My journey to recovery began with forgiving my dad. After he passed away in April 2020, I knew there was still bitterness and resentment in my heart toward him and I wanted to be free from it. The forgiveness process was painfully beautiful, and it showed me how safe and freeing it is to feel deep sorrow and anger with God in prayer as well as to share that journey with another human being (in this case, my spiritual director).
To begin my journey of forgiveness, I turned to the book The Forgiving Life by Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Enright. His insights helped me see that forgiveness can be a step-by-step process with a beginning and an end. In fact, Dr. Enright has developed this pathway into a widely accepted and studied therapy through which countless people have found peace, joy, and even health benefits.
Dr. Enright calls his steps “guideposts” and has the forgiver go through them thoroughly for each incident requiring forgiveness. Guideposts one through eight make up the “uncovering phase.” This is where I looked closely at my own woundedness. It helped me develop an accurate picture of what happened, how it impacted me as a child, and how it continues to affect me as an adult.
Guideposts nine through 11 make up the “decision phase.” This involved looking at what I was doing that hadn’t worked, becoming willing to forgive, and making a decision to refrain from negative or vengeful thoughts, words, or actions toward my dad.
Guideposts 12 through 15 make up the “work phase.” This is where I worked toward understanding my dad, developed compassion for him, and accepted and offered up the pain that he caused me.
The last phase is the most beautiful and freeing one of all, and it is called the “discovery phase.” This is where I began to find meaning in what I suffered and acknowledge my own need for forgiveness.
I chose five incidents that I wanted to forgive my dad for and used Dr. Enright’s worksheets to write about each one. Then during my daily hour of meditation, I brought each incident to the Lord and our Blessed Mother. I cried, grieved, and even re-lived some of the events in my mind and heart. Then I wrote about all that came up in my journal and shared it with my spiritual director at our meetings.
At one point during the process, I contacted Dr. Enright and we corresponded over email. I asked him if he had any writings about bringing the forgiveness process to prayer and he sent me a beautiful paper he wrote for a theology symposium in Maynooth, Ireland. I was so thankful to be able to have the following suggestion when I attend Mass to help me forgive my father.
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Enright’s paper “Becoming Eucharist for One Another through Forgiving”:
“When at Mass, particularly when the priest begins the consecration, place your woundedness, received from one particular person for one particular injustice against you, on the altar with Jesus. Abide in the love that you share with Him. You both share being wounded by people’s injustices. As He is broken for you and for the one who hurt you, allow yourself to be broken with Jesus for this person. As you go up to receive Holy Communion, pray for this person. As you take in the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, broken for us all, unite your wounds, your suffering, with the crucified Christ for this specific intention: that the one who hurt you is saved by Jesus. When you return to your seat, meditate on the fact that Jesus is now inside of you and that you are now united in love with Jesus. From this position of love, meditate on the fact that both Jesus’ wounds and your wounds are efficacious in helping this person.”
When the journey of forgiving my dad was over I felt a freedom I hadn’t known my entire life. Yet at the same time, I felt very raw and vulnerable. I was no longer terrified of strong negative emotions but I didn’t quite know how to explore them. Through a simple invitation, I entered the recovery community for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA). To my surprise, I have discovered a path to emotional and spiritual well-being that I never dreamed possible and I haven’t even begun the Twelve Steps!
I now find myself on a new forgiveness journey with another significant person in my life, my husband. All I know is that as God leads me down this recovery path, He continues to provide the people and processes for whatever I am going through at the time. In this case, a friend from Catholic in Recovery suggested a 12-step program that might help for my particular situation with my husband. From the very first meeting, I found a community of people who have a similar story to mine and a path toward healing through the Twelve Steps that offers great hope and the promise of serenity.
I know from the experience of forgiving my dad that this new forgiveness journey will be painful. But as my ACA daily reader reminds me, “I am no longer satisfied with temporary solutions to life’s problems.”
Resentment and unforgiveness are poisons that lead to addiction and all kinds of other negative behaviors for me. They also keep me from my ultimate goal of union with God. I was able to forgive my dad through Dr. Enright’s process. Now I am hoping to let go of the anger and resentment I have toward my husband and become emotionally whole. I believe the Twelve Steps are the pathway God will have me take to do this along with Dr. Enright’s insights. Ultimately, God is abundantly gracious in the many ways He provides to us for healing our wounded souls.
Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.