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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Forgiveness, Health and Wholeness

“All of us need the experience of forgiving and being forgiven because we live our lives imperfectly.”

By Allen Nohre, Terros Health

Bryce, Jose, Bitsy and Ed took separate long and hard journeys to experience the freedom and health of forgiveness. They describe how forgiving is an essential part of their path out of addiction. For Bitsy it was learning the difference between forgiveness and enabling her husband’s addiction.

Forgiveness is not only for those in recovery or those who go to church. All of us need the experience of forgiving and being forgiven because we live our lives imperfectly. Like the rain that falls during a hot desert night, forgiveness washes the dirty air and we wake up breathing healthy air and seeing the distant mountains.

Forgiveness Improves Health

A study published by the National Institute of Health found that forgiveness has a positive effect on health. “Forgiveness was associated with lower blood pressure levels, heart rate, and rate pressure product. Forgiveness may produce beneficial effects directly by reducing wear and tear on the body that is associated with betrayal and conflict” (1)

Forgiveness Increases Positive Feelings

Another study evaluated the effects of a 6-week forgiveness intervention program. Participants in the program “reduced negative thoughts and feelings about the target transgression two to three times more effectively than the control group, and it produced significantly greater increases in positive thoughts and feelings toward the transgressor.” (2)

People who use the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are, in effect, putting themselves in a forgiveness intervention program. Five of the Steps deal with forgiveness:

  • Conducting an honest assessment of oneself. 
  • Admitting the exact nature of one’s wrongs.
  • Making a list of all persons harmed. 
  • Making direct amends when possible. 
  • Continuing to monitor oneself and, when wrong, promptly admit it.


When Bryce was six years old, growing up on a farm in Iowa, his mother went to treatment for alcoholism. Bryce remembers attending family groups at the treatment center and listening to videotapes of Father Martin describing the dynamics of family alcoholism, and he knew what Father Martin was talking about. His mother became sober, earned a Master Degree, spent many years as a substance abuse counselor, and has lived a life of recovery ever since.

Second Generation Addiction

Despite Bryce’s young boy understanding of alcoholism, he started drinking in his late teens. “By my mid-twenties I was a chronic alcoholic and then I turned to massive amounts of drugs. By the time I was 42 years old, I had been trying to get sober since my early thirties. I had good jobs in banking and mortgages, lost them, and been married and divorced. “Finally,” Bryce continued, “I hit the point of utter desperation. I had lost everything. Then I met Jason at church, a man with eleven years of recovery who went above and beyond to help me. He took me to a psychiatric hospital where I spent two miserable weeks detoxing.”

From the hospital, Bryce was admitted to Terros Health Maverick House residential treatment on May 26, 2015, and he proudly adds, “That is my sobriety date.” Bryce knew he needed more than four weeks of treatment, and he spent the next year with 28 men beginning their recovery at Maverick House Sober Living.

Forgiven by God

About three months into recovery, Bryce focused on step four of the AA twelve-step program, making a searching and fearless moral inventory. He said, “I sat down and got it all out. I’d write for half an hour at a time, look at what I wrote and then cry. I kept going and I made lists of the things I was ashamed of, how I had hurt others, and the harm I had done to myself. When I shared my fifth step with my sponsor, I felt forgiven by God, and I knew I was not going to live that life again.”


Forgiving oneself is not easy. A study of people in substance abuse treatment, reported in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, examined forgiveness of self, of others and by God. “The scores for forgiveness of self were significantly lower than forgiveness for others and by God.” The authors concluded, “Forgiveness of self may be most difficult to achieve and thus most important to recovery, thereby preventing full recovery and fostering relapses.” (3)

Bryce gradually forgave himself. He said, “During the last years of my addiction, I repeatedly told myself that I hated myself and my failed attempts to stop using. And I hated myself for all of the destructive things I did. But, my self-hate wasn’t helping me.”

Then one day, about seven months into sobriety, Bryce had an enlightening realization. He said, “I was listening to a friend at Sober Living ranting about what an awful person he was. As I listened to him beating himself up, I realized I had stopped saying those negative things about myself and I suddenly realized I didn’t hate myself any more.” Bryce had forgiven himself.

Asking for Forgiveness 

Bryce has followed the direction of AA step eight, and made a list of persons he had harmed and offered to make amends. He spoke to his mom, step-mom and his sister telling each of them he was sorry for hurting them and asking each of them if there was anything he could do to make it right. Bryce said, “Each of them told me to not do it again, and to keep doing what I am doing. They saw that my actions showed repentance.” They also said, “We’re proud of you.”

Building Character over Comfort

“My sponsor said to me, ‘Bryce, you are choosing to build character over comfort,’ and I have committed myself to that goal. I am have spent a rewarding year and a half connecting with my brothers in recovery and being validated by our care for each other. God freed me from my addiction and I choose to thank him by helping addicts who are suffering.”

Bitsy and Ed

I met with Bitsy and Ed and wanted to focus on Bitsy’s experience of living with an addict who has become a recovering addict. Bitsy began with, “I’ve been married to Ed for 19 years and he couldn’t stay sober. Finally, in 2014, I said, ‘I can’t watch you kill yourself and I need to be away from you.’ I still loved him but I couldn’t be around him.’” I asked Ed where he lived after Bitsy said he couldn’t live with her. “Under a tree,” is all he said.

A Medical Emergency

In the spring of 2015, Bitsy got a call from Ed’s sister saying he had called from an unknown hospital and said he was dying. Bitsy, despite getting flack for years from her family that she was too tolerant of Ed’s behavior, nevertheless got on the phone calling hospital emergency rooms. Finally, she located Ed in an ER. He had overdosed on a contaminated drug and was shocked to see her standing next to him. Bitsy said “Ed, I came to help you, if I can.”


Ed’s sobriety began May 5, 2015 when he was admitted to Terros Health Maverick House. Bitsy wanted to visit him there, but the residential treatment program said that she had to first attend two Al-Anon meetings. She went to a meeting and told the group, “I don’t believe in Al-Anon and I don’t want to be here.” But, at the end of a meeting she told the group, “This was so helpful, I will be back."

Forgiveness Rather than Enabling

Bitsy said, “I have learned I was an enabler by accepting behavior I shouldn’t have accepted. Ed was responsible for his choices, but I was responsible for continuing to allow the damage to our marriage, like Ed stealing my money and pawning my jewelry.” When asked how she has forgiven him, Bitsy said, “It hasn’t been easy. Understanding that Ed’s addiction is a disease and not a moral failing has helped me. He came to my apartment and we sat together on the sofa. Ed asked, ‘Do you think you can ever forgive me?’ We were both crying and I told him, ‘I’ve already forgiven you, or you wouldn’t be sitting here.’ We’ve forgiven each other and we have a new life of sobriety and serenity.”
Bitsy’s advice for a person living with an addict: “Get into Al-Anon for your own sake regardless of whether or not the other person changes.”


As a young boy Jose thought alcohol had solved his two big problems. He said, “When I was a kid, I had seizures and wondered ‘why me?’ I lived in fear of the next one. In fifth grade I had a big seizure. The paramedics gave me CPR and took me to a hospital. I woke up scared hearing my mom asking why my heart had stopped. They transferred me to Children’s Hospital where I had a roommate who died. Now I wondered when I would die.”
“I had another problem too. I thought God had made me ugly. I was teased because I had big ears and the kids called me ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Bug Eye.’ I compared myself to others and wanted to be someone else.”

A Bigger Problem

“A few months after my big seizure, I got a taste of alcohol and discovered I felt normal and I didn’t feel ugly anymore. I thought alcohol had solved my problem. But my drinking became a big problem by the time I was 16 and able to drive to parties.”
Jose’s twenties and thirties were years of drinking alcohol and using drugs with serious consequences. He got into a car accident seriously injuring his 17-year-old sister. He had jobs but couldn’t keep them and he became a father. He said, “When my baby was born, I showed up drunk. I even attempted suicide.” Eventually he was homeless.

Recovery Begins 

“In November of 2012 my probation officer gave me the choice of jail or rehab. I went to Terros Health Maverick House with my inner voice beating me up and telling me I am a total failure. And, I still had this terrible fear of dying that I’ve had since I was a kid. I was afraid I wouldn’t be with my kids. Diane, one of the counselors said something to me that was so simple and yet so true. She said, ‘If you start sobriety you can add another 40 or 50 years to your life.’ That hit me with a shock. I was assuming I was going to die. At that moment my motivation changed because I had hope and knew I could be with my kids as they grow up. Since that conversation I have lived four years in recovery and with my kids.”

Forgiveness at the Bus Stop

“I was three months sober sitting at a bus stop and thinking about my life. It hadn’t been an easy three months but I knew I was starting over. I thought, ‘Maybe God is real, and maybe He is on my side.’ I felt something happening to me as if from another world and thought to myself, ‘God is real and I am forgiven.’”

Unexpected Forgiveness

Jose was with two of his children in a movie theater about a year into recovery. Something really funny happened in the movie and the kids started laughing and Jose started laughing with them. “I looked at my kids belly-laughing and enjoying themselves and I realized after years of not being a good father, the three of us were enjoying the movie together and enjoying each other. In that moment I was finally okay with myself. I felt forgiven.”

Resenting Someone Who Stiffed Him

When Jose was doing his fourth and fifth step work, there was a man foremost in his mind had stiffed him out of $4,000. He deeply resented the person and didn’t want to let go of his resentment, much less forgive him. The sponsor pointed Jose to an exercise in the Big Book to pray a couple of weeks for the man. Jose said, “I brought the guy up in my prayers every morning but I did the opposite of what I was supposed to do; I prayed our paths would cross and I would get revenge. After a few weeks, something happened during my morning prayer, I surprisingly asked God, ‘Please bless him as I am being blessed.’ I told my sponsor and he asked me, ‘What would you do if you met him?’ I said, ‘I would give him a hug.’ I was released from my revenge.”

Not Ready to Forgive

“After a few months into recovery I went to my older sister who is very important to me and told her I was sorry and wanted to may amends. She wasn’t ready to accept me. I was crushed, but I went back eight months later. This time she said, ‘Sit down.’ Then I heard these wonderful words: ‘I’m glad to have my brother back.’” Jose has a stable job as a journeyman electrician. Three of his kids from his earlier relationship live with him and his wife and their two-month old baby girl.
Thanks to Bryce, Jose, Bitsy and Ed for sharing their journeys from addiction to recovery and into the health and peace of forgiveness. They are using the energy released in forgiveness to live new lives.

Allen Nohre is a writer for Terros Health 

Terros Health is an Arizona, not-for-profit, integrated whole health care organization with specialization in mental health and addiction care for adults, adolescents, children and families. Terros Health provides whole health care through the patient centered medical home – an all-in-one place location dedicated to meeting the needs of a person’s mind and body.
For more information visit www.terros.org

(2) http://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pubmed/19538652
(3) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1300/J069v25n03_08?src=recsys