When you enter recovery, it should be a joyous time in your life. After all, you’ve come through drug or alcohol rehab more or less unscathed, at least from the standpoint that you’re now clean and sober and have some idea of the path you’ll be taking from here on out in recovery. The key element here is that you have some idea. It doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know either about recovery or about dealing with some of the issues, problems and challenges that will soon or will someday come your way. First, however, you need to do one thing: Give yourself kudos for reaching this point. It has no doubt been a grueling journey, filled with uncertainty and fear, maybe anger and physical as well as psychological difficulties. Acknowledging your progress now is important, for there is much to learn and much to do ahead. You’ve learned during rehab that there are some things you’ll need to avoid. This is necessary so that you maintain your sobriety and don’t backslide or fall into relapse. But what are some of the other things you need to know about, some very important things to leave behind in recovery? We’ll take a look at some of them here.
Let Go of the Past
Something you’ll hear about many times in the weeks and months and years ahead in the rooms of recovery is that you need to let go of the past. For now, while you’re still raw and vulnerable from treatment and not feeling on top of your situation, just know that this is something that you will be working on as you make progress in recovery. It certainly isn’t something that you need to worry about at the moment, but you should begin to think about how and when you will let go of the past. Why is letting go of the past an important thing to leave behind in recovery? For one thing, your past is dead and gone. It isn’t the present and you certainly don’t live and act there. You can’t. The only time you can act is in the here and now. Naturally, there are things that you’ve said and done in your addictive past that have harmed you and others. Even if you didn’t mean to, during the deepest throes of your addiction, you probably did and said many things that you’re either ashamed of, feel guilty about, or caused perhaps irreparable harm to others. While you will need to take responsibility for your part in such harm and work on making amends where possible, for now just keep in mind that it does you absolutely no good at all, certainly not for your progress in recovery, to constantly dwell on what happened in the past. Tell yourself that you will be gentle on yourself but that you will work on letting go of the past.
Let Go of Old “Friends”
When you were in treatment, you learned about the importance of steering clear of old “friends” and acquaintances you associated with your addiction. The reason “friends” is in quotation marks is that these really aren’t your friends at all. People you used with, did drugs or alcohol, gambled with, or engaged in other process addictions with, weren’t and aren’t your buddies. They’re just using acquaintances. Now that you’re sober, it’s time to leave behind those individuals. In fact, you should be looking to make new acquaintances, people with whom you share common interests, such as recovery, people who are clean and sober and engaged in healthy lifestyle behaviors. Where do you find such individuals? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Of course, during the first few weeks and months of recovery, you’ll likely find some individuals you may strike up a friendship with right in the 12-step rooms. This is where you’ll be spending a good amount of your time anyway, since you know you need to become more grounded in the recovery principles and begin working the Twelve Steps. Another person who may become a friend is your 12-step sponsor. When you first enter recovery, you probably won’t have a sponsor right away, but you do need to work on getting one as soon as possible. Why? Your sponsor is the person who will serve as your guide and help you understand the philosophy of recovery, learn about the principles of recovery, and be your teacher and guide as you begin to tackle the Twelve Steps. Some of the old friends you’ll need to let go of may very well be people you work with, or neighbors, even members of your own family. While it may be tough to try to distance yourself from using family members, it can be done. It actually has to be done, in order for you to have a reasonable chance of effective long-term recovery. Who the individual is and whether or not you live with them or have a family responsibility toward them matters in how you deal with leaving that person behind. In the sense that you are married to someone that still uses or have a child that is addicted, you can’t very well abandon them. You do have family responsibilities that will continue even though that person may well remain addicted. But this doesn’t mean that you have to follow their path of addiction or that you need to worry about falling back into the same addictive patterns. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, you will need help. Look to the support and encouragement of your sponsor and fellow 12-step group members. If you have continuing care or aftercare as part of your treatment program, definitely take advantage of counseling that may help you learn how to cope in this situation.
Separate Yourself from Your Old Way of Thinking
This is a new venture that you’re on. The old way of life is behind you, or it should be. Now that you’re clean and sober – maybe for the first time in a very long time – it’s time for you to learn new ways of thinking. The old thoughts and behavior patterns were self-destructive and robbed your life of meaning and satisfaction. Sure, drinking and doing drugs brought you some measure of relief from pain or numbed you to the extent that you didn’t have to feel emotions that you didn’t want to, but it was a progressively debilitating process that left you a shell of a human being. With all that you have learned about the dangers and consequences of addiction, you know that you’re better off now than you were before. Still, that old way of thinking will persist for a while. When anything seems too difficult or painful, whenever you are tempted to give up or look for a shortcut, the idea of reaching for a drink or using again is an old pattern of behavior that you’ll have to actively work to change to a coping mechanism that’s more health and conducive to your continuing sobriety. You may not have given yourself much of any credit for how you dealt with situations in the past. That’s likely because you took the easy way out, preferring to use alcohol or drugs rather than actually face situations that required some input or action on your behalf. Now, however, you know you are responsible for your actions. Now you know that your life will be the direct result of the effort you put into it. Thus, you are faced with the very real prospect of learning how to make wise and well-informed choices. You will choose how to deal with stressors and triggers, what to do and say in situations that are threatening to your sobriety, how to make decisions that are based on logic and have proven successful for others in recovery. Letting go of your old way of thinking takes time. You’re not going to feel accomplished in this overnight, but you will get more comfortable with both your decision-making and your ability to follow through over time.
Get Rid of Reminders of Your Using Past
While we’re on the subject of things to leave behind in recovery, there’s an obvious area where you can make a big difference for not a great deal of effort. Think this is too good to be true? It really isn’t. All you have to do in this case is to go through your home, your car, your office or other area where you frequently spend your time and get rid of all those reminders of your past. Start by going through your closets. Every person has some item of clothing or pair of shoes or a hat or coat or some decorative piece of jewelry that they associate with the old “good times” of using. Those items simply have to go. They have too much of the past associated with them, too much to remind you of those times when you went far beyond simple casual drinking and wound up getting deeper and deeper into addiction. You can separate these items into piles. Some can be donated, some can be discarded, and some can be recycled. None of them should remain in your possession. If this seems too drastic, consider what these reminders do to your recovery. Every time you put one on or wear it, your thoughts automatically go back to the old days. You’re likely to continue to think of those days with some semblance of fondness, as if using and drinking were a good thing. They were not, especially in your case. So, leaving them is a completely practical and wise thing to do. Maybe your wardrobe will be somewhat depleted, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You don’t need to surround yourself with material things anyway. Simplify your life. Get back to the basics. Be good to yourself and work your recovery.
Work Through Painful Memories By Writing in a Journal
Back to those painful memories and reminders of the past, here’s a suggestion on what you can to do leave them behind in recovery: Write about them in your journal. You don’t have to be an accomplished writer to do this, so any exclamations about not being a good writer doesn’t hold any merit here at all. This is an exercise just for you, after all, so it doesn’t matter if what you write is grammatically correct or is prose that sings like a well-crafted novel. Let’s say that you have experienced one or more traumatic events in your past, perhaps even events that you subsequently tried to erase from your mind by using. While it may be tough to tackle writing about it, if you work through this with your therapist or counselor, perhaps through cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of therapy, you will find that it will be easier for you to leave those painful memories behind. Write down all the things that are bad that happened in your life, pre-using and during your days of using. Write about how you felt when you were at the bottom. Write about your sorrows and disappointments, about people you felt abused or harmed you or caused you pain. Whatever the most painful memories you have, write about them. Get out your feelings on paper. By venting this way, you will help purge those memories so that you will better be able to leave them behind in recovery. Again, this may be extremely difficult for some individuals to do. The more painful the experience, or the more frequently such experiences occurred, the more difficult the task may be to dredge them up and write about them. If traumatic memories continue to plague you, consider seeking treatment such as eye movement desensitization reprocessing or EMDR. This treatment has been proven effective in getting rid of traumatic memories and allowing individuals to move forward with their lives. Learn more about EMDR through the EMDR International Association, including finding a therapist near you.
Ditch Your Defeatist Attitude
While you may not know yet what your long-term goals will be, it is vital that you learn to adopt the right kind of mindset that will allow you to create goals to begin with. In line with this, another of the things you need to leave behind in recovery is the defeatist attitude you may have brought with you through rehab and to your current situation. Maybe your life has not been what you ever intended it to be. You may have felt burdened and become disheartened by your lack of progress in any meaningful sense to this point. What you need to do right now is ditch that defeatist attitude because, quite simply, it doesn’t do you any good at all in recovery. You cannot hope to create a blueprint for moving forward if you don’t allow yourself to envision a new existence, a new life that you want for yourself. If you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good enough or that you don’t have the skills or the experience to make a difference or to accomplish goals, guess what? You won’t get anywhere. Actually, ditching your defeatist attitude is a whole lot easier when you surround yourself with people who support and encourage your efforts to move ahead. Again, you’ll find this support and encouragement readily available to you in your sponsor and fellow 12-step group members. But you’ll also find that as you achieve small goals, each time you accomplish what you set out to do, you’ll feel a little bit better about yourself and your capabilities in recovery. Your loved ones and family members are also key linchpins of your support network and will help you build your self-confidence and self-esteem in the days, weeks and months ahead. Bottom line: You have a number of important things to leave behind in recovery, important in the sense that you’re far better off without them. Now that you’re in recovery, make every day, every second count. Be present. Be active. Learn to enjoy the simple things in life. Appreciate beauty. Recognize that you are human and may make mistakes, and be willing to learn from them. Give of yourself to others and be open to receiving love from them as well. Life is a journey and this is your life to live in recovery.