Looking through old photo albums may be a favorite pastime for families, but dwelling on ancient history is anything but beneficial for those in recovery. In fact, it’s more than disadvantageous. Romancing the past is actually a dangerous practice for addicts building new lives.
What’s wrong with remembering bygone times fondly? How can allowing yourself to sift through those comforting memories be bad for your recovery? Here we take a look at some of the reasons why you should skip the trip down memory lane.
Remembering only the good things…
You know the common practice to only remember the good things about someone who has died? The person could have been the most cantankerous, miserable human being that walked the earth, but he or she was a child at one time and had to have something good going, right? After the person is gone, there’s often a tendency to talk about him or her in only the most favorable terms, as if the bad traits didn’t exist.
Well, it’s a lot like this when you’re in recovery and start reminiscing about what you did in your addictive past. You don’t really hone in on the bad stuff you did, or how much harm your actions caused others. Instead, you focus on the good times you had, drinking it up with your pals, doing drugs, gambling and hitting it big, and so on. The thought seldom crosses your mind how self-destructive your behavior was during that time. At least, it doesn’t when you’re engaged in looking at this self-painted rosy picture of the past.
How does this behavior harm your recovery? That’s an easy answer. The more you focus on how great it was in your past, the more likely you’ll be to want to re-engage in such behavior now. Instead of steering clear of the people, places and things associated with your addiction, you’ll be one step closer to careening toward them. This is not a good thing and is one of the primary reasons why romancing the past is a dangerous practice in recovery.
It colors your judgment
Thinking about the past and wishing you were back there also affects your judgment in the here and now. When you’re so involved in your memories, you’re certainly not motivated to take action today to benefit your recovery.
What happens is that you not only immerse yourself in thoughts of the past, but you also start seeing your present life in sobriety as something less than what you wanted. Oh, you may still profess to want to remain clean and sober but deep down your thoughts are calling you back into your old life. There’s only so long you can hold out against this kind of internal pressure. Sooner or later, if you don’t get a handle on this issue, you’ll find yourself doing more than just thinking about how great the past was. You’ll find yourself making disastrous decisions in the present, hurtling yourself, perhaps, right back into the addictive cycle.
The past chips away at the present
Another way that a focus on the past is dangerous to your recovery is that it insidiously chips away at your present state of sobriety. It isn’t that you’ll automatically go out and get loaded or stoned, but you may very well find yourself thinking that you don’t need to or don’t want to do the work of recovery that you’ve committed to.
It’s much easier to make excuses – and you know what those are: I’m too busy, too tired, or too sick… to go to my 12 step meeting. I don’t need to go right now. I’ve got a handle on everything and can afford to skip a few meetings.
Pretty soon one skipped meeting turns into several and then you’re pretty much off the grid and on your own again. Your firm foundation of recovery, whatever gains you had made, start to become less stable. You may find yourself backsliding, defeating your prior efforts to establish healthy behaviors and take daily action toward meeting your goals.
None of this is very conducive to you being able to continue to make progress in recovery, let alone stick on your recovery path. In fact, the more eroded your recovery foundation becomes, especially if you constantly romanticize about the past, the slipperier your footing will be.
No such thing as “just once”
Many times the line of thinking that accompanies a fixation on how great the past was is that it couldn’t possibly hurt to link back up with old friends who are still using. It goes something like this: I’ll only meet up with them for a little while, a short visit. I’ll drink coffee (or I won’t gamble or do drugs or whatever). I’ll be able to handle it with no problem.
Oh, really? The 12 step rooms are filled with now-wiser members who have been down this road before. You’d be wise to listen to their cautionary tales. There’s more than a kernel of truth to their accounts of slipping right back into their addictive ways following a single meeting with former drug- and alcohol-using acquaintances.
The truth is that it only takes one time to catapult you right back where you were before rehab. All that hard work slips away in a matter of hours, even minutes. Is it really worth skirting disaster this way? Don’t believe that you can get away with it just this once. There’s no such thing, not when it comes to your recovery.
Tendency to toss out your goals
If it was really so great in the past, why did you ever decide to get clean and sober in the first place? This should be a wake-up call to you whenever you start conning yourself into believing that things were so wonderful when you were in the midst of your addiction.
Let’s say that you don’t allow yourself to become mired in thoughts of the past, but you do savor them as a delicious pleasure every now and then. Is this so bad for your recovery? Here’s another reason why a focus on the past, even an occasional one, may hamper your progress in sobriety. You could very well start to look at the goals you’ve crafted for yourself and see them as less desirable or too difficult or impossible to achieve.
Once your mind starts down this road, it’s pretty tough to rein it back in. You can do it, of course, but it will require you giving yourself a stern talking-to or a frank discussion with your sponsor followed by an action plan to get you reoriented to your recovery goals and tasks.
The wake-up call can be very disconcerting
If you catch yourself dwelling on your “rosy” past and do more than just allow this to happen occasionally, and you do wind up slipping back into your addictive ways, the wake-up call, when it comes – and it always does – can be very disconcerting.
What do we mean by disconcerting? Isn’t slipping back into addiction more than just unpleasant? Yes, it definitely is more than just a minor detour. But the reason we’re highlighting how disconcerting it can be is that when you do find yourself right back where you started, hanging out with your using friends or slipping back into your past addictive pattern, you’ll also realize just how far from the truth your reality is from the rosy picture you had painted for yourself.
That is, if you’re not strung out at the time. It could very well be that you could go on for quite some time after falling into relapse and not care at all about the progress you’d made in recovery. But if you were really committed to sobriety and, for a variety of reasons, hadn’t fully established your recovery foundation or just needed more knowledge and experience dealing with problems and issues that could derail your recovery, you will eventually face the bitter truth: The past wasn’t so rosy after all.
Hopefully, you’ll also make the determination that getting back into recovery is your primary goal. But why put yourself through all this misery? The past should be left where it was. You don’t live there anyway, so concentrate instead on where you are in recovery today.
Climbing back can be doubly difficult
Waking up and thinking that the past is where you want to be, and then finding yourself there in short order, does something else harmful to your recovery. Not only are you back where you started from, but the climb back to sobriety can be twice as tough as before.
It isn’t this way for everyone, to be sure, but it is for enough of them to form a basis of common experiences. When you relapse, getting back on the firm path of recovery isn’t like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. It could very well be like trying to wedge your feet into too-small shoes. It’s tough going, and there are bound to be some painful surprises.
You may find, for example, that you can’t seem to force yourself to attend 12 step meetings. Your motivation just isn’t there any longer. If your recent relapse was prolonged, it’s even more difficult to get back into the regular meeting schedule.
Taking proper care of yourself, living up to your obligations at home, work and/or school may also prove problematic after you’ve suffered a relapse. Again, it may not be so for you, but are you really willing to take a chance, jeopardizing all that you’ve achieved so far in recovery?
Getting hooked on danger
If you’ve been toying with wistful thoughts of the past, you’re also in danger of aligning yourself with risk-seekers. Who are these individuals? You’ll find them in almost any setting, even in the 12 step rooms. No one is immune to a tale told by another that, in essence, says how they were easily able to flirt with danger (read, hang out with old associates, frequent perilouslocations, party one time with no consequences, etc.) and suffer no ill effects.
If you hear such stories on the sidelines in the 12 step rooms, like as not the old-timers will have something to say about it along the lines of not reminiscing about dangerous practices. Anyone with any longevity in sobriety knows that fixation on how great things once were is simply a self-destructive line of thinking that will only get you into trouble.
Suppose you find yourself being drawn to another in the rooms who may be grumbling about this or that, how tough it is and how they’d really rather have drinks than be there. What should you do? For one thing, get a grip. You’re here for a reason, and that reason certainly doesn’t include looking for any excuse to go back to using. For another, politely excuse yourself and move off to another individual, talk with your sponsor, go have a cup of coffee, or, better yet, say that you’re concentrated on doing the work of recovery, not glorifying the past and trying to relive it.
Family relationships can become tenuous
What about your family members and loved ones? What side of the issue do you think they’ll fall on if you start talking about and reminiscing about the past? If they’re also in recovery, this is very dangerous practice for all concerned. If they’re users and not in rehab or recovery, it’s even more dangerous for you because you have no support system at home to help deter you from taking this path.
Let’s say, however, that your family is and has been extremely supportive of your recovery efforts. If you start traveling down this romancing the past road, how do you think this will impact your situation at home? They’re likely to be more than a little wary hearing you bring up the past in such a manner. After all, your rehab was hard-fought and a tremendous victory once you completed it and entered recovery. They won’t be at all happy to see you flirting around the fringes of a fixation on the past. They may be scared to death that you’ll relapse and they can’t do anything about it.
Remember that your family members and loved ones are pillars of your recovery. But they can only be supportive and encouraging. They can’t force you to do anything nor keep you from wanting to ditch your recovery. Only you can take the action steps necessary to right your footing and regain your focus on doing the work of recovery.
Besides disappointing yourself, do you really want to let your family down this way?