Letting Bygones Be Bygones

By Gabrielle Bernstein 09/15/11
When she was newly sober, Gabrielle Bernstein thought she needed to let go of resentment toward other people. In this excerpt from her new book, she explains who she really needed to let off the hook: herself.
Easier said—or written—than done Photo via

Ninety days into my sobriety I could see more clearly. Three months of detox, sleep, coffee and recovery meetings really did me good. One day at a time, I stayed clean and rebuilt my life. I was showing up for myself big-time.

My recovery program emphasized forgiveness. There is a collective understanding within the sober community that serenity is a must-have and forgiveness is non-negotiable. The core belief system is based on surrender and detachment from our old ways of being. This group and these principles offered up a powerful bridge back to life.

One of their primary suggestions was to get on my knees and pray. I had no idea who or what I was praying to, and I felt totally odd getting on my knees. But I wanted what they had so I did what they did. I got on my knees every morning and every night and recited their suggested prayer. At first this ritual felt awkward, but with time I grew to like it. I felt as though I was making a commitment while connecting to a power greater than me. I began to feel a lot physically while praying. At times I literally felt as though someone were standing above me gently pressing me down as I prayed. I took this as a sign that I needed to stay down and keep praying.  

Praying for myself became a daily practice. I asked for guidance, serenity and peace. I asked for another day clean. This was difficult at first because I was so angry with myself for how I’d treated my body, my family and my friends. I had a lot of clean up to do. The people in my recovery program guided me to take a fearless inventory of my actions and recognize my shortcomings. Then they led me to release them to a higher power, a.k.a. God. The terminology behind this recovery work was new to me, but I was open to it nonetheless. Though I had no relationship with this “God,” I was open and willing to learn. My recovery program reinforced that we could create a “God of our own understanding.” This theory was much easier for me to wrap my head around. I always intuitively felt that there was something out there looking after me—a greater power. For years I’d felt this presence but had no idea how to define it or consciously connect to it. I was relieved to know that all the guidance, energy and intuition I’d felt throughout my life wasn’t crazy after all.

To create a deeper connection with this Higher Power I was guided to strengthen my practice of self-love and forgiveness. A major step in this process was to boldly assess my negative patterns. This process was profound for me. By taking this inventory I came to understand that fear was a common cause of most of my issues. Fear of being alone, fear of not being good enough, fear of getting too fat, fear of not having enough—the list goes on. Fear sat in the director’s chair, calling the shots. Once I understood that fear had been in control it was easier for me to forgive my past. I was able to honor myself for doing the best I could with an ego that had taken over my mind like a virus. I knew now that I had a disease in my mind. By praying for the release of these defects I was able to slowly begin to let go of the anger I felt toward myself. I was able to see myself with love for the first time in a long time.

Then, out of nowhere, my “pink cloud” turned gray. As soon as my ego got word that I was happy, it reached into its bag of tricks and took me down fast. Just because I was clean didn’t mean I’d kicked my ego’s patterns. The ego had a lot to latch onto, as I still was undergoing residual backlash. I was feeling for the first time in years, and therefore a whole bunch of shit was dredged up—everything I’d been numbing with the drugs. Even though I was praying every day and working on forgiveness, I still felt a tremendous amount of guilt, anger and sadness over the wreckage from my past. The guilt I felt was the perfect tool for the ego to hook me into the illusion that the world was out to get me, and that I was unworthy of love. 

To make matters worse, my ego created a whole new projection of specialness. I thought I was super special for being sober. I thought I was better than all the people I’d been partying with, better than my old friends, better than my business partner, and way better than anyone who needed drugs and alcohol to have a good time. This was a new kind of special that hooked me back into the ego’s illusion of separation.

My drinking and drugging hadn’t done much for my business partnership and it sure as hell hadn’t done much for our bank account. So in the midst of my personal recovery I was rebuilding a business. Because I’d been such a hot mess for the majority of our professional relationship, my partner didn’t have much reason to believe in me—even if I was 90 days sober. Her resentment was strong and she wasn’t ready to let it go. I know in her heart she was proud of me, but she wasn’t willing to forget.

This drove me crazy. I felt as though I was constantly under a microscope. Not to mention I felt terrible if I ever needed to change a plan or come in late. This was the ego’s way of keeping me stuck in the past. My ego had convinced me to perceive not showing up on time or changing plans as horrific because it was something I used to do when I was hung-over. Now when I had a legitimate reason to change plans or come in late my ego would go nuts making me feel terribly guilty. This was the perfect example of the ego taking a past experience and replaying it in the present moment. As a result, I was always on the defense.

I brought up this issue in my recovery meetings. Week after week I’d bitch and moan about my resentment toward my business partner. But rather than join my hate parade, my friends in recovery guided me to see my part in the problem. They helped me see how I was perpetuating the dynamic by defending my current actions and projecting my own guilt onto her. They suggested I continue to pray to fully forgive myself. This I was willing to do. Then they suggested I pray for her. This confused me. “Why should I pray for her?” I thought. “I am the victim of drug addiction and I am the special one getting sober.” They encouraged me to get over myself and take their suggestion. They asked me to pray for her to have all the peace and happiness I wanted for myself. Most importantly, they suggested I be willing to forgive her.

They taught me that by defending myself I was making things worse. There is a lesson in the Course that reinforces this concept: “In my defenselessness my safety lies.” By defending against her anger toward me I was reinforcing the illusion. My defense was adding fuel to the fire and reiterating that I’d done something wrong. By choosing defenselessness instead I could stay in the present moment rather than dig up the past. This was hard at first, but I was willing. 

That winter I took a ski trip out West with a friend. Her flight back home left before mine and mine got canceled due to a snowstorm. I was left behind and psyched to have another day to ski. I woke up the next morning and was the first person on the chair lift. As I traveled up the lift I looked to the right and looked to the left and all I could see were snowcapped mountains and a clear blue sky. I gazed down at the mountain covered in powder, thrilled that mine would be the first skis to hit the snow. I was in heaven. 

Then, like clockwork, an ego thought burst my love bubble. I immediately started obsessing about having to face my partner the next day in the office. I got hooked into the idea that she’d be mad at me for coming back a day late even though I was snowed in. This ego tornado was about to rip through the peace of my snow day. 

Then I experienced a divine intervention. I heard an inner voice say, “Forgive her.” These odd voices and moments of peace were becoming the norm. I was getting used to hearing this inner voice and I was now fully willing to listen. So I took the suggestion from my inner guide and I said a prayer. I prayed for her to have all the peace and happiness that I wanted for myself. Then in an instant something lifted. I immediately felt lighter and more serene. I could see my surroundings more clearly and I could breathe more freely. I released my anger and forgave. Free from my resentment, my skis hit the powder and I flew down the mountain, unburdened and exhilarated. 

From that day forward our relationship was never the same. I was a big step closer to knowing the miracle of forgiveness. I learned that forgiveness isn’t just about letting the other person off the hook—it’s about releasing ourselves. When I forgave her I set myself free from the bonds of the ego. The ego convinced me that I was separate from her and that I was the victim. This perception of being a victim led me to attack her in order to protect myself. It also led me to defend against her illusion, thereby reinforcing it. This is a vicious cycle. The darkness I saw in her was a reflection of the darkness I believed to be true in myself. 

Not only did I feel relieved, I also noticed a massive shift in her energy. The day I got back she didn’t bother me about coming in late. In fact, she was happy to see me. Our dynamic shifted because I had shifted. The outside world reflects our internal state, and when we shift our perceptions the world shifts accordingly. The newfound light I saw in her was reflecting back at me. 

Excerpted from Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein is a motivational speaker, life coach, and the author of Add More -Ing To Your Life.

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