Sunday, May 26, 2013


One of my favorite sections of Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud is the chapter on a major stressor for Alcoholics: Forgiveness. Not one of us expects a shrine built on our behalf just because we quit drinking. Some people, however, are hell-bent on never letting us move on.
A healthy recovery is going to rely upon you forgiving other people, too. We Alcoholics really suck at this. We grip resentments like a chubby trick-or-treater grips a bag full of Snickers. We have to—have to—knock that off and forgive, even the people who are downright hostile toward us.
You will be able to initiate the process with someone by whom you feel hurt in about two-thirds of the situations. Most of your injurers are not going to come knocking on your door seeking a clean slate for judging you, and the other third are likely to have slammed the door on you and moved on from your drama. Remember the “full” line you passed.
Forgiveness isn’t a pardon, releasing a person from accountability for the injury they caused. Pardon, a la President Ford pardoning Nixon, assumes one person has authority over another. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting either. Author Beverly Flannigan (Forgiving the Unforgiveable, Macmillan Publishing, New York 1992) says you have to remember to forgive someone. “To forgive, one must remember the past, put it into perspective and move beyond it. Without remembrance, no wound can be transcended.”
To transcend or close wounds with the two thirds who haven’t slammed the door to you, forgiveness is a transaction. The Transactional Model follows a sequence described in 1953 by J.A. Martin (“A Realistic Theory of Forgiveness,” in The Return to Reason, Henry Regnery Press, Chicago).

A) Injured accused injurer
B) Injurer admits it
C) Injured gives reasons he feels violated
D) Injurer admits he was wrong
E) Injured punishes
F) Injurer takes it
G) Injured seeks assurance it won’t happen again
H) Injurer promises
I) Injured accepts the promise and requires nothing further
J) Injurer trusts forgiveness is permanent
That’s pretty civilized, optimistic and tidy. And it works. You’ve probably practiced the model without the extensive analysis since you played in a sandbox. But the model is hardly realistic when you encounter the kind of bitterness and stigma Alcoholics face. The emotional sensitivity Alcoholics have in common doesn’t help, and creates an imbalance in the model because the belief systems of injurer and injured are out of whack. Steps C and D can become a snarl when one side doesn’t accept the difference between drinking problems and problem drinkers. If the bitterness persists, you may have to walk away with the satisfaction that you tried: You attempted the transaction.
There’s hope still, even when the Transactional Model fails or is inappropriate because someone slammed the door on you and is long gone, unable to participate in the transaction. They’re gone believing they have been injured. Without the opportunity to confront the injurer, you’re pretty much left to repair the damage and wipe the slate clean by yourself.