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Forgiveness is an important part of a full and healthy life

Published: Saturday, March 30 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

Others also couple action with forgiveness. Barry and Beverly Adkins' son, Kevin, died of alcohol poisoning the day he moved out on his own, at 18. "I have long since forgiven those that were at the party with him and, of course, I can forgive my own child," said Barry Adkins, of Gilbert, Ariz. "But the hardest person of all to forgive was myself. As his dad, there had to be something I could have done differently to prevent this needless and all-too-common tragedy."

He walked 1,400 miles carrying Kevin's ashes in his backpack, stopping at schools to tell students the dangers of binge drinking, a journey chronicled in "Kevin's Last Walk." "Somewhere on the open road between Arizona and Montana, I found a way to forgive myself for letting my child die. Forgive, I have. Forget, I won't," he said.

What forgiveness is not

Michael Gardner, counseling manager and addiction specialist with LDS Family Services, never pushes a spouse to forgive an offending partner. "It has to be done in their own way and own time. Their forgiveness is more for their own healing and recovery and moving on. We often think we do a person a favor by forgiving them, but it's really more about being able to forgive so we don't harbor anger and resentment that can block our own healing."

Forgiveness is needed for wholeness and wellbeing. Withholding forgiveness usually means hanging onto anger or victimhood, he and other experts agree. Still, there are things forgiveness is not:

It is not a promise that it's over and amends aren't necessary. "It means I am willing to go down the path of recovery with you; it means I am wiling to give you a chance to build trust again," Gardner said.

It doesn't mean it will never be talked about. "It means it is talked about differently."

Amends

Alcoholics Anonymous is the granddaddy of 12-step programs, one of the first to institutionalize forgiveness as crucial to interaction and healing. In separate situations and programs, Ann and Ted learned they had to let go to hang on.

Ted abused drugs and alcohol for years and didn't get sober until he was incarcerated. It started with real cruelty at the hands of his mom. Finally free and sober at last, he saw a little girl with her dad. He realized he was once innocent like her.

"I thought I'd forgiven my mother, but anger was coming up again. My minister told me to ask God to show me how she couldn't help doing what she did." After that prayer he remembered how compulsively cruel and selfish he was when he was younger — like her. He didn't know what her past contained. "I felt compassion for her and forgave her."

They talked about it later, when she was dying and he was caring for her. They cried together and made peace. He'd been sober 20 years when he replaced the silver coins he'd stolen from his brother to support addictions. Can we be brothers again? he asked.

"He was flabbergasted. It's very hard to continue a grudge ... I don't see him much, but he doesn't hate me any more."

Ann became an alcoholic at 16; she sought help at 32, a "terrible mom, a terrible wife, unemployed and unemployable, as well as physically sick," she said. In the personal inventory recommended in AA, she sorted out her role in what went wrong. She's done a "lot of asking for forgiveness. I have been overcome with self-pity, regret, self-condemnation, fear. The hardest is forgiving myself.

"I can't choose what others decide — to forgive me or take my amends. But I have to make those amends, live life differently and say I hurt you and make it right however I can. It's a conscious process."

Last Mother's Day, her kids, now grown, put together a slide show. Seeing the old photos was painful at the family low points. The card made her cry: "Mama, we don't regret the past or shut the door on it. We forgive you. Will you please forgive yourself?"

As Trudy Cox supported her husband through his recovery from pornography addiction, she realized one day that she could be miserable as long as she wanted. But it was keeping her from feeling all the good things that had been so much a part of who she was. She let her anger go.

In forgiving Sam, she found both herself and the husband she loved.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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