It comes as no surprise that recovering alcoholics – myself included – often tend to become nostalgic during the time they spend in rehab. After all, I always found it much easier to cope with the distress and misplaced resentment for everyone in the facility by not allowing myself to think about the current moment.
When faced with the adversities of the withdrawal in a present that makes no sense and glancing towards a frightening future, the past and its happy memories unveils itself as the only potential refuge. Or so I thought back then, at least.
What Exactly is Nostalgia?
We often say that we’re feeling nostalgic, but to each of us the term has different meanings. Nostalgia, for the addict in an inpatient rehab center, could evoke a feeling of homesickness, as he starts to miss old friends and loved ones. That’s understandable, after all you are among strangers with similar problems and the personnel that maintains a strictly professional relationship.
On the other hand, he might also be missing his past and the previous way of life which, make no mistake, has always revolved around alcohol. The memories tend to become distorted and sugar coated by comparison with an uncomfortable (to say the least) present. Although admission to these centers is purely voluntarily, the facility transformed into a prison in the mind of the recovering addict. A prison that seems to keep him from the former way of life.
When is Nostalgia Beneficial?
There’s nothing wrong with summoning pleasant memories of your loved ones when the going gets tough. These memories might just help you muster the mental strength and the courage necessary to pull through and complete your rehab program.
In the absence of a powerful motivational factor, the recovering alcoholic often starts to consider that all his efforts are in vain and, when this happens, a relapse is generally imminent. For me, the love I held for my wife and the fact that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, disappoint or embarrass her anymore was that kept me going.
But When Can Nostalgia Become an Obstacle?
As I previously mentioned, you don’t always choose what parts of the past you dwell on just to escape the present. Nostalgia has a tendency to romanticize memories, but never forget that you’re in rehab because most of your life was centered around alcohol. You will forget how sick you felt the morning after, how you embarrassed yourself in public more times than you can count, the hurtful remarks you uttered to your friends, your parents or your spouse after one too many tequilas.
In short, you mainly remember the relaxed and content state right between the first glass and the moment you got completely wasted. Well, the fact that the latter part is pretty much always a blur doesn’t really help.
This is precisely the point when, rather than conferring you a final goal for your efforts to become and stay sober, nostalgia draws you right back into the pit. And this is precisely when you have to rationalize your past and accept the fact that you CANNOT and you SHOULD NOT return to your former lifestyle, no matter how cozy it may have been.