Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Forgiveness, Guilt, Shame, and Fog

When I was in middle school, a school bus carrying classmates of mine was involved in an accident. The bus was traveling through a rural area outside my hometown when it collided with another vehicle. The accident sent several students to the hospital with a variety of injuries.

This was back in the mid 1970’s. No cell phones were available back then. The road on which the accident took place was not heavily traveled. Thus, on top of injuries, there was a long delay in the accident being reported. Injured students had to just sit and wait for the bus to be found. Once found, more waiting, as emergency vehicles slowly made their way through the foggy countryside to the accident’s scene.

At school, rumors began to circulate about the fate of our fellow students. At first the delay was nothing special, just another foggy morning slowing everything down. In time, word spread that there has been an accident. Though there were in fact no students killed in the accident, rumors had the death toll at somewhere over a dozen students. Thankfully announcements over the school’s intercom quickly squelched those rumors.

The cause of the accident was pretty easily identified. That morning, a thick fog blanketed Northwest Indiana. It was so thick that neither the bus driver nor the driver of the other vehicle could see the road in front of them. The lack of visibility was blamed for the accident.

That morning, our entire community gained a new respect for both fog and the vastness of the countryside serviced by school district busses. Not long after the accident, changes were made to each of the busses serving our schools.

Bright strobe lights, designed to enhance visibility, were mounted atop every bus. Also, two-way radios were installed, making any future incidents easier to report.

Attitudes were also changed. Whereas in the past foggy mornings were simply seen as an inconvenience, they now represented cause for school delays. For a time, a two-hour delay would be announced at even the slightest hint of fog. No room was being left for another fog-related accident.

I don’t see very much fog these days. The Tulsa area is seldom plagued with this meteorological phenomenon. Often, however, I am plagued by a different kind of fog. It’s a fog that creeps into my mind, affecting my perception or memories. Powered by feelings and emotions, this fog is slow to lift.

Some of the fog is likely a defense mechanism of my brain. A seemingly insignificant event will trigger a memory from my days of using drugs. When such memories come rushing back, I can be awestruck. Was that really me? How could I have been there or done that?

At first, such epiphanies seemed like punishments for my past. Just when I thought I had remembered everything from those dark days, something else would be revealed. Another cause for feelings of guilt and shame.

Thankfully, over time my perspective about such revelations has changed. I am grateful that all of these memories didn’t come rushing back at once. The emotions they bring are bad enough when experienced individually. I can only imagine how crippling they would have been if experienced in a single moment.

Time has also given me a different perspective regarding guilt and shame. Through working the steps of Narcotics Anonymous, and by striving to apply spiritual principles to my life, I am becoming a different person. I am no longer the same person who did those things.

Don’t get me wrong. I was there. I did those things. I am guilty. Yet, because of the changes taking place at the core of my being, shame is being replaced by grace. As the fog lifts from my memories, I see the damage done and can own it without the shame that once made using drugs seem so attractive.

Yesterday I had a long conversation with my sponsor. We had gotten together to review my work on the tenth step. He brought up a resentment I have been carrying for a long time. It is a resentment toward my ex-wife. He encouraged me that I must let go of this resentment because of the adverse effect it is having on my recovery. It is holding me back.

In truth, I know that a big part of this resentment is based in shame. I am ashamed of myself for the way I treated her. I am ashamed of the disrespect I showed toward her, and the lack of dignity directed toward her.

Pointing the finger at her, blaming her, holding on to that resentment, has provided me with an easy out. It has helped me avoid confronting the things I did. It has allowed me to live in denial over the part I played in the disintegration of a thirty-year marriage.

Yes, that conversation with my sponsor rolled back the fog of these emotions. Am I guilty of those things I did to harm that relationship? Absolutely. Do I need to feel shame over them? No, not today, not ever again.

If I were not working hard to change the person I am, then shame might be an appropriate response to my past. The fact is, however, that I am changing. By seeking God’s will for my life, and allowing spiritual principles to guide my thoughts and actions, I find forgiveness. I find grace. I find peace.

I will continue to do the work necessary to help lift the fog from the resentment I’ve held so dear. There is much work to be done. Through recovery I have been given so much grace, so many second chances. Forgiveness allows me to live a full and vibrant life, free from the shame of my past. The fog is lifting, and the sun is shining once again. Time to get on with life.

Have a remarkable day!

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