Written by: Leah Roberts

Overcoming Triggers And Traumatic Pasts

One monumental step you can in your recovery, is learning to connect with yourself. And one way to connect with yourself is by learning to be self compassionate and self-forgiving. 
Often times, we turn back to a substance, because we aren’t happy, or we feel guilty, or worthless. Perhaps we’re afraid, traumatized, or angry. The point is that we can’t escape these poisonous feelings. We can’t escape particular memories that engulf us with these poisonous emotions that are too heavy to carry. We start to feel like we can’t bare to be present in our lives…
We can’t move forward from this trigger of our past. The guilt, shame, fear, worthlessness, anger… it’s all too overwhelming.. We can’t forget the pain involved with this memory, nor can we escape it. 
But perhaps part of the reason for why this past keeps coming back to haunt you, is because you haven’t truly forgiven yourself. Maybe you are not showing yourself compassion; perhaps you are shaming yourself or somehow blaming yourself for the events that transpired back then. You’re not truly forgiving yourself, or maybe you aren’t forgiving what happened in the past, in your heart. 
We’ve already discussed the process of using self-compassion to overcome triggers, discussed in Part 1 of this series (click HERE to read Part 1), so not let’s talk about the process of self-forgiveness, and the vitality it has for your recovery.

The Process of Forgiveness

Self-Compassion and Self-Forgiveness go hand in hand. Self-forgiveness is the next step to this process. Once you begin thinking of that specific, poisonous memory, and are able to recognize and show compassion for the feelings that accompany it, your next step is to forgive.

Again, every person deals with their own past, their own situation, and their own circumstance.Therefore the process of forgiveness will be different for everyone, and for every different situation. There will be two types of forgiveness in this process: self-forgiveness and forgiving someone or something else.


This process of Forgiveness for you, and your specific situation, may include forgiving yourself. Perhaps you require self-forgiveness for a bad decision that you may have made in your specific traumatic memory. Maybe it’s that you need to forgive yourself for a mistake you had made, or any regrets you may have had.

This type of forgiveness fully involves yourself, and no one else. These are situations in which you wish that you could have done something differently, and can’t. These are traumatic memories in which you are terrorized with feeling of guilt, or shame, or worthlessness. Maybe you hurt and lost someone, maybe you did something bad, or you made the wrong decision.

Regardless of the situation, there is only one solution. Forgiveness. The process, of course, begins with making amends to the those who were affected by this poor decision of the past. You cannot truly forgive yourself, until you have whole-heartedly apologized for what you may have done to someone else.

Until you feel true sorrow and regret, for what you have done, forgiving yourself fully and honestly is not possible. If you are afraid, or embarrassed, or too prideful to ask this person for forgiveness, you are not truly accepting change. The process of voicing this mistake, and requesting forgiveness, is perhaps the most important step forward you can ever make in your recovery.

Before asking forgiveness from those who may have been hurt by your decisions, you must first feel self-compassion. This is done by telling yourself, “Yes you made a mistake. But it’s in the past now. It’s time to let go.” Truly connect with yourself, and feel the honesty of the emotion that is accompanied with that memory.

Ask yourself: Do I want the pain from this memory to really go away, for good? Do I wish it never happened? Do I wish I could take it back?

If your answers to all of the above was yes, than you already have it inside of you to forgive yourself. Make a mental, or verbal declaration, that you have forgiven yourself for what happened. And then, truly and honestly, forgive yourself, in your heart. You have wholly, and truly, come to peace with the past, and accepted that you cannot change what happened. You can finally let go of the poisonous feelings that were plaguing you.

Forgiving Others

Perhaps your situation is different than the above. Maybe this memory for you, does not include a mistake or decision you made, but rather, a situation you were you apart of. Maybe it was a traumatic event, in which something terrible happened to you, or someone you loved. Maybe you saw something you never wanted to see. Maybe it was a situation you forced into.

It’s Not Your Fault

It is important to realize that forgiveness and compassion is almost more important in this type of scenario. However, at the same time, we find that more often than not we end up blaming ourselves somehow for these traumatic experiences. We blame ourselves by claiming that we could’ve done something differently, we could have “tried harder”, or that we “put ourselves in that situation”.

We’re going to stop you right there. Those thoughts, are 50% of the traumatic poison that envelops your mind. By constantly blaming yourself for a situation in the past, that you had no control over, creates this sort of cancer in our minds. It deepens and strengthens our feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame. It prevents us from showing compassion to ourselves, for a truly terrible situation.

Self-forgiveness is 100% necessary if you find that you do often blame yourself for a past situation that may have been out of your control. Combined with self-compassion, you need to mentally and verbally comfort yourself by saying:

“It’s okay to feel afraid. What happened to you back then was traumatic and you are allowed to feel this way. But it is not your fault, and you have to stop blaming yourself.”

“It is not your fault. What happened to you was not your fault.”

“It’s okay to feel afraid. It’s okay to feel scarred from this experience. But remember that it was not your fault.”

You have to be your own alert- your own annoying alarm clock, that you were a victim of circumstance. That the past is the past- you can’t do anything differently now, but all you can do is forgive yourself.

Forgiveness In Your Heart

Once you have fully shown yourself compassion, and forgiven yourself wholly, the process of forgiving the situation, or the person who hurt you, is necessary to successfully overcome your trigger. This is done solely within your heart- you are certainly not expected to physically forgive the person. But you do have the ability to accept what happened, and chose how you will let it affect you, from this point on.

This is when you can forgive the situation in your heart, accepting that it is all in the past, and that you can no longer change what happened.

Forgiveness Of The Situation

Understand that we are proposing the forgiveness of the situation, in your heart. You are not physically forgiving the person, nor are you forgiving the person in your heart. NO. You are accepting that the situation happened at all, and you are making peace- with the situation. This is simply situational forgiveness my friend. And perhaps you have already made peace with the situation- or perhaps you haven’t.

If you’ve truly made peace with the situation in your heart, ask yourself these questions:

When you talk about the memory out loud, what do you feel? Not about the person, but the of the situation. Do you feel angry that it happened? Or do you feel complacent?

When you talk openly about the memory do you think, “Yeah it happened, but it’s in the past.” “The situation was hard, and terrible, but it happened, and it’s done.” “Yeah it happened, and it was hard, but I’m a better person for it”

Do you talk casually about what happened? If so, what do you feel when you voice the memory? Do you feel a sharpness inside of you- an anger, or a fear, or an ache of pain and sadness? Does it sting your eyes when you talk about it?

Or are you nonchalant about the topic? Maybe you hardly feel anything when you voice the memory, but you get angry talking about that specific person in the memory? Or maybe you feel a slight sadness that the situation happened, but you know you’ve already accepted it?

Forgiveness Of The Person

We understand- it’s easier said than done.

These feelings we’ve cultivated over long periods of time towards the people in these memories, filled to the top, and poured over the sides. You may be angry- angry at that person who hurt you, angry at what happened to you, or angry that you were in that situation “in the first place”. Maybe it’s not anger, maybe it’s anxiety. Or perhaps the memory has tainted certain activities, or places, that you will forever associate with that poisonous memory, rather than a person.

These feelings that surface when we think of forgiving these people, are understandably strong. The feelings absolutely overpower us. Even just the thought of forgiving them internally, sparks a fire so hot in your heart that the thought is simply unfathomable. You think, “I will never forgive that person”, or “I can never set foot in a place like that again.” We understand this.

No matter how long the process might take, whether you find it in your heart to forgive and make peace right now, next month, or 20 years from now- someway, somehow, even if you didn’t even realize it happened, you will make peace with it one day. You have to believe that.

But it is the process of moving past it right now that is so vital- to not let the memory and emotions drown you, and bear you down. Even if you can’t imagine forgiving them, even just in your heart right now, can you make peace with it for the moment?

Ask yourself: Will the memory continue to ravage me? Will the memory continue to spark these harsh feelings in me? Most importantly, will the memory affect my recovery? Can I live with the pain of the memory, without the safety net of a substance to relieve the pain?


To be continued….


To read Part 1 of this series- Click HERE

Learn more about our programs by clicking HERE.

Connection, Self-Compassion, and Self-Forgiveness in Addiction Recovery Part 2
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