What Counts in Recovery is Where You Are Going Not Where You’ve Been

Posted on October 14th, 2012

man smiling while thinking of his recoveryFeeling disgusted with yourself for your past days of addiction? Do you walk around with a gloomy look on your face, mirroring what you carry inside? Ashamed, guilty, filled with pain and anxiety, torn-up in your guts because you’ve destroyed everything important to you and lost everyone you loved?

It’s not a pretty picture, is it? But the point of all this isn’t to make you feel more miserable than you already do. It is to offer you an alternative way of looking at your life in recovery, one that is admittedly a lot more attractive than continuing along the path you’ve currently been traveling.

But it will take some doing on your part. It’s not just going to happen, voila! While that would be nice, it’s not reality. Change simply doesn’t occur overnight and without effort. Make that considerable effort.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, haven’t you already overcome a tremendous obstacle? Think about it. Getting clean and sober wasn’t a cake walk, was it? You likely had your doubts, maybe even quite serious misgivings, about your ability to make it through without quitting. You may even have had to go through treatment more than once, maybe even several times, before you finally managed to complete rehab and, as they say, have it “stick.”

However long it took, congratulations on having achieved the positive result: being clean and sober at last. The truth is that you probably haven’t let this sink in all that much. But you should. It is a tremendous achievement, all the more so because of how far you’ve come from where you once were.

The Past is Not Your Friend

And that is getting at the crux of the matter, the reason why this discussion is so important. When you allow yourself to wallow in the misery of your past, to constantly replay in your mind all the filthy, miserable, painful, shameful and rotten things that you did while you were chained to your addiction, you’re not doing anything but perpetuating a stalemate.

While you’re not necessarily on the slippery slide back into addiction, without making some forward progress, you might be vulnerable to such an eventuality in the event of a crisis. And it might not even have to be a major blow. It could be a series of small and seemingly inconsequential issues or problems or failures that could do you in.

Simply put, trying to live with your thoughts mired in the past is not a good strategy. The past is not your friend, not now and never will be. It’s time to get that straight in your mind right now.

Even the “good old days” of your past, whatever and whenever they were, are nothing to relive. Maybe you have the thought that you were king of the hill and on top of the world when you first started using or first got high. You weren’t involved in anything too serious at that point, you were just having fun. No one was getting hurt. It was a blast, and you find yourself wistful and yearning for a repeat performance.

Isn’t that what you did every time you used or got drunk ever since that first time? Weren’t you ceaselessly trying to recapture that elusive feeling? And, didn’t it all go downhill from there?

Over the months and years of your addiction, there were likely many, many instances where your self-destructive behavior cost you plenty, and in more ways than just financial. That surely didn’t feel good. Why in the world would you want to glorify those dark days? What would be the point?

What About All Those Emotions?

It wouldn’t be possible to put together your inventory without also stirring up a lot of emotions, many of which you’d much rather not surface again.

At first, all you’re likely to see is your own self-hatred. This can be a very disconcerting time and the only way out of it is just to give this very powerful emotion time to pass. You’ve already taken the big first step of saying to yourself, “Okay, I hate what I’ve done to myself and the ones I love. I hate that I’ve lied, been untrustworthy, let my loved ones and others down. I hate that I’m addicted to (alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, etc.) and keep falling back into my old ways.”

But here’s another truth. By giving voice to your feelings, you allow yourself to get past them. One reason acknowledging your hatred is important is that you are releasing it instead of keeping it bottled up inside you. For that matter, any powerful negative emotion, whether it is anger, despair, bitterness, spite or hatred, that isn’t released, will go on to result in further emotional and possibly even physical problems.

How long will it be before the hatred starts to dissipate? You’ll be surprised at how quickly it will go away. No, you won’t be able to tell that it’s gone in a matter of minutes, or even days. Actually, you shouldn’t think about your hatred after you’ve given voice to it. You need to be moving on, doing the necessary work in your recovery.

To begin with, you may find that these thoughts creep into your mind at odd times. Just acknowledge that they’re there, and then go on to do other things – positive things that are working toward your recovery. Don’t wallow in the emotion or allow it to stymie your efforts at recovery.

Before you know it – maybe weeks or months down the line – you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror and it will seem like a different person is staring back at you. It’s the same you, yet different. What’s different is your outlook. Gone is the hatred and loathing that furrowed your brow, drew your mouth into a hard line and stifled your life energy. In its place will be acceptance of the new you, recognition that you are making progress toward your recovery and the glimmer of hope in a better tomorrow.

When You Do Need to Consider the Past

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you wipe the past completely from your memory. Let’s go into more about why this isn’t a good idea next.

Given that every person who has embraced sobriety has some things to take responsibility for, there comes a time for everyone to take a serious inventory of all those occasions when he or she has caused harm to others. In fact, this is one of the Twelve Steps of recovery. No one who’s committed to maintaining sobriety can make much progress without going through this step.

Beyond taking the inventory, which, by the way, is likely to be a painful experience that you’ll likely want to put off, there’s more to living in recovery than just a recap of all the horrible things that you’ve done. After you’ve made out your list, your “These are the things I’ve done that hurt others” list, you have to do something about them.

This is another step that many find they are quite reluctant to get around to doing. Why is that? There are some extraordinarily painful moments attached to admitting and accepting responsibility for all the bad that we have done. All those powerful emotions come flooding to the surface. We may not know how to deal with them, so we put the task aside, hoping that we won’t have to bother with it for some time.

But that time has to come. By necessity, if you want to continue to heal, you have to move past the list and start taking some action regarding each and every item on that list.

You have to begin making amends. You might wonder how long that process takes. Many do and worry needlessly about it. Here’s what to keep in mind. The process of making amends will vary from one individual to another. It has less to do with how long it takes and more to do with how thoroughly and honestly you approach the steps. For some in recovery, the process may be completed rather quickly, while, for others, the process may never be finished. How could this be?

A key point to remember is that making amends and giving to others the best part of ourselves is one of the best things we can do in recovery.

Here is where the past does deserve your consideration and careful thought. After you come around to the realization that it is time to think about how you can make amends for what you’ve done, you need to begin with something incredibly important. You have to forgive yourself.

Forgiveness – a Huge Part of Recovery

Every heinous thought, word and action you’ve had, said or did requires an accounting. But it also demands that you first forgive yourself for everything you’ve been responsible for. Without that self-forgiveness, you’ll likely be stuck.

Keep in mind that forgiving yourself doesn’t absolve you of responsibility. It cannot take away the actions you’ve already committed, but it can bring you to the point where you can begin to make positive changes in your life.

Think about it. When you’re bottled up in hate, it’s virtually impossible to forgive yourself. You may need to ask your Higher Power for the courage to do so. Prayer may help. Talking with others may help, especially your sponsor. But the truth of the matter is that without truly forgiving yourself, there can be no forward momentum.

So, the sooner you are able to say to yourself, “I forgive me for all that I have done that has brought harm to others,” the sooner you can get on with the work of recovery.

Opening Up and Making Wise Choices

Considering that many newcomers to recovery haven’t had much success in making wise choices, you might find that the very act of trying to figure out the best approaches to take in certain situations is something that causes you a lot of grief.

Frankly, it is this way for a lot of people. While this may be small comfort, it does mean that you are not alone in what you are going through. Many thousands of individuals have had similar concerns and feelings of doubt and anxiety over what the right thing for them to do in recovery is.

There’s no one strategy that works best for everyone. That said, there is a great deal of wisdom shared in the rooms of recovery and in discussions with your 12-step sponsor that can help you come to some conclusions about different approaches and strategies to potentially use in your own situation.

Opening up in the rooms of recovery is another kind of hurdle that many newcomers aren’t too keen to try to overcome. It’s tough to speak up in a roomful of strangers, and that’s just what it probably feels like to begin with. But, over time, these so-called strangers won’t seem so intimidating. After all, each and every one of them came through the door the first time with feelings of trepidation, just like you.

The key word here is hope. It isn’t duty that makes people come back to the rooms of recovery. It isn’t routine and rules that cause them to speak up about their experiences getting clean and sober and overcoming problems and issues. It isn’t how many or few months or years of sobriety that makes them want to share what hurts, what they’ve lost, what works and what they’ve been able to accomplish. What does foster all this is a feeling of hope. They have hope. That’s why they come. That’s why they share.

That’s why you make your way to the 12-step meetings – even though you may not realize that hope is what brings you there.

Hope is a very powerful sign that you are heading in the right direction. And, certainly, hope was the farthest thing from your mind in those terrible dark days during your addiction.

Hope has to feel good. Hope opens you up and makes it possible for you to recognize and make wise choices.

Where to Go From Here

Naturally, one of the things you are likely most concerned about is just where you’re headed from here. What does your future look like and how can you best prepare yourself to take advantage of the many opportunities that will present themselves to you?

It helps to be prepared, as in anything worthwhile. You can help get yourself ready for what may lie ahead by grounding yourself in the principles of recovery, by doing the very best you can in every circumstance and situation you encounter today.

That’s really how you get to tomorrow, by taking action today. Of course, it also is a good idea to lay out some goals, things that you believe are worthwhile and that you will put forth sufficient effort to achieve.

Don’t be afraid to dream big. After all, this is your life in recovery you’re considering, not someone else;s. If you haven’t allowed yourself to think very far ahead up to this point, maybe it is a good time to sit down and do just that.

Being in recovery is the beginning of the kind of future you wish to create. Do not limit yourself or feel bound in any way. Learning a new way of life may mean changing jobs, residences, moving to another state, becoming a more spiritual person, going back to school to finish or obtain a degree, learn a trade, finding joy in new hobbies or recreational pursuits. It may be many of these things. In fact, your future can be whatever you want to make it.

With the discipline and practice of doing your Twelve Steps, and by becoming more immersed and knowledgeable about the Twelve Traditions, you will have more self-confidence, self-esteem and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. You will begin to look outside yourself and your own situation and lean more toward helping others – as you have been helped. In the process, you are enriching your life beyond measure.

So, where will you go from here? With hope, courage, conviction and determination, there’s really nothing to stand in your way. What’s most important right now is that you understand and fully accept that what counts in recovery is where you are going, and not at all where you have been.

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