If you’ve ever had to forgive someone who’s wronged you, then you know it can be difficult to do in earnest. Forgiveness asks us to find genuine compassion for the person who has hurt us, accept that they are human and imperfect, and find a way to move on. 

While forgiveness might not be appropriate in all situations (for instance, women can be empowered when given permission to not forgive their abusers), it can save us from holding onto lifelong grudges and resentments that can stunt our personal growth. And just because you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean you need to keep them in your life.

But what happens when you’re the one who has done the hurting? It can be easy to believe that you’re entitled to forgiveness and, subsequently, reconciliation. But as much as it may sting, even if the person you hurt forgives you, reconciliation is not always guaranteed. This is a lesson that I had to learn the hard way once I decided to get sober and face my turbulent past. 

Getting sober is only the beginning.

When I first got sober about two years ago, I was fairly surprised when the friends and family members who I’d burned along the way didn’t instantly welcome me back into their loving arms. Some of them needed time and space for me to show them that I was committed to sobriety and not stepping all over their boundaries (which had been my M.O). I wasn’t necessarily entitled to forgiveness or guaranteed the reconciliation I’d been hoping for.

This was frustrating because, as soon as I quit drinking, I wanted to be praised and validated for my “good behavior.” How could they not forgive me? Didn’t they realize I’d changed? Of course, at that point, I had no genuine intention of looking into my own toxic behaviors or fully digesting the scale of the harm I caused. In my eyes, I’d gotten sober. Surely that should be enough to absolve me of my past behavior and earn back the trust that I longed for. 

This illusion quickly dissolved. I had to learn that putting down the booze was only the beginning, and I had to dive deep and get soul sober, too. 

Taking an active role in your recovery.

I needed to be honest with myself about the hurt I’d crossed throughout my life. The list was long: I’d cheated on most of my partners, fuelled gossip as a way to bond with chosen people, manipulated situations for my own benefit, and lied compulsively to the people closest to me — just because I felt I could.

It’s no wonder, then, that I couldn’t just saunter through old doors and find forgiveness on a silver platter. 

I had to take responsibility for the decisions I’d made and the actions I’d taken before I got sober. I had to understand that I’d been doing smooth leaps and pirouettes over people’s boundaries, with no actual remorse for my actions — and now I was stewing in the consequences. 

I had to take responsibility for the decisions I’d made and the actions I’d taken before I got sober. 

To find the reconciliation I sought, I had to acquire tools and self-awareness to make sincere amends. Without simply blaming alcohol, I had to get specific about what I was apologizing for, instead of just mumbling an insincere “sorry” and expecting everyone to move on. 

To be clear, this wasn’t about groveling for forgiveness or beating myself up for the regrettable things I’d done while drinking; that part of my life was over. This was about taking an active role in my recovery. Recognizing and processing what I did to hurt myself and others, so that we could all truly heal. 

Setting expectations around reconciliation.

As it goes, some relationships could not be repaired — and I’ve learned more about myself from the connections that couldn’t be salvaged. I now know and value the importance of asking for forgiveness without the expectation of a complete do-over and high-five to seal the deal. I now know that reconciliation may sometimes follow forgiveness, but it’s absolutely possible to forgive without continuing a relationship. 

I also know that, sometimes, you might not receive forgiveness at all.

If you find yourself at a point in your life where you’re ready to make amends, have a clear intention when you start reaching out. Understand that the outcome you’re hoping for might not match what’ll actually happen. And that’s okay. 

This was about taking an active role in my recovery. Recognizing and processing what I did to hurt myself and others, so that we could all truly heal. 

Make sure you’re clear on what past actions and hurt you’re taking responsibility for so that your defensive ego doesn’t swoop in and undo your bravery and hard work. Make amends because you truly want to right your wrongs. But try not to be discouraged by those who’d still prefer to keep their distance. As long as you know that you’re not that same person anymore, that’s what truly matters.

Also, never look at other people protecting their space as rejection. Allow their decision to bring more clarity to your journey and allow that experience in your life to move you away from the person you no longer want to be. Healing on both sides happens when the time is absolutely right, forced rekindling won’t patch up the damage done. In order for forgiveness and reconciliation to take place, it has to be real.

Experiencing this first hand has taught me that the internal work never stops. 

I’ve realized the importance of taking responsibility for my role in the demise of past relationships. Holding myself accountable has also made way for me to begin the journey of forgiving myself. Only then am I able to let go of old resentments and gain a healthier perspective. Forgiving myself first has allowed me to place focus on nurturing the friendships that I still have in my life. For me, this once again re-affirms the idea that what we are looking for, is already within us.