Our past wants to always follow us around and rear it’s ugly head at the worst possible time. If we’re having an unusually bad day, we’ll get a call from a family member who caused (or causes) us trauma, making our bad day worse. We might be feeling particularly great on a certain day and someone will bring up something from our past that we’re ashamed of or feel guilty about, souring our mood. Or we might run into an ex, where just the sight of them brings back all the feelings of hurt, anger, sadness and despair we felt when the break up occurred, making us feel like we’re going through it all over again. Then we might run into an acquaintance from our alcoholism or drug addiction days, offering to reacquaint us with our drug(s) of choice. We try so desperately to move forward and beyond our past, but it seems to keep reappearing like an evil apparition, trying to re-accuse us of our perceived failures and drag us back into them. It makes us dream of moving to a place far away, where nobody knows us and we’ll be safe from our past. The problem is our mind stays with us wherever we go and we can’t run from that.
Whenever I’m having a miserable day, filled with stress, at the worst possible moment, I’ll get a call or text from a family member trying to obligate (guilt) me into being face-to-face with perpetrators of my childhood trauma. If I’m feeling on top of the world on another day, someone will bring up the bad things I did during my days of alcoholism and drug abuse, flooding my mind with feelings of shame and guilt. The timing of the past, climbing up into my face, appears to be impeccably bad, always trying to hold me down and keep me back.
One of the first things my therapist did to help me deal with the past, was to address each traumatic event from childhood or adulthood, as a separate and distinct thing, rather than looking at all these things as one giant 500 pound gorilla that I needed to defeat. She helped me address these individual traumas, process them, and compartmentalize them. She actually gave me glass jars where I would physically imagine putting traumatic memories or events into the jars, seal them up and put them on a shelf. I could still look at them, but they were sealed in a jar where they could never harm me. She also helped me give humorous character voices to the people from my past, or even to my own internal accusing voice, to remove their control and steer my mind onto new positive mind pathways in the present. The whole point was to take away the power of the past by learning to walking right by it, instead of letting it drag me back down to it. I never try to either avoid or confront my past. I simply acknowledge it and step around it if it’s in my face, brush it aside and thereby keeping myself in solid control of the present.
We never need to be tethered to our past like we’re connected to it by some barbed wire umbilical cord. The past is only useful to look at it for the purposes of learning from it, but never to stare at it. For instance, early in recovery if I was having a “trigger” moment where I felt like using, I would immediately take myself back to my final relapse with the feelings of overwhelming anxiety, shame, guilt, and physical misery of that moment. Then I would play the present forward, using the memory of the past, and what would happen if I were to give in to that trigger.
All of us in recovery put every ounce of ourselves into obtaining and maintaining sobriety. We never need to be ashamed of our alcoholism or addiction. We all know the hell that we went through to obtain our sobriety and what it takes to maintain it. Getting sober is something to be damn proud of and to wear as a badge of honor.
Why let our past be shackled to our ankles like an anvil and sucking the life out of the present? We never, ever need to allow people, places or things from the past to poison what we’re doing today. None of those things has any power over us, except what we give them. When people try to get us to relive the past that we’re trying to forget, we can remind them that we’re not that person anymore, and that this is the present and not the past. If they want to live in the jail cell of the past, wish them well, but tell them we won’t be joining them. If they love the past so much, they can keep it – we don’t want it back. We have the power to control our present by living in today and shape our bright future, none of which is dependent on our dark past, or the memories of it.