Forgiveness: For Mental Health and Sobriety

Many of the things that I had to learn to overcome addiction were foreign to my nature as an addict.  Chief among these was the ability to forgive.

…and [Jesus] taught them, saying…

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  (Mathew 5:2 and 44)

My first year of sobriety was a strange new adventure.  I had managed to graduate from preteen, to teenager, to young adult, and then to adulthood without ever really facing life’s challenges sober.  I appeared to be a 30 year old man on the outside, but on the inside was an excitable 12 year old, spontaneous and passionate.

I took a job with a local man that owned his own truck.  He hauled explosives and ammunition for the government and he needed a co-driver.  I had to be certified to handle sensitive materials and we were required to be armed.  Al, my new boss, paid for my training and background check and provided for my food and hotels.  Within a few weeks we were on the road.

semi truck at night; forgiveness

I was to be paid a percentage of our contracts.  He showed me his previous year’s settlements and I was looking forward to making a higher than average income driving a truck.

We had not been out on our first run for very long when I started to suspect that Big Al was an alcoholic.  Every hotel that we stayed in had a bar, and it appeared that he knew the location of every strip club on the eastern seaboard.  Being around Al and some of his antics was not a trigger for my delicate sobriety. It was actually the opposite.  His obnoxious behavior seemed to strengthen my resolve to stay sober.

One day, as Al was driving, he reached over to my side of the cab and grabbed the book I was reading right out of my hand.

“Whatcha readin’ there, Hot Shot?” he said.  Al was about 30 years older than me and never called me by my given name.

“It’s the Bible.  Hand it back,” I said.

“Why are ya readin’ that for?” he said, as he reached back across the cab.

“Just am,” I said. “Didn’t think it would be an issue.”

“Well, it’s no issue. I was just wonderin’.”

I had been reading the Bible as part of my journey to sobriety.  I don’t know that I was embarrassed to be reading the Bible, but I wasn’t prepared to make a big deal out of it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“You know, all judges are going to hell,” Al said with his most authoritative voice.

It took a moment to register.  I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly.  “What?”  I said.  “Wait…what?”

“That’s right.  All of ‘em.  District court judges, State Court judges, Supreme Court judges.  All the judges.”

I was staring at Al in disbelief.  He took his eyes from the road for a moment and said, “Judge not!  Lest I judge you!  It’s right there in the Bible.”

“Al, I don’t think it means…”

“In fact,” Al interrupted, “If you go by that book, there’s just about nothing you can do to avoid goin’ to hell.  Tell a lie…go to hell.  Shoplift a box of animal crackers…go to hell.  Have sex…BOOM, go to hell.  We’re all goin’ to hell.  That’s why I say ‘just live like ya want, cause you’re just going to end up in hell.”

Sadly, that was not the dumbest discussion that I ever had with Big Al.  He would argue until my head hurt, so maybe it was not such a bad thing that our relationship was short-lived.

I had worked a full six weeks and the day had finally arrived to get my first paycheck.  We were standing outside Al’s apartment when he handed me the check.  I should have known there was a problem when his wife made an excuse and left.

“Three hundred dollars?!” I said. “Is this a joke?!”Man smoking cigar on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that,” he said, “I had some unexpected expenses; bringing you on cost me some overhead.  I’m sure we’ll do better next month.”

“I don’t care about your expenses!  You said I would be paid ten percent of gross!”

Al just stood there.  “Sorry, but that’s all I got.”

“This ain’t over!”  I said, as I ripped up the check and threw it in the direction of his face.  “I put up with a lot of crap and I worked hard…this ain’t over!”  I turned and walked away, fuming.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was mad enough to kill and sad enough to cry.  Al’s drinking and hanging around clubs had never been a challenge to my sobriety, but suddenly I could feel a battle waging for my very soul.  All I could think of was revenge.

I’ll bet his wife would be interested in knowing about all the money he spends on strippers.

I’ll bet the feds wouldn’t be happy if they knew that Al was flipping his placards and driving high explosives through tunnels and over restricted bridges.

I also thought of vandalizing his truck and his apartment.  Maybe even doing something to his cat.  Stupid cat.

Smug cat on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

I didn’t know how to cope with what had happened.  I parked my car in town and started walking around.  I was rehearsing the event in my head over and over again.  I thought of the money I owed to other people and my bills.  I had promised to give my ex-wife money for our kids.  I cursed myself for throwing that money back in his face; it was money in my hand and I let my emotions rule me.  I had to act, but I didn’t know what I would do.

Hours passed and I resisted the desire to drink or get high.  I made the decision to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  I knew that, if nothing else, I could vent my frustrations and maybe find some relief.  It was a good decision.  I found peace there and was able to see sympathetic faces.  When the meeting ended I felt a little better, but there was still no plan for how I would get satisfaction.

A young man that I knew approached me before I got in my car to leave and he said, “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Slash his tires?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you could probably do that.

Would you be open to a spiritual solution?”

“I’m open to having God smite him, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again.  “It’s an old AA trick.  Every day for the next two weeks I want you to pray for this man that cheated you.  Get down on your knees and literally pray that he has all the blessings that you can think of.  Even if you can’t feel anything, say the words.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I think I liked my solution better,” I said.

“It’s like this, my friend. You are going to hold onto this resentment and it’s going to grow.  It will eat at you like cancer.  That old trucker will be long gone with your money and never give you a second thought. Meanwhile, your hate will affect your very quality of life.  And then one day, do you know what’s going to happen?” he asked.

“What?”

One day you’re going to drink or take drugs to get even with him.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what addicts do.”

I thanked my friend and went home.  In the coming weeks I knelt down twice a day and I prayed for Big Al.  Admittedly, I was not as sincere with my prayers as I should have been, but I did as my friend suggested and just said the words.

God,Praying man on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Please bless Al.  Bless him to win the lottery.  Bless him to get dates with supermodels.  Bless him that his cat lives to a ripe old age.

Amen

After a little time I got better at it.

Dear God,

Please bless Al.  Bless him with good health and a happy marriage.  Bless him that he can make a success of his business.

Amen

I don’t know if I went the full two weeks.  I forgot all about Big Al; that is, until three years later.  I was sitting at an intersection in town waiting for the light to change.  I looked at the car to my right and it was Al!  I immediately blew the horn at him and waved.  When Al saw me, his eyes got big and whoosh!  He ran the red light

Al remembered the money he owed me and fled, but I had peace.  My very first thought, when I saw him was of our talk about religion that day.  I had learned a lot over the past few years and I had answers for his questions; good and positive things to share with him.  The prayer exercise had worked.  The hate had been removed from me and I was well off.

Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘bless our enemies’ may result in softening the hearts of those who hurt us, but that is not a guarantee.  This command is for all of us who wish to live without anger and bitterness. To live in peace.Broken log pieces make peace sign on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Living sober is greater than just abstinence.  Practicing forgiveness relieved me of an agitation and a stress that I had lived with my whole life.  Forsaking resentment took away a portion of power that addiction had over me and has allowed me to have true sobriety.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

 

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