If it sometimes seems like you can’t escape the memories of your addictive past, there is a solution: The only way to get past the past involves forgiving yourself for whatever you have done and then to get busy living life in the present, making new memories. This holiday season, while others you know and care for are bustling about with celebratory preparations, gift-buying and wrapping, planning for a festive meal or get-together with friends, take time to reflect on just how good you’ve got it right now. Consider the fact that you’re sober and alive — a huge accomplishment for many of the newly sober. In view of previous circumstances in which you found yourself, this is a big deal. It surely is something to be grateful for, don’t you think? Maybe it doesn’t feel all that terrific right now, since you may be fresh out of rehab and just beginning your recovery journey, but in time, it will. In fact, this can be the starting point for many new memories in recovery. Think about it. The day I got sober was the beginning of my new life. How does that sound? But there are dozens of other things that could qualify as new memories, either that you’ve already experienced, but haven’t yet acknowledged, or will experience in the days, weeks and months ahead. Let’s look at just a few areas that might prove fruitful for you to perhaps concentrate on.
Home and Family
How do you create a special place in your heart and fill it with fond memories of sharing the holidays with your family, being home with the kids as they open presents, taking them out to the sledding hill to get in some fun in the snow, sitting around watching a family movie on TV and sharing a gigantic bowl of popcorn? You start by making plans to spend time with the ones you love. Granted, there may be some strained relations here, due in large part to all that everyone has been through while you were in rehab and beginning the process of learning how to manage your addiction. It probably won’t be the easiest task you’ve ever taken on, but the rewards — in terms of self-satisfaction, personal contentment and overall well-being –- will be more than worth the effort. Key to making this work is to let go of past resentments. This has to start with you, since you likely harbor some misgivings over how you were treated by loved ones and family members while you were involved in treatment. It could be a simple misconception or you could hold a grudge over being more or less forced into rehab by your family and/or your employer. Maybe you were ordered by the court into treatment. Any and all of these may be locked in your head as stewing resentment. You need to let it go. It won’t do you any good to hold onto bad feelings about the past, but by acknowledging the emotion and giving yourself permission to let it go, you free your mind and take a great weight off your shoulders. This makes room for you to take in new experiences, to get involved in doing things with your family that will bring about a whole new set of memories that you’ll carry with you from this day forward. It always helps to lessen the tension and stress associated with family get-togethers by knowing in advance what to expect. What is happening when, who is invited, what is expected of you, how many will attend, how long will it last, and so on. Knowing where you fit into the holiday plans means that you’ll feel part of the festivities and can focus on enjoying the time you have with your family. Remember that you don’t have to please everyone, and it’s actually not possible to do so. Just do the best that you can and try not to take it personally if some family member or loved one gets a little stressed out. Hey, we’ve all been there. It will pass, if we just allow things to cool off. Perhaps the family has never been much for tradition, but now is an excellent time to start. Create your own traditions, something that your children and grandchildren, if you have any, will remember fondly for years to come. It can be anything that makes sense, and the more creative, the better. Tree decorating is a longtime family tradition and you can make it more memorable by selecting unique ornaments to commemorate each year. Maybe it’s a turkey dinner or prime rib roast that marks your family holiday tradition. But don’t be afraid to create new ones: how about a lasagna dish on Christmas Eve or sitting around the TV watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Keep in mind that the holiday season is a great time to create new memories –- ones that you’ll be able to share and reflect upon the rest of your life. Now that you’re sober, you will be that much more able to appreciate all the joy that you have right here at home. After all, aren’t your loved ones and family members an integral part of your recovery support network? They, as much as you, want you to succeed. Give thanks for this and the opportunity to create many lasting new memories in recovery.
Health and Well-Being
Did your health take a dive during your addictive days? Maybe it wasn’t enough that you deteriorated to a dangerous degree, but, depending on how long you were addicted, your health likely did suffer somewhat. You did the right thing by going into rehab and getting clean and sober. This gave you a head-start on mending your physical as well as mental health. The journey is far from over, to be sure, since many conditions take months to clear up following detox and the initial days of being clean and sober. You may, in fact, need to take prescribed medications to counteract or help you heal from a condition exacerbated by your addiction, pre-dating your addiction, or resulting from your addiction. The same goes for any mental health issue you may be experiencing. Counseling and continuing therapy may be a way of life for you for the foreseeable future. But here is the important point to keep in mind: You are healing. You are on the mend. You are regaining your strength and your ability to think clearly and rationally. You are beginning to resume your daily life with a whole new mindset about how to live in a healthy and proactive manner. Now that you’re not chained to the endless cycle of using, coming down, thinking about using again, searching for drugs and using again, you are a lot more receptive to life around you –- and how to engage in a healthier lifestyle. This is a gift and a blessing and something that should make you want to express your gratitude. This time that you have right now, being healthy –- or, at least, healthier –- is another starting point for new memories. Now you may be able to do certain things that you weren’t able to before, either because you were physically unable to or always lost in the haze of your drug of choice. It’s hard to think of anything but using when you’re chained to your addiction. Be thankful you have a second chance. Use the time wisely. Make it a point to engage in vigorous physical exercise daily. Participate in recreational activities. Get outdoors and take a hike with friends and family members. Be glad you’re alive. You’re making new memories every day –- all of which adds up to greater health and well-being for you.
Job and Career
Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated events you experienced recently was when you returned to work. Whether you consider what you do for a living as merely a job or a rewarding career, being away from your responsibilities during rehab had to make a serious dent in both your self-esteem and your self-confidence. Getting back to work is, for many in early recovery, simultaneously stressful and beneficial. It is fraught with stress because you may worry about how others will regard you, knowing, perhaps, the reason for your absence. But even if only your immediate supervisor or boss knows where you’ve been and why you went, your sense of foreboding may be quite high on your initial return. Allaying any concerns your boss and co-workers may have about your capabilities and reliability may be of primary importance to you. Let’s face it. Your job and/or your career are critically important to your overall well-being in recovery. You need to be able to provide for your family and to live up to your responsibilities, to pay your bills, to be able to streamline accumulated debt, and to be able to get back on your feet financially and put something away for the future. You have this opportunity now that you’ve gotten clean and sober. No matter the disappointments you experienced in your job prior to treatment, whether you lost your job because of your addiction, got demoted, lost out on a plum assignment, didn’t get a bonus, or had your hopes dashed about a desired promotion, now you have a fresh start. This is another reason to be grateful that you are where you are right now. Renew your commitment to your sobriety. Make time each day to reflect on your blessings. Do the best job you can at work and take it slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your return to high esteem in the minds of your boss and others may take time as well. You are, however, imminently capable of doing quite well. Thankfully, you have the opportunity to prove it to yourself, as well as any doubters that may be out there.
You might think that you’re done learning things, but this is far from the truth. In fact, every day is another opportunity to find out something new that can prove beneficial to your recovery. It’s actually the little things that can add up most. Not everything you learn will be the result of some long and complicated undertaking, like going for a degree that takes years or gaining a skill in an apprenticeship program. Still, it does also add to your growing number of new memories to include some short- and long-term goals to your to-do list. First, think about what it is that you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time, money, inclination or other reason to get around to. Once you have this list, look it over to see if there’s any item there that just jumps out at you, demanding attention. This is something you should probably look into a little further. How do you do that? Start by researching what it would take for you to get involved in the activity or pursuit. Does it entail going to school, taking a class, buying or renting some books, joining a club, learning how to use certain tools, acquiring a proficiency or skill? All of these are educational and learning opportunities. Each one will put you into a different mindset, one of actively going after something that you don’t now have. When you see that you have a real thirst for a particular activity or pursuit and want to do all that you can to get actively involved in it, this is a clear sign that you’re on the right track. Down the line, after you’ve been involved in the learning experience, you’ll have automatically accumulated any number of reflections or memories of what you’ve been doing, how far you’ve come, the people you’ve met and interacted with, and the positive results of taking the initiative to jump start your educational opportunities.
Making New Friends
When you first completed rehab, it may have seemed as if your world was a closed-off space. Some of this was self-limiting and some of it was undoubtedly caused by the vulnerability and newness of your clean and sober state of mind. As such, you probably stuck pretty much to yourself, especially in the first few days and weeks following rehab. All you probably did were the basics: going to work or school or taking care of responsibilities at home, attending 12-step meetings, going to see your therapist or doctor as needed. And, truth to tell, this is what most recovery experts recommend. Still, it felt pretty lonely those first few weeks, didn’t it? That’s the time when all those old memories likely came cascading in, threatening to drag you down in the process. With the support of your loved ones and family members, you got yourself to meetings and dug in to do your best to jump-start your recovery. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but it did get better every day. With a few months of continuing sobriety behind you, now you can look forward to branching out and getting involved in new and different activities, any one of which will bring you into contact with people you never met before or, if you have been merely an acquaintance, will afford you the opportunity to discover that you have mutual interests that you can share. The best way to make new memories in recovery is to rejoice in what each day brings, to relish the opportunity to take part in discoveries, to continually engage in self-improvement and to gain greater knowledge in areas that are not only important to you, but also benefit your recovery. Is there a recreational activity that you always wanted to explore, but never found the time? Maybe this is your chance to get involved and find some new and sober friends. How about taking a class, going back to school, getting involved in a community organization, helping out at your child’s school? The possibilities for meeting new people are endless. All it takes is your willingness to step outside yourself and begin to open up your heart to welcoming new friends. Bottom line: When you are in recovery, you already have a terrific start at making new memories. You’ve already given yourself a tremendous gift of sobriety, one that certainly deserves your gratitude. Think of all the new memories just waiting for your participation. Get out there and make some.