Letting Go of the Past
Active addiction has the ability to turn someone into an entirely different person.
For all of the years that I was using, my attitude was different, my morals (or lack of morals) were different, my idea of honesty was different, and I even looked different.
When someone is addicted to something and has not found recovery, they are willing to do whatever it takes to feed that addiction in order to just get through the day.
One of the things I have struggled with the most since getting a few years of sobriety under my belt, is letting go of the past. I work on this regularly and try to allow myself some grace and forgiveness. I do not think I would be able to move forward in my life if I constantly thought about the mistakes I have made. I did not experience feelings of shame and regret during my addiction, because I was numb to everything I was doing. Instead, all of those feelings of shame and regret came up when I started getting sober. I was so raw and felt so exposed, with nothing to help take the edge off. I was horrified by the things that I had done and prayed not to run into a countless number of people. There is no point in being sober if this is how you constantly feel. I would realize later, that amends makes this so much more tolerable, and allows you to address your wrongdoings head on.
There are certain situations that will creep up, usually late at night, and I will torture myself by thinking about the past. I used to do this a lot more than I do now, but it still happens. I wish there was a pill that could make me not remember, because I cringe when I think about certain situations that I found myself in. When I think about the way that I hurt others and embarrassed myself, I can quickly begin to feel overwhelmed. I find comfort in knowing that those things absolutely do not define who I am, they just define who I will surely be if I go back out. There are so many things I wish I could undo, but some of that has nothing to do with addiction.
I can’t blame my addiction for everything I have ever done, because I have been making mistakes my entire life. I am not special, we all have these experiences, but I have definitely had my fair share of embarrassment and regret as a direct result of addiction.
My desire to change the past is something that a lot of people struggle with and it is just a part of being a fallible human. I recently went to a Second City comedy show in Chicago. One of the skits they did was on a person trying to fall asleep and how all of these terrible memories and thoughts kept showing up, keeping him awake. It was really funny how ridiculous his thoughts were, like wondering if the lady he encountered at the grocery store hated him from something he said. I could relate to this and it was nice to know someone else has experienced that. It was also cathartic to laugh at the situation in a comedic setting.
Others have shown me grace, so why do I struggle affording it for myself? I see a lot of quotes about how there are no regrets in life, but I disagree. I have a lot of regret; I just try not to let it dictate my present and what I do in the future. I could be paralyzed by shame and guilt, or I can be an adult, and move forward. Do I regret taking something from someone, or being disloyal in a relationship, or saying hurtful things and blatantly lying on a consistent basis? Yes, of course. I regret all of those things. But I learned from that and I have come to realize who I want to be, and who I do not want to be. I spent a long time entitled and expecting the world to hand me everything. My frame of mind has shifted, and I do my best to earn what I get. I can still be bratty and spoiled, but I think it is fair to say that it has gotten significantly better.
Progress not perfection. One of the most amazing things about recovery is the amends process. I have been given the opportunity to make amends to so many people and they have responded in such a loving way. There are still others who I would like to make amends to, if the opportunity presents itself. I have started this process and it has been healing and I look forward to seeing how things play out in the future. There are some people who I will never make amends to, because it would not be therapeutic, and could possibly create more harm. But I make a living amends to them, by not being the person that I was, and by not making the same mistakes.
Sometimes I have sudden reminders of cringe worthy moments. One time I decided to torture myself by going though old Facebook messages that I had sent to random people in Xanax blackouts. I could not stop myself from reading the weird, creepy and desperate messages I was sending to people throughout my addiction. It is moments like that I wish that the person I was messaging was as messed up as I was.
However, they were most likely living a perfectly normal life, reading these strange messages through clear lenses, wondering what on earth was going on.I am proud to say I
have not sent one creepy Facebook message in the four and
half years I have been sober. There are not a ton of things that I truly regret since getting sober.
Just minor mistakes, that I have been able to quickly make amends for.
I have worked to reframe my mindset when negative memories start to come up. I try to focus on the grace that God gives us and recognize that no one is thinking about the things I have done as much as I do. I believe that in order to fully recover, I need to get to a place where I am able to let go of the past, for the most part.
Sometimes people will bring things up in a joking manner, but when it touches a nerve, I gently say “I would rather not talk about that.” I do not want to be defined by my past or my addiction, so it is important that I set a boundary that allows me to move forward. This does not mean that I ignore what I have done. However, after amends have been made, I feel that there is no reason to keep revisiting such a dark period. I consistently work to forgive myself and to let go of the idea that the past could have been any different than what it was. I also make an effort to fully accept the things that I cannot change.
Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I had done certain things differently, even early on in my life. The phrase “if only” or “if I had only done this or that” pops up from time to time, but it is all make believe. No one can change the past. God had a path for me, and it was rough for a while, but I love where I am today. I appreciate the struggle that it took for me to get where I am today, and I appreciate the life I have as a result of that. I love where He led me, and I love the people that he brought into my life.
When I see people out partying over the holidays or enjoying drinks on the beach or at a concert, I sometimes wish I was able to be normal like them.
Every once in a while, it seems like a good idea, and then I remember the devastating consequences. I remember how I will take something from you when I don’t even need it or lie to your face and believe what I am saying. I just have to think about a couple of things that I am willing to do when I am not sober in order to snap back to reality and keep moving forward.
I am so incredibly content with my life, so why would I do anything to change that? I can also find gratitude for my past and the mistakes that I have made. My past helps to keep me humble and have empathy for those are struggling. I am also grateful because the pain I have experienced has allowed me to search for something greater than myself and rely on God for the first time in my life.
My past has allowed me to be a more gracious and genuine person, and for that I am grateful.
Ally Lacey Maguire is a student at Georgia Southern University. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in the clinical/mental health counseling program. Ally just celebrated 4 years of recovery and recently got married. Ally enjoys writing about her experiences in active addition and what her recovery looks like today. Ally works for the center for addiction recovery at Georgia Southern University and is passionate about working with others and sharing the message of recovery.
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