One thing that my morning ritual of writing has done for me is to remind me of how long and full my life has already been. I was thinking about today’s topic of Forgiveness, and an experience from over thirty years ago came to mind. That experience was my first experience ever with a ropes course.
A ropes course consists of a series of challenges that are designed to build teamwork and boost confidence. These challenges all take place several feet in the air. Though participants wear harnesses and fall restraints, the challenge of completing a ropes course, and the perceived risk of falling are very real.
My first such experience was at a camp for teenagers in Colorado. I had volunteered to act as a counselor for the week, and was responsible for seven teenage boys. Together we completed a host of outdoor challenges on the ropes course.
At the end of the course was a zip line. The zip line ended on a platform some twenty feet up in the air. Getting down from that platform would be the final and most difficult challenge.
A large metal ring was placed just out of reach. The instructor on the course walked us through the solution to this challenge. We needed to stand on the very edge of the platform with our arms reaching for the sky, and simply fall forward.
The idea of this exercise was to let go. It was to trust that by letting go, by falling forward, successful completion of the course would be in our hands, quite literally. That metal ring was the prize, and it could only be attained by letting go.
One by one we did it. Each of us stood at the edge of the platform, and with the guidance of our instructor, and each other’s encouragement, we let go. We fell face first toward the ring. We each grabbed the prize.
After grabbing the ring, we got to hold on for a moment. Just long enough to celebrate. Then, the ground crew would take up the slack in the belay lines that were protecting us from falling. Pretty soon that feeling of being on the edge of falling went away as they lifted us slightly before lowering us to the ground.
As we walked back to camp, our group was enthusiastically reflecting on our most recent experience. Each and every one of us agreed, that final challenge of letting go had been both the most difficult and the most rewarding.
Letting go is hard.
Practicing forgiveness requires a lot of letting go. As a recovering drug addict, there is one person in my life who needs forgiveness more than any other. That person is me.
Unlike many recovering addicts I know, I cannot point to any traumatic event or series of events in my life that led me to use drugs. No violence. No abuse. No history of addiction. Nothing.
At times I’ve wished there was something I could blame for my addiction. Some significant event that I could point to as the reason for my disease. Something that would help me and the people in my life understand what happened.
The level of frustration I have experienced as the result of not having some thing to blame for my addiction reached a boiling point as I worked step nine. The ninth step is the one that involves making direct amends to those we harmed in active addiction.
After working the step together with my sponsor, his advice was simple but direct. The first person to whom I needed to make amends was me. I needed to let go of the whys of my addiction. I needed to ask myself for forgiveness for all I had done. Then, I had to forgive myself.
The process of forgiving myself was like standing on that platform all those years ago. There was a prize in plain sight, but it seemed just barely out of reach. I didn’t know that I would be able to reach it, but I had to try. I had to let go and try.
Catching the ring of forgiveness has brought relief. Letting go of all the lost hurts caused by my addiction has made my life better than I could have imagined. As I hold on to forgiveness, I begin to feel a sense of security that eluded me for ages. I hold on to forgiveness, and let go of the past.
Like the tightening belay line on the ropes course, forgiveness reminded me that I was safe and secure in my recovery. Fear was replaced by trust. I let go of my past, and was safely lowered to the ground.
Forgiving myself has allowed me to enjoy the benefits of recovery. My shaky attempts to hold onto the past have been replaced by a firm grip on my present. I am able to appreciate all that I have, and see the future with optimism rather than fear.
That ring seemed out of reach. However, the fact was that by letting go and falling forward, it was within reach of even the shortest of campers. Likewise, recovery is available to us all. An addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.
Have a remarkable day!