Fighting your way out of addiction is difficult, physically and mentally. Unfortunately, long after your chemical dependence is gone, you will still have to face the emotional and mental scars left by your addiction.
Substance abuse is damaging to the brain, and while using we often make irrational and selfish choices that hurt us, our future, and the people around us. In addition, we often spend time with people who are bad for us, who can hurt us, steal from us, and otherwise leave lasting scars that will continue to cause problems well into the future. Anger, grief, guilt, sadness, and bitterness can all stem directly from living with a substance abuse disorder. Unfortunately, if you want to move forward and to recover fully, you must move past these emotions and the things that caused them, to get back to your life. In addition to the fact that these emotions all cause stress, which is a trigger for relapse, the emotions themselves can cause a relapse, by consistently making you feel bad.
How to Start Letting Go of the Past If you want to move forward, you must let go. That often requires an in-depth process of getting closure, so that you can move on.
Get Closure You know the people you have hurt and the people who have hurt you. When possible, it is important to seek out closure, to make amends, or get them, and close off that portion of your life. For example, many addicts abuse loved ones or use them for money, and leaving a once loving relationship in a state of hurt can consistently derail you from recovery. Consider making a list of the people you have hurt and start out by apologizing where it is necessary. You won’t be able to build new relationships immediately and you shouldn’t be hurt if people don’t want to see you. However, by apologizing, and then consistently following through on your responsibilities, remaining apologetic, and showing that you are trying to be a better person, you can rebuild relationships. Asking for forgiveness can be difficult but if you have wronged someone, it may be important to you. If you think this person will understand, try to talk to them about why you did it, explain that while there is no excuse, you were under the influence of a substance. Be honest, be remorseful, and try to make up for what you have done. For example, if you stole something, trying to find it or replace it would be one way to make up for that wrong. If you consistently let someone down, being there for them and providing more help than they ask for could help to make it up. If people hurt you, try to work to understand their reasoning, and try to forgive them. You don’t have to see them or talk to them, but by letting go of their actions, you cease to allow them to have power over you. Many people find that writing out a list of what someone did wrong, why, and how it affected them helps with this. Forgiveness won’t happen immediately, but by trying to understand their reasons, and by working to realize that it no longer affects you, you can ensure that it stays in the past.
Ask for Help It’s easy to attempt to fix everything yourself, but you are only making things harder for yourself. Joining group therapy or a 12-step group will allow you to talk to people who have gone through similar experiences, so that you can talk about your feelings, your cravings, and your past. In most cases, you will work with a sponsor who has gone through similar personal problems, who will be able to help you.
Practice Mindfulness Mindfulness is a powerful tool that is used to treat addiction by calming the body and the mind, and focusing the mind on the present. People spend an average of about 47% of their time lost in thought, worrying, and thinking about the past or the future. For recovering addicts, who have imbalanced levels of serotonin in the brain, which promotes anxiety, this can be even worse. Mindfulness can help you to avoid being lost in thought or stuck in the past, by helping you to focus on the present. This can be crucial in letting go of the past and your past actions. Mindfulness is also a powerful tool for addiction recovery, which you can use to help beat cravings and reduce stress.
Building Goals It’s important to build goals towards the future, so that you know where you are headed rather than being stuck in the past. If you are actively working to move beyond the past, it is difficult to continue to judge yourself by it. If you don’t have goals beyond your immediate one of continued sobriety, you should create and work towards one or more. Your goals should reflect things that you want to achieve, but should be achievable. For example, attending the gym regularly, learning a new hobby, taking up meditation, learning a new skill, finding a new job, starting a new career, finding a better home, or whatever else is important to you. If you have a goal, decide how you will get there, break what you need to achieve it into small, achievable steps, and work towards it every day.
Practicing Gratitude Practicing gratitude is the simple process of finding things that you are grateful for in every aspect of your life. You can start out by writing out things that you are grateful for and then adding to the list every day. The goal of this exercise is to think about how far you’ve come, where you are now, and how you are bettering your life. While you will likely start with obvious things like your sobriety or the fact that you are clean, you can get very personal and you can progress to very small things that make you happy each day, or that you have achieved each day. Remember, gratitude can be aimed at yourself.
Forgiveness Letting go of the past means forgiving yourself. Sometimes we need forgiveness from others to make this happen, other times we just must realize that we have changed, are no longer that person, and are truly remorseful for the hurt we have caused. While your own situation will change depending on your history, it is important to work towards forgiving yourself, even if you are only forgiving yourself for using. If you’re trying, working towards your recovery daily, and are consistently succeeding, there is no reason not to forgive yourself. Holding on to the past can mean a lot of things but in recovery it is often negative. It’s important to let go of negative feelings like guilt, depression, grief, and anger, because they will hold you back and they will prevent you from recovering. Good luck with your sobriety.