By Quinn Nystrom

Knowing that September is National Recovery Month, I’ve found myself doing more research and reading lately on the steps needed to navigate the sometimes slippery slope of eating disorder recovery.

Just to recap—National Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental health, eating and substance use disorders, while also honoring people in recovery. This national observation during the ninth month of every year applauds the contributions of treatment and service providers and promotes the message that recovery in all its forms is possible. Recovery Month also works to spread the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that treatment for all types of recovery is effective, and people can and do recover.

As I peruse down the online lists of the Do’s and Don’ts for active recovery, one specific key point keeps leaping out at me; forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a two-way street, and it can mean forgiving others along with forgiving ourselves. Both are hard. Both take time. Both take hard work. However, making amends is one of many steps needed to truly let go of an old story to write a new (and better) one.

Forgiving ourselves is so vital when it comes to accepting our past and recognizing that no one is perfect (including ourselves!). There is no room in a healthy recovery journey for beating ourselves up emotionally over the things we did and said in the past. I’m not saying we should act like an ostrich and stick our heads in the sand (do ostriches do that, anyway?) and pretend bad things didn’t happen.

Forgiving ourselves is about acknowledging that difficult things did happen in our past, we are mindfully choosing not to let those memories bog down our future. Allowing ourselves the time and space to acknowledge, grieve, and shed the guilt about what happened weeks, months, years, decades ago is healthy, needed, and necessary for making amends with ourselves.

Forgiveness towards other people in our lives can be a little trickier. Many people get hung up on forgiving others because, in their minds, they feel they are condoning the wrongful behavior, the emotional pain, and even the betrayal that they experienced. However, in reality, forgiving others doesn’t mean the wrongdoer doesn’t have to face the consequences of their actions.

It doesn’t mean we have to allow the hurtful person back into our life.

It doesn’t mean that those who have hurt us are “let off the hook” for what transpired.

Forgiveness lets us “off the hook” from letting those memories and experiences define who we are.

I read somewhere once that to hold a grudge and not forgive someone was like stomping on our foot, but expecting the other person to feel the pain. Operating from a place of forgiveness sets us free from carrying other people’s emotional junk around with us like extra luggage.

If an old story has a grip on you, it’s time to drop it. You deserve to live a beautiful life filled with new stories that bring you joy. Like many things in the recovery process, what we do, and how we think about ourselves and others is a choice. We can choose to “stick to the ick,” or we can choose to operate from a place of forgiveness. The latter is harder, but oh-so-worth it.

So National Recovery Month is about celebrating the achievements of your recovery and your recovery community. It’s a month for us to all share our real-life experiences that demonstrate the power of recovery from mental and substance use disorders.

But this year, let’s also celebrate a collective move to operating from a place of forgiveness and letting all of the old, damaging resentments go. You will be surprised and amazed at how freeing forgiveness is.