Forgiveness

Image: We can Forgive Lucas for Jar Jar too.

 

The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am” – Darth Vader

 

In the last post we explored the “Abundance Mindset” and how it is drawn from gratitude, acceptance and surrender. By having an “abundance mindset” we come to realize an abundant life. Our attachments to people, places and things loosen. We readily consider new ideas and refuse to be tied down by dogma. Life becomes fluid. Rather than focusing on life’s scarcity we focus on what we have. People who have arrived at a contended state of sobriety will often have an ‘abundance mindset’ that pervades their life rather than a “scarcity mentality”.

However an “abundance mindset” is sometimes not enough. Despite a solid mental and spiritual foundation the past can revisit and turn our lives upside down. Many of us live on the edge of a dark place. We believe our past is behind us yet at times we are haunted by it. Old habits and resentments threaten to ambush us and drag us back in to a pit of self pity, depression and anger. We still blame ourselves and others for past transgressions. This is when we need to forgive most. Forgiveness is the key to our salvation.

 

Scar Tissue

I have an introverted character that is often mistaken for being cold and insensitive. In fact the opposite is true, I am a sensitive person and wounds cut deep. Scars take a long time to heal, if they heal at all. I tend to carry the weight of my history on my back. I don’t forget old injuries and insults. In fact I can clearly recall what was said and done years and decades ago. Old memories of feelings and fear come flooding back. With that hurt and fear comes anger.

 

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

 

 

Digging up the Past

Recently I was at a conference where I saw some familiar faces. The last time I had seen many of them was a decade or more ago. When we had last met I was a different person. Alcohol had dominated my life and my relationships. I treated people in a certain way and they responded accordingly. As a result I was shamed or hurt. I reacted with anger and resentment. This of course made matters worse. Ten years or more later I see these people and can’t bring myself to speak with them. I avoided them and did my best to fade in to the background.

Later I considered my behaviour and realized my actions were driven by false impressions and self imposed fears. People generally don’t hold grudges for decades. They don’t have a catalogue of hurts like I do. Whatever had passed between I and these people was in a different life and they (being normal human beings) had long forgotten our petty disagreements of the past. People get over stuff and move on.

I realized that I was largely isolating myself out of shame. I knew the person I had been and did not want to be seen that way. This of course is ego based on fear. Why should we care what others think of us? Should we be paralyzed by the opinions of others? Do those opinions really matter so much that they keep us in doors?

 

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

 

Isolating

It suddenly occurred to me that I had not acted like a person stable in his sobriety. I was avoiding people, places and situations because I was afraid of how I  would be seen and treated and mostly how I would react. The fear of being “triggered” by a remark or a memory and possibly doing or saying something that I would later regret paralyzed me and forced me to isolate. Had I hung around and engaged the very people I had crossed in the past perhaps I would have made friends. But I chose to flee, hide and stoke my ego.

The problem of course lies in the failure to forgive. This has held me back for much of my life. As an alcoholic I was reluctant to forgive as it meant dismantling my defenses and leaving me open to attack. I also could not believe that others were capable of forgiveness. How could they be if I was not? If people said sorry it was only words. My cynical and paranoid outlook on life kept me incapable of forgiving or being forgiven. As a result I suffered and hid in the shadows. People were treated with suspicion.

 

 

Making Amends

Step 9 of AA suggests that we go out and seek to make amends to those we have harmed where it does not injure them or others. It is a selfless act. Through amends we right the past, forgive others and seek to be forgiven, if that is possible. We cannot force people to accept our amends. Their response, positive or negative, is accepted with grace and equanimity. Our task is only to do what we have in our control.

In Step 10 we are reminded to appraise ourselves on a daily basis, admit mistakes and make amends where required. The goal is constant and continuous self improvement.

Amends are not just for others. We must also never forget to forgive ourselves. Our lives cannot be held hostage by the mistakes of the past. We acknowledge the past and resolve to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. The past is neither shunned nor ruminated upon. We look at the past as one glances in the rear view mirror. Regarding it mindfully and occasionally.

Never let the past hold you as hostage in the present.

 

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley “Redemption Song”.

 

 

Emancipate Yourself

Star Wars is a tale of personal redemption based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. The theme of redemption is repeated throughout the mythology. We see it in the tale of Anakin, the trials of Luke Skywalker, the adventures of Han Solo and in the tragedy Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Through forgiveness each of the characters is able to reconcile the pain of their pasts and find redemption and final peace.

Our lives are no different. We are all on our own “Heroes Journey” of redemption. Learn to forgive yourself and others. The path will clear and we can live in the Now.

Redemption

When Anakin had succumbed to his fears, anger and hate and fallen to the dark side the person that he was died. In his place rose Darth Vader, a dark shadow of his former self and a slave to the Dark Lord. In “Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi”, Darth Vader finally realizes who he truly is and finding the love for his son Luke, he turns on his Master, Darth Sidious. The redemption of Anakin was the final end of Darth Vader.

I’ll not leave you now. I’ve got to save you.” – Luke Skywalker

You already have.” – Anakin Skywalker

The Chains of Addiction

The fall of Anakin and the emergence of a twisted and tormented Darth Vader in the same body can be viewed as a metaphor for suffering and the slavery of addiction. How many people have we encountered in our lives who changed so utterly through addiction that they were barely recognizable? Family and friends no longer knew them and they no longer knew themselves.

The effects of drug and alcohol addiction carries an insidious toll on a person’s life and on their psyche. I became morally compromised and spiritually bankrupt through alcoholism though I did not see it at the time. The difference between who I had been and who I became was stark.

By destroying Darth Sidious and saving his son, the chains that had held Anakin in the form of Darth Vader finally came off. He  emerges from the dark place where he had been imprisoned and tortured for decades as a mere slave to fear, anger and hatred. As Anakin lies dying he atones for the past. He forgives and is forgiven and finds redemption at last. Anakin is set free and is reunited with the Force.

Inventory

Realizing the truth of who we are and what we have done through our alcoholism can be painful but it is also liberating. I remember one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had was completing my inventory in Step 4.  Admitting it to my Higher Power and sharing it with another in Step 5 was to finally free myself from the bondage of the past. I saw at last who I had been and the damage I had done to myself and others. There was another way and I could forgive myself and build a new life.

“Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

“Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

After sharing my story I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off. I was ready to change and I wanted to right the wrongs of the past. Filled with hope for the future I looked forward to making amends and claiming a sober life. The clouds parted and at last it felt as if a door had opened and I had passed through to a new dimension a free man.

Amends

Several years ago when I was still drinking I learned that my Father had passed away as a skid row drunk. He had been dry when I had last seen him 25 years earlier but we became estranged and I never spoke to him again. In time he became little more than a rumor. The news was that he moved around a lot and was back “on the sauce”.

Over the years I often wondered what I would say if we met again and whether I could forgive him. There had been anger for years for a miserable childhood. I  blamed my drinking and many of my troubles on him. There were so many faults I so despised in him that I had revealed in myself. Like Luke Skywalker I was in danger of falling to the Dark Side, like his Father and indeed in the end it had me.

When I learned that my Father had died my feelings were mixed. Part of me did not care, another part was sad and the last part was angry I had been robbed of an opportunity to tell him how he had ruined so many lives including my own. My reaction was to simply get drunk in response to the news. I was more like him than I dared admit.

Forgive

When I compiled my list of amends in Step 8 I placed my Father near the top of the list. The predicament of course was that he had died the previous year. I said a prayer and Forgave him and asked for forgiveness in return. With that I blessed his memory and made peace at last with a painful part of my life. Perhaps someday we will meet again on the other side of the veil where these things will no longer matter.

Forgiveness and making amends is one of the most powerful experiences that anyone in recovery can experience. The humility and compassion that we discover during the inventory and disclosure of our faults is further cultivated as we put aside resentment and pride and seek to atone for the past. We also begin to find redemption as Anakin did by seeking forgiveness and by forgiving others. Most of all we find the power to forgive ourselves and move on.

MTFBWY