Putting Your Dark Days Behind You in Recovery
You’ve embraced a new life, one that you’ve freely chosen, and one that entails living clean and sober from here on out. That is, you mostly embraced it, and mostly freely chose it. For some who are new to recovery, however, the first few days, weeks, and even months of sobriety are often anything but certain.
In fact, if you’re like many newcomers in the rooms of recovery, you may find yourself scratching your head and wondering what you’ve really gotten yourself into. After all, it’s supposed to feel a whole lot better, right? You’re supposed to be lifted into a new realm of possibilities, where all of your life suddenly gets better, easier to manage, and less filled with agonizing distractions and temptations to use.
It’s ideally this way, but it doesn’t always turn out that you feel so glorious about the life of sobriety when you first enter into recovery.
What’s the major stumbling block? What’s at the root of why you may feel so uncertain, so filled with doubt, possibly anger, fear and pain? Could it be that your dark days are intruding on your present, now that you’ve put addiction behind you and are attempting to make your new life without the crutch of alcohol or drugs?
Let’s be honest. No one wants to think about the miseries of the past, especially self-imposed ones due to the addictive behaviors they engaged in and the misfortune and troubles they brought upon themselves. But here you are now, trying to escape those unpleasant memories. How do you do that?
Here are some suggestions on how to go about putting your dark days behind you in recovery.
Recognize It Won’t Be Easy
Right at the outset, it’s important to do a reality check. You need to understand and accept the fact that it’s not going to be easy to just dismiss months and years of painful memories, to get beyond negative consequences of your actions, or to obtain forgiveness from others (and you) for what you’ve done that has caused them harm.
There’s no quick and sure-fire way to banish thoughts of your addictive past. It just doesn’t work that way.
What you will be coming face to face with, as you attempt to deal with thoughts of the past that keep resurfacing to plague you, are some rather uncomfortable truths about yourself, truths that you’d much rather ignore, dismiss or simply forget about. The bad news is that the more you try to run away from the past, the more it will come back to haunt you and block your progress in recovery.
Clearly, there’s something that you will have to do to overcome these memories and reminders of your dark days — unless, of course, you want to continue battling them for the rest of your life. Where will that get you? Likely this isn’t even an option you’re inclined to consider.
Coming to grips with the realization that it won’t be easy to just move on, what can you possibly do to begin the healing process? Keep reading. It gets better.
Others Have Been Where You are Now – and Can Help
It’s always kind of tough to see beyond your own misery and step outside your current problems and issues to look around and recognize that there are others who have gone through exactly what you’re going through right now.
The truth is that each person who is now in recovery, no matter at what stage of the recovery they’re in, has been through some more or less difficult situations. They’ve had to confront awful truths about themselves and then, with the support and encouragement of their sponsor, their counselor or therapist, fellow 12-step group members, their loving family members and trusted friends, learn how to overcome those obstacles from the past and move forward in recovery.
Just as it is vital that you recognize that it won’t be easy to put your dark days behind you, it is also crucial that you understand – really understand – that there are others who have gone through similar transition periods and can help you with support and encouragement as you make your way from the dark side of your past to the daylight and hope that’s yours to receive in recovery.
Maybe sitting in the 12-step rooms isn’t exactly your idea of hope and change, but, trust in the wisdom of the many thousands of individuals who have been in your shoes. No one expects instantaneous change for the better, no matter how ardently desired. You know yourself that there are ingrained behaviors that you’ve worked hard to overcome and will need to continue to work at changing so that your life can be more productive, more joyful, and happier in recovery.
Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can when you’re participating in 12-step group meetings, when you’re in conversation with your sponsor on how to work a particular step or overcome issues that you encounter as you make your way in sobriety. There is much wisdom in the rooms of recovery, and it comes in all manner of revelations. It could be an overheard conversation or the last few sentences of a personal story shared in the rooms. It may be the result of working with others on a shared goal or project, or something that you read in the recovery literature.
In truth, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, but when you accept with gratitude a suggestion or incorporate a proposed solution into your recovery toolkit, you are doing something positive and constructive to help in your long-term goal of sobriety.
Recognizing that it won’t be easy and taking advantage of the accumulated and freely-offered wisdom from your fellow group members in the 12-step rooms of recovery are important pre-cursors to the actual result you’re aiming for: putting your dark days behind you and getting on with your recovery. But you’ll need more than that to actually make it happen. Here are some practical tips that may prove useful.
- Keep a diary. It’s not high school, nor are you in a writing class where you’ll be graded on your literary or journalistic efforts. No, the recommendation to keep a daily journal is purely for your own benefit. Why involve yourself in journal writing? The only reason to do so is so that you can express yourself freely in writing without any fear of reprisal. You get out what’s bothering you and let it go, literally, since as you write down the words, they no longer have the power to hurt you. It’s like a breath of fresh air, and all it takes is a few minutes a day to do. But there’s another reason to keep a diary or daily journal. That is that it helps serve as a record, almost like a transcript, showing you your progress over a period of time. When you begin your journal writing early in recovery, after a few weeks, go back and re-read your first entries. You will be amazed at how differently you feel about similar situations today. What’s happened in the interim is that you have become stronger and more self-confident in your abilities to overcome various common problems in recovery, whether that is how to deal with persistent cravings and urges or how to manage the probing comments of co-workers or friends.
- Get busy. One antidote to gloomy thoughts about the past is also quite easy to do – get out of the house and get busy doing something. Being around others, instead of isolating yourself in the narrow confines of your home, is much better for your overall outlook, along with how you feel about yourself and your prospects on a day-to-day basis. Sure, it may seem like pulling teeth to get up and make yourself presentable enough to venture out, but the alternative is not anything at all appealing. Sitting alone only allows too much time for gloomy thoughts to circle around in your head, doing nothing at all constructive for you. Of course, getting busy implies that you have something already on your list to get busy with. See the next tip.
- Make a list. People in recovery have all kinds of lists. There’s the daily to-do list, the list of things you absolutely need to do for your recovery and to help ensure that you’re making more or less continual progress toward your goals. There’s the list of goals that include short-term or immediate goals, mid-term (not exams at school, although those certainly could be construed as mid-term goals), and long-term goals. There’s also the list of things you’d like to do, things that give you pleasure, involve you with other people, even opportunities for you to meet new people. And, yes, the list of people, places and things that appeal to you will also help broaden your horizons, to give you a glimpse of life that is more satisfying and productive than what you’ve known in the past. Naturally, your list should be evolving and constantly changing to incorporate the new items or things that you find enjoyable. As with daily to-do lists and lists of recovery goals, your list of things to keep busy at also has the added benefit of being proactive and forward-thinking. It is another way to make sure you are actively involved in creating your new life in recovery.
- Take care of yourself. While it should go without saying, it’s actually necessary to reinforce it here. When you’re in early recovery, the tendency is to short-change your physical needs to eat properly, get sufficient exercise and ensure you sleep enough hours each night. For some individuals who are just entering recovery, sleep is disrupted by terrifying nightmares or disturbed by overwhelming cravings and urges that literally get them out of bed in an anxious and worried state. Some of the coping mechanisms for getting over these rather frightening episodes you’ll be able to work out with your therapist or counselor, or talk over with your sponsor. Some you will work out on your own over time. But at the heart of healing is the requirement to take appropriate, regular care of your body. Eat nourishing meals every day. Do some sort of exercise for about 15-20 minutes (at the very least) every day. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Remember that you are healing your body, and therefore your mind and spirit as well, and that takes time and consistent good practice: eating, exercising, and sleeping.
- Put your life in order. If there’s one point that should make you feel better, it that the regret, dismay, discouragement and disappointment you felt during your darkest days of addiction are now gone – at least, for the most part. Granted there are lingering reminders of the past, the ones you’re trying to put behind you. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t still have things to take care of that are a result of those bleak times. The benefit of being in recovery is that you are now better able to not only see what it is you need to do to repair or mend those situations, but you are better equipped to tackle the challenges. Putting your life in order is an important blessing in recovery. Moving ahead with your life is an integral part of your continuing sobriety. That’s easier said than done, right? You may wonder how you get there. Sometimes, it’s difficult. You may need help. Use the resources available to you, whether it’s counseling that is a part of your aftercare program or other counseling and help that you can get through federal, state or local resources. You may need job training or assistance obtaining funds to go continue or pursue a degree. Perhaps you need guidance on the best way to approach a new employer or a recommendation for a plan to break into a new field that’s of interest to you.
- Let go of resentment. Resentment is the accumulation of the real or imagined wrongs we all carry around with us. Let’s face it. Resentment just doesn’t accrue any benefits. It’s like a balance sheet with a sea of red ink – no good to anyone. You have to let go of all your resentment, period.
- Forgive yourself. After months or years of addiction and self-destructive behavior, you have undoubtedly tallied up quite a lengthy list of grievances, debts, failed or strained relationships, ruined lives, legal troubles, employment difficulties – and on and on. A pessimistic person could look at this endless list and constantly berate himself over lack of progress, or inability to overcome the wrongs. This type of record-keeping, of never-ending checking and keeping score of where you are is counter-productive to recovery. Suffice to say that forgiving yourself will go a long way toward letting go of the record-keeping. Some in recovery refer to the feeling as an intense relief. They’re no longer crushed under the burden or weight of past misdeeds. Some see it as forgiveness of their sins. Practically speaking, when you are not emotionally tied up in knots, your mind is clear and you are free to engage in other pursuits.
- Learn how to love yourself (and others) again. Addiction carries a lot of self-destruction. Once you cast off your habit and resolve to be clean and sober, you gradually learn to believe in yourself again. This, too, takes time, and it’s different for everyone. There’s no set amount of months before you can say that you’re okay again, that you feel good about yourself, and that you’re a good person. You can say it, and it’s a good affirmation, but it will still take time for you to truly believe it. The reality is that believing in yourself and your intrinsic goodness is a huge benefit of being in recovery. Why is this? Without a belief in yourself, you cannot be open to give and receive love. Letting another person in requires trust, a belief that this person will see you for who you really are, and love you regardless of your past transgressions or station in life, how much money you make or what kind of things you own. It also means that you will be able to reach out to others – first, to help those in need, and then to just give freely of yourself with no thought of receiving anything in return. This is how true love begins.
In the end, what steps you take to put your dark days behind you, now that you’re in recovery, will be intensely personal and unique to you. While you will no doubt be inspired by what others have done to successfully rid themselves of being haunted by their past, you have to make your own trial-and-error solution, the one that ultimately works for you.
Trust in your ability to find your way. Work your recovery actively. Keep attuned to opportunities that may come your way cloaked in another guise. For it is true that many new possibilities only surface after you push past the obstacle, fight through the fear and uncertainty and move forward with courage. What never before was thought possible suddenly becomes not only possible, but maybe even probable.