Forgiveness, A Gift that Sets the Giver Free
This week, we're talking about forgiveness (yikes!). Of all the things we have to deal with when it comes to a loved one battling an addiction, forgiveness is one of the most, if not the most, important in maintaining our sanity (or possibly, finding it again!).
As author Judy Tomczak will discuss below, a parent sees the whole story of their child's addiction. They know the family history and their child's quirks and weaknesses. Forgiveness is easier when we see the whole picture. What a parent doesn't have, at least not all the time, is the whole story from the mouth of their child. Even the most open and honest child will usually have something they just won't say to their parents. A spouse crosses that bridge with intimacy, that can only come from marriage. We may not know our loved one's past but we know them in their present. Sadly, spouses and parents rarely see to eye to eye about their loved one's addiction and how it should be handled.
In my own relationship, my mother-in-law has referred to me as "Satan", amongst other things. There was no way we were going to "work together" for the good of my husband. As a result, forgiving her has not been as easy as forgiving my husband. I love him. I know him. His mother, well, there are some people we have to choose to forgive every day until we feel it. [Do you need help with this? Click here to open this post in a new window: "Experts Weigh in with Practical Advice on Forgiveness"].
Below, Judy shares her own forgiveness journey surrounding her daughter's addiction with many lessons for us to be learned! Whether you're a spouse, child, sister, mother- I know you'll be able to relate. If you have been holding onto anger and resentment, looking for something or someone to blame for all of what you're going through, try on forgiveness this week. If it doesn't feel good, you can always go back to being angry!
Enjoy this awesome post from Judy. Be sure to leave her an encouraging comment and say, "Hello!".
There she sat next to me in the pew. This time her recovery included a commitment to go back to church. I fought hard to no avail to keep the tears from flowing down my cheeks. My emotions were running high as she sat there as tangible proof of an answer to so many prayers. I didn't know then, that it wasn't going to last but I remember so vividly what God showed me that day.
For a moment I got a glimpse into how God must feel when a lost one comes home. My child sitting next to me had hurt me in so many ways. Words said, she can never take back, actions that cut deeper than anything I had ever experienced and yet none of it mattered to me in that moment. I was overjoyed she was home.
I will be real with you. There were many times when I was very angry with her, deeply disappointed in her and frustrated beyond words. There were times I walked away to catch my breath. I took verbal beatings I thought I would never recover from and yet I kept taking her back into my heart. The simple answer is, she's my child and I know her story. I know the journey she has been on and what is behind the behaviour. Is this how God looks at us? Does He see beyond the behaviour and the reasons for the behaviour? Is that where His focus is? On the hurt, He so desperately wants to heal? He knows our story.
Forgiving her was the easy part because I knew her pain but I also knew her potential. The list of those I needed to forgive didn't stop with her, I needed to blame someone for this. There needed to be a reason. I needed to know the "why".
I began by forgiving myself for the mistakes I made as a mom and the mistakes I made in this journey. Nothing in my own life had prepared me how to deal with addiction. I learned, what works for one doesn't work for all. When my kids were young and I carried the weight of the household all on my own and there were times I lacked patience. Times I yelled when a calmer voice would have been more effective. There were signs that I had missed. Opportunities I should have taken. I made mistakes. Which is why forgiveness needed to begin with me.
Then, there was her father. I realized early on my daughter struggled much the same way her own father had. Through no fault of her own, she had inherited some of his struggles. I had walked through forgiveness with him many years before her addiction but the blame surfaced again as I thought about the things he had done to contribute to what she was going through.
During a fight to get her help I had to spend an entire day with my ex-husband. Together, we tried to force our daughter into treatment. It wasn't working but we had to keep trying. We were in the same room, in the same car, for a whole day. Working together, peacefully, and lovingly to save our child. At some point in the day, I jokingly made the remark, "Maybe I drive people to this, look at you and now her". He spoke words I'd never heard from him before and it brought healing to me. I don't remember his exact words but they went something like this, "There were problems with me long before I ever met you". He lifted the guilt from me and took ownership for the first time. He and I had long since gone our separate ways and started new lives but those words made it easier for me to forgive his part in all of this.
When our marriage ended there was forgiveness, yes, but the trust was never rebuilt. At the time, He wasn't ready back then to do the work required. Many marriages don't survive the broken trust that occurs during the battle of addiction but there are those that do. I have met some of those people. [Leah here, like me! Click here to read my story about why I stayed]
From there, I moved on to forgiving "the system". It let us down so many times. It is far too easy to get prescription narcotics- this needs to change. A 48-hour hold needs to be 48 hours. I was angry, frustrated beyond words, I wrote letters and made phone calls. I could have stayed stuck here, and did for a while, but I came to the realization that my daughter played the system. My anger towards the system was justified but futile to my well-being in all of this. I had to let it go.
Then there was my family. To say that addiction has the power to divide a family is an understatement. My family is an awesome family. We are not perfect but I am so very proud to be a part of it. Blessed as we were, our family was not immune to this. All of us meaning well and coming from a place of love but all had a different point of view. We are stubborn and of strong opinion, becoming divided over this. A recent heated discussion at work about the US election reminded me of some of my families' debates on addiction. It has the power to divide and we must choose to disagree agreeably and respectfully.
For almost 2 years I didn't speak to my sister or her family. We missed milestones in each of our lives. My sister didn't speak to my mother during that time as well until one day, we decided to meet in the middle by agreeing to disagree. We needed to accept we were all in a different place in the process of letting go and it was important to respect each other's position. We decided to not allow addiction to have the power to divide our family. We changed our focus and topics of conversation. Healing began to creep into our relationships and we got our family back.
Just when I was getting to the place of really letting go, another family member picked up where I left off, which is usually the case. In my situation, it was my mother whom I have always enjoyed a very close relationship with. I began to see her as an enabler and someone who was keeping the addiction alive and thus she became the enemy. Before I allowed the anger and frustration to take complete root I made the decision to allow her to be where she was on her journey to letting go and not allow addiction to rob me of my relationship with her.
Here's where this Pentecostal preacher's daughter gets very real. Forgiving the one she chose to live her life with was where I struggled the most. I blamed him above anyone else. If she could only get away from him, she could get better. If only he would disappear somehow from her life... and so I began to pray. Nothing was off the table in my prayers. Death, sickness, jail, anything- to get him out of her life.
She left him so many times but she returned over and over. Each time I had hope she would get better without his influence and each time, devastated, when she returned to him. She sat on my couch one night and said to me, "Mom if I return this time, I won't make it." She went back the next day and we almost lost her. I hated him. I had never known a hate like this before. It consumed me. I got to the point where I couldn't even mention his name without a swear word in front or at the end of it. I have never been one to curse. I knew I had to let this go too. The hate was spreading like poison throughout my being, changing me into someone I didn't like.
I began to pray for him differently as though he too, was my own child. My other prayers were not working. God loves him too. In a way he is family and so I included him in my prayers the same way I pray for my own children. I prayed for the softening of his heart and his own healing.
I too was not his favourite person. I had spoken my mind to him and at him on occasion. That had not worked either. As I prayed for his heart to soften, it was my heart that began to change. It is very difficult to hate someone you pray for every day.
The reality is that there will always be that friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or negative influence that we think that if they can just get away from, they could get better. Unless and until they get healthy, there will always be another influence to bring them down. It is their choice and their responsibility. We will never be able to build a wall around them. There were problems long before he existed in her life. He had his part in the struggle but he wasn't to blame for it.
As I found my way to a place of forgiveness with him, I began to feel free. Not doing this would have destroyed me. I began to see the good things about him and how committed he is to her. Many would have walked away but he did not. Still with her today, they are stronger, better and healthier. Though we are still miles apart in our beliefs and value system, I now see him as part of my family. He has become another one of my children I pray for with compassion. I don't have to see eye to eye with my children to love them and he is no different.
Blame doesn't solve any of this. Knowing the answers doesn't change the reality of addiction. Like spinning our wheels in the mud when we are stuck (and stuck we will stay) if we don't choose to forgive. Forgiveness is the gift that sets the giver free. It is often not asked for, nor deserved but its the giver that receives the greatest gift...freedom.
I see all of these people today through God's eyes. Not one is perfect but all deeply and profoundly loved by our God, who sees far beyond the struggle and the reasons behind it. I believe that's where His focus is. He loves my family as much as He loves me. He knows our story and knows what He can do with it all.
He is greater than our greatest challenge. He is greater than our greatest failures. He forgives all things.
And so, shall I.
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends..."
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline or in Canada, call 1-800-565-8603 or visit Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) for your local helpline.
Judy Tomczak is the author of "When the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Another Train". Judy is the youngest daughter of Rev. Lorne Shepherd, founder of the Heart to Heart Family Ministries. Life was relatively calm until her adult years but nothing challenged her faith and well-being more than watching her daughter fight the battle of addiction. Judy has committed herself to being a conversation starter and storyteller to do her small part in lifting the veil of guilt and shame that often surrounds mental illness and addiction. Knowing you are not alone is often the first step in seeking help.