Forget The Past

Driving vehicle through Grand Teton National Park

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.

 

GOING TO BE USED TO BE

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.

YESTERDAYS JUNK

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.

RECOVERY IS BADASS

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.

FREEDOM

 

 

Forgive Yourself

FORGIVE YOURSELF I

Many of us had childhoods that were permanently stained from numerous events of humiliation or abuse at the hands of parents, siblings, classmates, or others. Adulthood brought more disintegration of our self-esteem because of toxic, abusive relationships or other events that forced us into viewing ourselves as failures. We became saddled with shame and ridden by blame. We felt unworthy and undeserving of anything good in life. We also became dependent on the validation and/or approval of other people to try and prop up our fragile, fractured self-worth.

We found sudden comfort and immediate relief in the arms of something we could drink, swallow, smoke or snort. It was magic. It made all the pain disappear, and provided us with momentary visions of self-worth and escape from the reality of our lives. The desire for relief and escape became habitual, which then morphed into full-blown addiction. Once that happened, the heavy weight of shame and guilt, that we were carrying around from our broken childhoods and adulthood, tripled and became back-breaking.

I was abandoned at birth and abused as a child, and those events permanently scarred me. When adulthood came, I was drawn to alcohol and drugs like a moth to a light. It made the hurt stop and made me feel better about myself, but also started a pattern of isolation. Within a short period of time, I became a full-blown alcoholic and drug addict, which continued for years. I kept isolating myself more, adding to my shame and guilt. Eventually my life crashed and burned because of alcoholism and addiction and I almost lost my life to both.

Once I got into recovery, I didn’t start growing until I learned to forgive myself, which was one of the first and most important keys. I never pitied myself, but I learned to forgive and be kind and compassionate to myself. I stopped judging and condemning myself – in short, I made amends with myself. I started talking to myself the way I would encourage a best friend who was feeling down. I began to accept what and who I was, and to understand what got me to where I was. Once I understood and accepted myself, I could begin to like myself.  Just starting to take care of myself, in the most basic ways, began a journey of self-love, which does not mean some kind of narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-worship. It was simply having enough self-respect to want to care about myself.

SELF CARE

I never allowed myself to use excuses, because making excuses for the past was just making excuses for the future. I also didn’t play the blame game, because assigning blame just creates resentments that did nothing but eat me alive from the inside out, and did nothing to the people who I had resented in the past. But most importantly, I stopped blaming myself. I did not deserve that. What I did deserve was self-love and self-respect, just like everybody else. Without elaboration, because I never want to be disrespectful or insensitive to people who don’t share my beliefs, faith and spirituality has been a crucial piece to my recovery. There is an underlying thread that goes through avenues of faith, which is that that I am loved and I am forgiven. That allowed me to learn to love and forgive myself as well.

We cannot move forward and upward if we’re still carrying around the heavy baggage and life-sucking weight of shame and guilt. It’s hard to grow if we’ve put ourselves into life without parole in the prison of blaming and shaming ourselves and fear about what other people think of us. Why should we blame ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know before we learned it? Why worry about whether someone approves of us or not? We can be proud that we are growing and improving because the majority of the world will never be anything better than their inherited genes, inherent personality traits, childhood and adulthood experiences. But those of us in recovery rise above these things and become better people than we have ever been!

ALCOHOLICS BECOME BETTER II

We did the best we were able to do, with the hand we were dealt, and with what we did not know at the time. Instead of reviewing our past with regret and shame, we can be proud of how much we’ve battled through and survived. All of us, who have fought through addiction to alcohol/drugs, deserve to have good things happen to us in our lives. We all deserve these good things because we are resolved resilient, courageous and we can respect and love ourselves for it.

NO PERSON ON EARTH

 

 

 

 

 

Self Hatred

SEFL DISLIKE

Trauma from abuse suffered at the hands of someone in our lives, either as a child or an adult, can create a dislike of ourselves and even self-hatred. For years we were put down and kept down, humiliated or worse. This creates a deep, negative rut that our minds get stuck in. “Why don’t people like me? Why would they? There’s not much to like. I really don’t like me either.” These obsessive thoughts can haunt us mercilessly. When there is no real evidence to support the perception that other people dislike us, we find ourselves doing things that we know are terribly wrong so there is something real to back up the imagined dislike. Or we just create perceptions, in our minds, of other people’s dislike of us to support our own dislike. So, in our minds, we feel that if other people dislike us the way we dislike ourselves, things feel in sync. Things like career successes, love from others and even just compliments make us want to push people away and isolate, because it creates an internal battle. It goes completely against the grain of the dislike of ourselves.

I was the great pretender, acting as if I had complete confidence. Nobody ever knew. But inside? Complete and utter turmoil. All of this created not only general anxiety, but intense social anxiety. Then along came alcohol and drugs. Suddenly, there was a magic euphoric escape from all this. But not just an escape. Alcohol/drugs either supplied false confidence, or if I was a drunken/drugged out fool, people would either love me as the life of the party, or they would dislike me as much as I disliked myself. So I had everything covered. The dislike of myself became a self-fulfilling prophecy as my life, of course, crashed and burned because of the alcoholism and drug abuse, as it is virtually guaranteed to do. When that happened, I was swimming in an ocean of self-hatred, disdain and complete isolation and devastation.

The happy ending to all this is that sobriety and therapy (in that order) finally allowed me to untwist that giant tangled knot of messed up neural pathways and get out of the prison of the mind ruts I was stuck in. I was able to learn the origins of the dislike of myself and what had created it (much of it from the trauma of being a foster child and abused physically and mentally throughout childhood by a narcissistic parent). I gained the power to examine these thoughts as they come in, easily and quickly brush them away like flies, or let them float past like scenery on a train. But every once in awhile, I can feel my thoughts slipping into those old mind ruts of self-dislike and worrying that other people dislike me. Those thoughts try to stick to me like a barnacle. But I immediately stop and pull my thoughts up onto the high ground of reality and win that battle between what I know and what I feel and between created perceptions and reality. Knowledge rocks! For any of you that can relate to any of this, I am absolutely nothing special – if I can do this, literally ANYBODY can and that’s the great news. But none of this would have happened without sobriety first.