I have the privilege everyday to work with addicts and alcoholics. Most recently I am working on Celebrity Rehab 4 with Dr. Drew on VH1. This is my third season, and every year is uniquely different. One thing, however, I do notice with my clients is the lack of compassion they have for themselves. Often my clients, both in and out of rehab, are filled with shame; and this is what hinders them from forgiving themselves at times.
Anyone who is in recovery can look back on times in their life when others have deeply hurt them, and when they have deeply hurt others. But we cannot let those wounds fester forever, because they will cripple us. Learning to live in forgiveness and compassion are important and interrelated parts of the recovery process.
You need to begin appreciating the gifts of sobriety even if you’re still finding your way to your sober life, because embracing what is positive brings more positive change to you. But to appreciate what your life is offering you, you must first learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes and forgive others who have caused you pain. And to forgive, you must have compassion–for yourself and for others.
So you can’t have appreciation without forgiveness, and you can’t have forgiveness without compassion. But compassion is not always easy. And sometimes it runs right up against our notion of justice. How can we have compassion for those who have hurt us so deeply? How can we expect others to have compassion for us when we have hurt them? And how can we have compassion for ourselves when we have screwed up so badly?
Rabbi Jackie Tabick has an interesting take on that subject. She’s the first woman in Britain to be ordained as a rabbi, and you can watch her talk about what Judaism says about balancing compassion and justice here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jackie_tabick.html. She makes the point that if all we had in the world was compassion, we’d also have chaos; justice is what creates the boundaries that give us a sense of right and wrong. But a world with only justice and no compassion is a world without God. The problem is that justice is easy for us humans to dish out, but compassion is hard.
Rabbi Tabick said something in her talk that I think can make it easier for all of us to find compassion within us. She said, “This idea of compassion comes to us because we’re made in the image of God, who is, ultimately, the compassionate one. What does this compassion entail? It entails understanding the pain of the other. But even more than that, it means understanding one’s connection to the whole of creation. . . . I call that unity God. And that unity is something that connects all of creation.”
So the compassion we put out into the world comes back to us, because we are all connected. Our profound compassion for others is what leads others to forgive us. Ultimately, compassion for others is what enables us to forgive ourselves.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach specializing in addictions. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and Psychotherapist on Celebrity Rehab. Sherry has a simple program of seven action steps that will transform anyone in recovery. By shifting focus from addiction (whatever the addiction is) to doable behaviors that align with sobriety, anyone can enjoy a purposeful and meaningful new life.