We all have things that we regret after we have become clean and sober. And we all have things that we resent when we are in early recovery as well.
The question is, how can we process these negative thoughts and emotions so that we can move on with our lives?
One of the suggestions that I would make to anyone who is struggling with this sort of thing is that they go see a therapist or a counselor of some sort. I believe that pretty much every person who is working an addiction recovery program can benefit from seeing a therapist once or twice a week. They can do a lot to help you to work through these sorts of blocks.
Now one of the specific suggestions that I can make to you is that you work on forgiving others. The question is, how do you forgive those who have harmed you in the past? Do you just decide to forgive them and snap your fingers? Is it that easy?
It may not be that easy but I would suggest that you start with the idea of self forgiveness. This is an interesting path to forgiving others but I think it is a necessary step for a lot of people. The problem with forgiving others is that many of us are holding ourselves to a certain standard and we refuse to “let ourselves off the hook.” If you are holding yourself accountable in a certain way and you refuse to forgive yourself for the harm you have caused then it is going to be much more difficult to forgive others.
Why? Because you set your own standard for forgiveness. If you hold yourself to a certain level then you will expect the same from others. So if you are not forgiving yourself then it is not likely that you will allow yourself to forgive other people either. You have to start with yourself and your own past if you want to move forward and get any kind of relief.
It is silly to stew in anger and resentment, but we cannot see that when we are stuck in the idea that we were wronged, that we were a victim, that we were the victim of injustice. So we just keep feeling these feelings of anger and injustice, and at first it feels like our rage is boiling and it is somehow harming this other person, but in fact they don’t even know about our anger. So the resentment is only toxic for us, not for the target of our anger.
This is pointless. But we cannot see that in every case, and so we need to figure out a way to sidestep our anger, to work through our resentments, and to move on with healthier thoughts. One way to do this is to work on forgiveness.
Another way to do it is by working through the 12 steps with a sponsor in AA or NA. One of the things that you do when you work through the steps is you identify the part that you played in every transgression that was made. Sometimes we actually were a “pure victim,” but other times we played a role in the madness as well. So part of the healing process is in owning that madness and owning the fact that our disease was a part of the chaos. We were not always entirely innocent, and so some of our resentments are not very well “justified.”
In other cases we were a real victim, but it is important for you to realize that it doesn’t matter! The resentment and the anger, even when “justified,” will still drive the alcoholic to drink. It is still toxic anger, even if it is “righteous anger.” Therefore we still need to practice forgiveness.
Whoever harmed you in the past and “did you wrong” was actually innocent as well to some degree. They may have lashed out at the world in an immature and harmful way, but the reality is that they were only trying to get their own needs met somehow. No matter what they did or how they hurt people, they were honestly trying to get their needs met in this big scary world as best they could. They may have hurt others but they were only doing what they knew how to do.
So you need to take this step and forgive yourself, then forgive others. If you still have anger in your heart and you are still replaying the victim role then you definitely have work to do yet. If that resentment is still playing over in your mind then you should realize that this will eventually lead to relapse unless you do something about it.
I would recommend seeking out help in order to process these emotions. Sponsorship in AA or NA is one possible path to do this, but it is not the only choice, and it may not even be the best choice for certain individuals. As I said, seeking out therapy from a substance abuse therapist may be one of the best decisions that you can make in early recovery.
I am grateful for the therapy that I had early in my recovery journey. Not only did they help me to process my anger and resentments, but my therapist at the time pushed me to go get a job, to go back to college, and to get into physical shape. Those 3 decisions had a huge impact on my life in recovery and I am not sure that I would have discovered all of those positive benefits if I had not been going to see a therapist once a week.
There comes a certain point in your recovery journey in which the past no longer has any control or hold over you at all. Suddenly you are completely free from the past because you have done the work to make that a reality.
Part of this is in learning how to process the emotions and the anger and the resentment. Part of it is in learning how to forgive. But part of it is also the personal growth and the forward progress that you are making in your new life in recovery.
To illustrate: When I had about 3 weeks sober, I heard someone at an AA meeting say “I am grateful for all the wreckage of my past, I am grateful that I screwed up my life so bad in addiction, I am grateful for all of it, because it brought me to where I am today.”
I could not relate to that when I had 3 weeks sober. Why not? Because I hadn’t yet done all the hard work of recovery. I was just starting out. Life still kind of stunk for me, to be honest! I was just getting started on my new life.
But at 3 years sober, I had gained this new perspective. At 3 years sober (earlier than that really), I could look back at the wreckage of my past and be grateful for it, because it allowed me to transform my life in recovery.
In other words, if you work a recovery program and you stick with it, life starts getting good. Really good. And eventually your life will be so good in recovery that you will look back the chaos and misery of addiction and actually be grateful for it.
This is how you move past the negativity of your past life: By building a better one. Good luck!