Familiar places, certain times of the day, and activities associated with drinking are woven into the fabric of our lives. So, of course many changes are necessary. There is a huge transition, and we all have to travel through that otherwise we get nowhere.
I was highly functioning for quite some time. Running a business, working long hours. I was married, had a child, and the house was always spotless. From the outside perhaps I even looked like I was totally together. Goes to show we never really know what’s going on for others, do we?
The amount of alcohol you drink will always need to increase over time in order to try and get that feeling you once had. This is because drinking on a regular basis causes tolerance, so you need to drink more and more. It was shocking how quickly my drinking spiraled from evening drinking, to lunch time, and finally the dreaded morning drinking, just to be able to function.
Towards the end of my drinking, a bottle of vodka was easily demolished within a day. Makeup wasn’t going to do the trick anymore. The mask was slipping, and my health was suffering. I was so bloated from the alcohol people assumed I was pregnant. There are many stories to tell within this one, but today I just want to remind people that mine did not include a life I wanted to be living.
I am living my truth today in sobriety and I don’t look back. So, let’s talk about guilt and living in the past. Have I experienced guilt and shame because of what I put others through? Absolutely. Alcohol addiction causes us to continue making the same mistakes over and over again. But hang on. What is guilt? It is a feeling of remorse, and it is exactly what keeps us morally accountable for our actions.
Feeling guilt is a positive, believe it or not. It can often be the reason why people decide to get help and change their lives. Without this emotion it is easy to continue the same behavior. Having said this, I do not mean that anyone should dwell on the past. Acceptance of our mistakes and heartfelt apologies to those who were affected by our actions is important.
It is equally important to use guilt only as a learning tool. One that encourages and motivates us to never go back but instead, continue to move forward and grow. It means later being able to replace that guilt with strength and hope. Many mistakenly think guilt and shame are the same thing. They are not.
Shame is unhelpful in every way, as it tells us we are at fault as a person. It is a fast track to self-loathing and rock- bottom self-esteem. Now, the decision to pick up that first drink is ours, but no one chooses addiction. So, it’s important to realise that while it is essential to take full responsibility for one’s own actions, those actions do not make you a bad person. Sometimes good people make bad mistakes.
This is another huge gift that sobriety gives us. It diminishes the feelings of shame. You can rewrite your story. Sometimes, you need to actually think from the other end of your life and work backwards. Imagining getting to the end of your life and what you would hope to be able to say you have achieved. The thought of getting to the end of mine and still drinking was never going to be an option. It was never going to be my story.
I find mentally working backwards in this way helps in so many areas of life and decision making. We don’t know how long we will be here, so it’s quite powerful to use this tool of looking back on your life when time has run out, as it puts everything into perspective. I don’t want to get to the end and say …
‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself’
‘I wish I had let myself be happy and made the most of everyday’
‘I wish I had tried to fulfil my dreams’
I wish I had not wasted so much time worrying about things that were out of my control’
We will all have things in the past that we wish we had done differently. But the beauty of recovery is that you are given the opportunity of a fresh start. This means you get the chance to make your future, one that you will eventually look back on and feel happy and proud of. You will know that the tough times made you who you are. You can be at peace with where you have been, and what you have been through.
I made peace with my past long ago, as I knew if I didn’t, it would destroy my present. These days I don’t compare myself with others, and I take responsibility for my own happiness rather than placing it in someone else’s hands. What others think of me is none of my business, so I never waste my time worrying about that. I try not to over-think, and I accept that I don’t always have all the answers, and that’s ok.
The reason I have achieved so many things in sobriety is because I kept looking forward. Our eyes are at the front of our heads and not at the back for a reason! Before giving up drink I had already crawled out of my own personal hell, so my tolerance for getting through tough times once in recovery was pretty high. But more than that, I certainly didn’t get sober to have a mediocre life and be scared to take a leap.
All the best things in life are terrifying. Becoming a parent is one of the scariest things ever, but there is nothing like it or the happiness it brings. We need to remember where we came from and what we have been through, in order to get to where we are supposed to be. I remember wanting to fix everything straight away. Feeling a bit chaotic, and having so many questions but no answers.
Then I realised, that instead of looking back and trying to work everything out all at once, I just needed to not drink and take some time to build on my new self. Today I have times where things are not always as I want them to be, but then I remember, I am here, and I am so blessed to be. I know that life has many ways of testing us. Sometimes having nothing happen at all, or everything happening all at once.
Of course, there is a big difference between thinking about the past and living in it. When we make mistakes, there are lessons to be learnt. Even when there is a slip, you still don’t lose all the things you have learnt. You can exhaust yourself wishing specific events never happened, or you can learn and move forward. Acceptance is not resignation. We cannot control everything, but our actions today can and will shape our future.
No matter what happened in the past, it’s over. Every experience we go through is meant to teach us something. I really believe that. Alcohol addiction is not about the alcohol, it’s about an absence of self. This is also known as a hole in the soul. It means trying to fill a void or escape yourself. So this is the reason it is so important not to brush things under the carpet.
When someone has a lapse, I do not tell them to forget about it and move on. How can we correct our mistakes and not repeat them, if we ignore why things have gone wrong? We need to acknowledge and address these things in order to know where to make change. Once we have done this, and we have taken a lesson from it, then we move on and leave it in the past.
The lessons I have learnt certainly don’t make me perfect. I still check myself at times and hold myself accountable always. If a plane is going down, you are told to put your own oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. I have learnt I must put myself first for this reason. I would be unable to be there for anyone else if I am not ok.
I also learnt to say no without feeling guilty. I used to be such a people pleaser. In sobriety I have healthy boundaries. There is also no space or time for people who have a negative impact in my life. Sometimes cutting ties with negative people who do not support you, is difficult but it does create positive change.
I have definitely learnt that I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. Hard times show a person that they can in fact get through anything. And very often, the worst things that happen to us are not the things we were worrying about at all. They were the things we least expected. Even then, we find a way to get through it.
Life also needs to have meaning and purpose. Without it we cannot truly be happy. Find what is important to you. What really matters. Every day is a new day. No more focusing on the past or the things that steal your joy. You deserve to live a life you are excited about. Leave the past in the past. Its ok to look back, but just don’t stare!