching from an alcoholic can be done without shutting someone out of your life.

If they have made an indirect amend to you through their changed behavior for several years, it would be a good idea to seriously consider allowing them to be a part of your life again. Remember, an alcoholic who has recovered is not the same person that they were when they were drinking. Not even close in any way, shape or form.

Did you know that forgiveness is simply a choice?

Here’s the key, let go of what they have they have done. Holding on to anger is just hurting you.

-Pray and ask God to help you forgive the alcoholic.
-Make a list of all of the offenses and physically burn them, then never revisit those troublesome situations ever again.
-Say it out-loud, either by yourself or to them directly; “ I forgive you for the hurtful things you have done.”
-Write a letter to them stating that you are forgiving them for the past wreckage that occurred.
-Understand that forgiveness is an ongoing process. It must be maintained regularly.

Hopefully you grabbed my point that an alcoholic is sick with an addiction and cannot control much of their irrational behaviors. I feel that because they are very ill, they should be loved just like anyone else who has a horrible illness. This simply means that you must hate the addiction and love the alcoholic. Forgiving them will only accomplish one thing, your life will be free from the damaging negative emotional baggage you are carrying around.

23 comments to Forgiving the Alcoholic

  • Dave

    One of my favorite sayings is “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” I’m not sure who said it, but, if you think about it, the only other option is to hang on to things that can never be changed anyway!

  • M

    I do NOT agree! I feel addicts destroy lives, they mess up their own on account of their weakness! I have let go of my anger, hurt and humiliation my ‘addict’ brought into our home. But at the same time? He has been pretty much cut out of our family. He cries about it, yet the hurt and devestation his behaviors caused while intoxicated, or high what ever you call it, have been a betrayal of such magnitude that we want nothing to do with him ever again. Compassion? No! I have no compassion for people so irresponsible and selfish, they hurt the family so deey, then once they hit Rock bottOM and finally get help, they expect an ‘I’m sorry’ erases the damage? Sorry, No it doesn’t. I know he suffers and misses his family, and home, and now Grandkids. But he caused it all. We are better off without him. Recovered? so? He crushed us with his behavior.

  • Dave

    As the original post on this web site said, forgiving does NOT mean associating with, or trusting, the one who hurt you with their addiction to alcohol. It simply means opening up the hand in which you are tightly grasping all of your resentment, loathing, and anger, and letting it go. How many people have lived their whole lives carrying anger and hatred for someone who died decades earlier? Why? Resentment is a choice, and so is forgiveness. Even if your “addict” is dead to you, you don’t have to carry him (or her) for the rest of your life! This is not about that person; it’s about YOU, and your ability to be free. Can you ever go back and undo the pain? NO! But you don’t have to keep opening the album and reviewing it. Let go of resentment, and allow healing to begin in YOUR life, no matter where the one who hurt you is or what they do with their lives. Choose to be free!

  • Debbi

    I agree that forgiving is the way to go but certainly not to let the A off the hook–it is to help yourself heal because you can’t change the past & you can’t move forward unless you let it go which is to forgive, but obviously we never forget. There is one part of this article I disagree with again it centers on that the A did not do this on purpose and did not want to become an A. While this part may be true the A in my life certainly plotted & planned his other behaviors against me-waging a war on my good name and reputation to others. He did that in a very calculating way along with the comments meant to start fights and he actually started a divorce process against me 3 times and each time was when I faced an illness & he knew divorce would cause me to lose my health insurance and possibly my life. I actually feel like my A husband of 16 years was trying to destroy my life literally and this is the hardest one for me to forgive. I feel he destroyed my life and forgiving on this one is the hardest one for me.

  • Pez

    I am in the middle on this one. I don’t believe alcoholism is 100 percent a disease. It has disease aspect, especially when the alcoholic is in later stage of the addiction. Command pathways are changed and the cells of the body are altered. Wikkapedia says, “It’s MEDICALLY considered a disease, more specifically and addictive illness”. Aren’t all addictions this way! I smoke cigarettes and I am addicted. Do I have a disease–no! Hasn’t my body and cells adjusted to nicotine–yes. If my body has changed to adapt to nicotine then by medical terms I would have an addictive illness! Can I quit. Yes If I chose to be more conscientious of it and what it was doing to my body. Has it become “normal” yes! I would have to change my mindset that it is not normal for Homosapians to inhale smoke and see it as it is! Abnormal. I do believe alcoholics know exactly what they are doing and just don’t care! Even if they do stuff it down with denial! They know they hurt people extensively! Yet they keep using. Choice is involved or alcoholics would never quit. But there are plenty who do, when they see the damage of what they are doing to others. Some don’t care, they just want there fix. This is selfishness to the very core. Late stages I can see their brain so damaged they no longer have a choice, but that’s about it. ACCOUNTABILITY MUST REMAIN IN TACT or they will never quit. 100 percent disease theory takes away accountability! So the addictive illness definition fits better for me. Your still have a choice. A real illness you have NO choice–like cancer, lupus, muscular dystrophy, etc……

    Getting to forgiveness, which I think the above is pertinent, I believe it is possible to go on and have a happy life by letting it go! And seeing a cigar is just a cigar (an addict). Let the bitterness go, the loss, the disappointments, the cruelty……But I don’t believe forgiveness is a necessary requirement. I don’t feel in bondage. It is what it is. Forgive all the excessive cruelty and inhumane treatment–NO I wont. They absolutely KNOW what they do! If he called for help lets say in a year–Yes I would help if sincere. I understand this is a tough addictive illness, but not impossible to quit.

  • Pez

    OH and I would like to add some things my X Said to me and LAUGHED when he said them! “You have such a big heart, your have to be tough with people so they wont take advantage of you”. “You never drew the line with me” (yes I did 2wice and he jumped in bed with getto woman). “I’ll have to see how long I can keep you, are you sick of my shit yet”. He enjoyed the game, the using, the challenge of deception. Evil to the core. He knew!

  • Debbi

    Oh Pez, those are awful things he said to you & unfortunately they stay with us & keep replaying in our heads. We must learn not to take them seriously–that is not who you are. I keep reminding myself the awful names I got called & I immediately replace it with: No, not correct because I did not drink, I did not lie, I did not cheat, I did not steal & I did not put others down–the A did! I am better than that & YOU ARE TOO!

  • Pez

    just trying to get accross the point that if they are easily forgiven, why not do it again?! we would never tolerate this from a sober person we would not even be friends them!

  • Debbi

    I agree if we forgive and stop there then they will continue & I worked hard that it must be stated you don’t like something then set the boundary, leave or whatever but I need to forgive & tell myself those awful things he said were said in anger & not true or otherwise I take it to heart & so if they were said in anger I must forgive but never will I forget like you–those awful words stay with you for life & in my case these people go on their merry way and I never see them do this to others to the extreme that it was done to me.

  • Pez

    they are drug addicts! pure and simple. like meth and any other drugs. they will do what they need to do to get the drug. don’t ever let yourself believe that they don’t know what they are doing. they do! drugs or not. if you need to forgive by all means do. just never let it in your life again.
    I saw a video on to the library on forgiveness and it is just not one set pattern or way. it was different for each individual. all the a has to do is accept help! and if they don’t want to quit be honest about it so we can move on and they can see clear on level. don’t lie and try to string someone along for years and years and years!

  • Pez

    sorry on my smart phone. I meant “seek there own level”

  • Pez

    Hi, yesterday was not a good day. Eventually, maybe I will be able to forgive my XABoyfriend. The cruelty is soooo severe it is hard to forgive and maybe this is a process too! I am not there yet! I re-read JC’s post below in another thread and it hit me. We will never “figure it out” completely because it’s just insanity and makes no scence to the logical mind. We can understand some, but not all. I just struggle WHERE the accountability lies! vs forgiveness. Yes! I was abandoned, Yes, I was lied to, People swear he loved me but how could this be love. Lots of questions and inconsistencies that just can drive you mad! It takes work to let go of them, accept some things will never add up, and let go day by day minute by minute.

    January 17th, 2013 at 8:04 am
    Thanks Dave for sharing. Alcoholism and alcoholics are cunning, baffling and powerful. As I read your story, I wondered why this is bothering you so? Did something serious happen to cause the distance or is this just the “insanity” that accompanies alcoholic relationships? I recently heard from Anthony Robbins that we have 6 basic human needs:

    1. Certainty
    2. Variety
    3. Significance
    4. Connection
    5. Growth
    7. Contribution

    He says if someone fulfills three of these needs that we become addicted to that person. I wonder if the opposite is true where we would feel abandoned or rejected if the majority of these needs aren’t being met by someone.

    Anyway, it appears that there’s uncertainty, disconnection and insignificance at work in this relationship. You are also offering to contribute to the betterment of your friend’s life and he is rejecting your offer. More on the subject here: Can An Alcoholic Meet Your Basic Human Needs

    The thing I have to guard myself against is letting someone rent too much space in my head, especially an addict. In relationships with alcoholics, I can find myself obsessing over their behaviors, trying to fit together a puzzle of insanity that just won’t come together with all of the dysfunctional pieces I have in hand. No matter how many times I look at the elements form different angles, nothing makes any sense.

    Here are a few articles that may help:

    How To Let Go Of An Alcoholic
    I’m Obsessed With An Alcoholic
    Understanding The Alcoholic’s Personality
    Personality Of The Alcoholic
    How To Communicate With An Alcoholic

  • Mike

    Drinking is a choice.
    The choice is made easier by a lifetime of excuses by everyone around.
    When self-pity takes hold, slef-destrcution follows.
    Sorry, but that is the truth.

  • Mike

    Get over it.
    Life is hard, people are mean and things don’t go your way.
    Until the drinker realizes that they aren’t the only ones who struggle in life, they will always be the “most hurt ever.”
    I am tired of my wife’s excuses and manipulation.
    The worst thing for drinkers is me!
    What I mean by that is, I was one of the worst and I stopped because I made the choice 16 years ago.
    No AA, no group counseling, no medical care.
    It was my career as a fireman or drinking.
    Reality hit me and the grown man came out because he had to.

  • Diana

    The accountaibility part is interesting. Since aa teaches they are powerless over alcohol. So how can they be expected to stop. When they slip or relapse oh well they are powerless. I have an alcoholic who has been in and out of aa so many times. Sober a few months at a time, drinking and then back in to aa. the worst part is she has the nasty attitude as if she has been drinking for years. each time she quits again. I believe she is on something every day or a few times a week. I cannot smell any alcohol. also taking antidepressants and skipping them whenever she drinks. I usually do not say anything if I suspect her drinking because sooner or later it becomes obvious. She refuses to move out. The mood swings are terrible. She thinks of aa as a self improvement program. but one in which she can lie to everyone and still be forgiven and continue to drink off and on. I tell her once in a while just remember aa says No drinking. I have threatened to kick her out time and again. This is an insane merry go round.

  • Pez

    Mike I can’t tell you how much I admire you for making that choice!

  • maryann

    Mike that is awesome, its nice to see a MAN, step up to the plate and do the right thing. It takes strength, courage, conviction and integrity. My hat got off to you!!!! There’s nothing worse than a man sluring there words and slepin drunk. That that takes away the sexiness and masculinity of a man, if only they new.

  • Deb

    The topic of forgiveness is a complicated beast. When you are a beginner, you naively release the hurtful action and reopen your heart. No doubt, to be re-wounded again in exactly the same way. You can repeat this as many times as you want and be re-injured repeatedly. People who ask you to forgive most often actually want it. What is difficult is when you are forgiving someone who hasn’t asked for it.

    When I deal with my alcoholic, I’m not dealing with someone asking me to forgive. In fact, he has never asked for forgiveness. IN all truth, most people who have hurt me in my life also have not asked to be forgiven. But, unfortunately I have had to deal with them the next day and so forth. With the behavior repeating itself.

    Healthy forgiveness happens when someone hurts you, then asks to be forgiven. Peculiar forgiveness happens when people repeat the same bad behavior and you alone are coping with it (while avoiding violence).

    When doing the act of peculiar forgiveness, you must become utterly selfish and seek that which makes you able to ‘be in the presence’ of the other while maintaining your humanity. And, not tripping out. This takes a great deal of courage. Courage that you will draw upon repeatedly. Pretty much you have to do this, you don’t have a choice.

    Because unforgiveness will manifest as illness. It’s like a double curse. You are cursed when they curse you and then you are cursed if you don’t release it. And, I’m not joking. How do you forgive? You have to use your imagination and find the things in life that give you Joy. And, Never tell the alcoholic what these things are. You must daily take a Perspective Moment. You must take the single act ‘of devastation’ and place it in context with your entire day, then your entire week, then your past year and then your past years of life. Putting pain into perspective diminishes it. You must diminish the size of this thing in your own mind. Make other things more important.

  • Dave

    Because of some of the comments here, I’d like to address the problem of behaviors that seem to continue even when there doesn’t seem to be alcohol present. The psychologist with whom I’ve been talking for several years as I’ve tried to deal with my wife says that it takes a year or more for the brain to recover from chronic alcohol use. This means that a person who has been a steady drinker may stop drinking, but still act in many ways that seem a lot like the alcohol-induced behaviors of the past. If they are unacceptable behaviors, that should be stated, along with limits set as to what will be tolerated. However, “chemical insanity” may not just go away overnight when a person stops drinking. Time may be needed before real change is evident. In the meantime, allow as much grace as you can, but make it clear that you won’t allow yourself to be victimized, whether your alcoholic is drinking or not!

  • Susan

    Forgiveness for me was/is giving up the hope that the past could have been anything different. It’s accepting the past (yesterday) for what it was and using this moment and this time to move forward. Yes, I believe that forgiveness makes me a healthier person. It has only taken me 25 years to get that far . Where I struggle is coming up with the ability to forgive over and over the same thing. The ability to forgive wether or not my high functioning A takes any responsibility or even voices the desire to change. I not sure how to forgive and let my husband experience consequences. Without consequences does the Alcoholic ever have the motivation to change. Although I still get mad at times, I truly think I have/can forgive(n) him. Now what?? Working on that one. I guess to answer your question I forgave or I am forgiving because its better for me. Is alcoholism a disease ? Maybe but it is also a choice. Every time he bring a drink to his mouth, he chooses to do so. Good he stop, yes. Would it be hard, yes. Much like type two DIabetes or high BP. Disease, yes, but I could choose to eat healthy, excercised. Would it be hard, yes. Thirty years, four kids, two grand babies later, my alcoholic still drinks. Most of the time I think I have forgiven him but I’m working on “what now”. I think I am going to work in ” me “. Spent a lot of time taking care of kids and holding it all together. At 53, im going to focus on my own emotionsl and physicsl health.Just wish I had someone to do that with!

  • Deb

    I have a friend who had a NDE, near death experience, and is a chronic drug abuser. He explained how one night he gave himself too much drug and he died. Was standing next to his body (just as they say happens) and then went to Hell. He started to scream and a little light came and told him ‘he would be given just one more chance.’ He came back and had explained to me this story, as he had even gotten ‘high’ a few days after the experience.

    In the midst of the terrible suffering the alcoholic can put us through, you find this ‘Alcoholism’ is a spiritual as well as chemical problem. It’s hard to say which comes first, only that person really knows. You would think that ‘going to Hell’ would give you some indication that ‘were this truly’ your final moment on Earth, this is really where you will go. You’d think that would affect that person, but it appears not to affect them.

    Life is a balance. Its not right for you to be around an alcoholic and let them hurt you. But, so many people drink alcohol or do drugs. Yes, so very many. Its hard to avoid making one of them a friend or companion. I found myself stunned by this, what a strange way to go through life, one that can even take you to Hell!

  • I agree with Pez! Not entirely sure alcoholism is a disease. In fact I don’t believe it is. So my perspective is different than most on this subject.

  • […] people to reach that point of willingly forgiving someone.  You may want to refer to this article: Forgiving An Alcoholic for a little […]

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