One of the hardest things to overcome after years of addiction is our guilt. For quite some time, we remain convinced that our disease hurt no one but ourselves. Eventually, however, we come to realize that this isn’t quite true. In many cases, this realization leaves us devastated. Tortured by the pain of our own remorse, we spend countless hours wallowing in misery. If only we could go back in time. We’d give anything to change our past behaviors and undo their consequences. Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to atone for the wreckage of our past if we do not first learn how to move forward.
It isn’t always easy to move forward when our guilt continually weighs us down. We know that we need to make amends, but we become terrified of the reaction we might receive upon doing so. Even then, we worry that forgiveness from those we’ve wronged will do little to make us feel better. This doesn’t make our amends any less necessary, but it still often causes us to put them off. Another excuse we often make is that we need to get ourselves into the right mindset before we can attempt to approach others.
Given the importance of spiritual growth, we’d like to dedicate this discussion to our need to move forward. First, we’ll focus upon the various forms our wreckage might take. Then, we’ll talk about how to begin the process of moving forward with our lives. We’ll then conclude with a few cautions against thinking too much about the future. Remember that, while your addiction may have affected others, your recovery has the potential to affect them as well. It is therefore vital that you learn to move forward and achieve true spiritual growth. Your recovery from this fatal disease rests largely on your ability to learn from the past.
The Wreckage of Our Past
We’d like to begin by telling the story of a former medical officer from the Navy who has been sober for close to fifty years. In the late 1960s, he found himself drunk and unemployed. He managed to enter a relationship with a fairly wealthy woman. She bought him a motorcycle, so that he could get around. The stipulation was that he had to use it to look for a job. He found a job doing some garden work outside of an office. It wasn’t long before he learned how to get away with drinking on the job. One day, as he was about to leave work, a woman from the office asked for a ride on his motorcycle. He’d been drinking, but he decided to go ahead and take her around the block.
Near the end of the ride, the bike hit a slippery patch on the road. A car in front swerved, and the bike swerved to avoid it. The bike’s operator, who was driving much too fast in his drunken state, hit a guardrail and the bike flipped. Flying just over 125 feet from the bike, the rider fortunately landed in a patch of mud. Despite the relative softness of the landing, he broke 22 bones. His passenger wasn’t so lucky. She hit her head on the rail and died instantly. Her six children were left motherless. Also left to mourn her loss were an ex-husband, a mother, a father, and three siblings. The driver sought help so that his drinking would never again harm so many people.
Not everyone has a story like this, but that doesn’t mean we were better addicts or alcoholics than this man. Anyone charged with a DUI should recognize that their story quite nearly resembled that of the man referenced above. And even if we think that our addiction hurts no one but ourselves, we’re ignoring the bigger picture. Just like the woman who died in that crash, this man had a family. Everyone has someone who cares, someone whose life is radically altered when something happens to us. When we get hurt or find ourselves in legal trouble, those closest to us suffer as a result.
We might think of ourselves as high-bottom addicts, but this line of thinking exudes pure selfishness. It isn’t enough to look at how our actions affected us alone. Because even if nobody died or went to jail, we most likely hurt people with our actions. If we don’t accept this, we can never move forward. But once we do reach that point of acceptance, we can begin to move forward rather quickly.
Beginning to Move Forward
Acceptance might be necessary before we can move forward, but we need a bit more than that. First, we need to look inward at ourselves. We must identify our character defects and make an inventory of our resentments. We do these things in Step Four, Step Five, and Step Six. Once we reach Step Eight and Step Nine, we should find ourselves ready to move forward in true fashion.
We begin by making amends to those we harmed while in addiction. When doing this, we must bear in mind that our efforts might not always be met with forgiveness. At the end of the day, we should be content with doing what we can. Even if those we harmed cannot find it in their hearts to forgive us, we still went outside of our comfort zone to try and clean our side of the street. To be entirely frank, there’s little else we can do. Sometimes we can offer money or other forms of recompense for our actions, but most of the time we can offer little more than condolences and the wish to make things better.
After we make amends, we must again look inward. If our amends were accepted, this doesn’t free us up to be reckless again. Those who truly wish to move forward must do everything in their power to ensure that prior mistakes are not repeated. And we must still move forward if our amends are denied. Upon seeing that our addiction cost us relationships, we should become stalwart in our efforts to refrain from dangerous or unseemly behaviors in the future. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves right back where we started. Repeating our mistakes makes it impossible to move forward—if anything, we will only move in reverse.
No matter what we do, we must always think about the next right thing. In order to move forward, we must focus on where we are at this very moment. Are we bogging ourselves down with unhealthy feelings of anger, depression, or self-pity? Or are we embracing proper values such as charity, love, and compassion? If we can say the latter, then we are on the right track. In the end, all it really means to move forward is that we no longer let our behavior in the past dictate our feelings in the present. Moving forward isn’t really about the future, because our future will be much brighter if we continue doing the right thing today. And frankly, thinking too much about the future might actually be one of the worst things we can do to ourselves.
A Note Concerning the Future
When we think too much about the future, we tend to lose focus on the present. This means that we pay less attention to our thoughts and behaviors. In turn, we tend to let our defenses down. We cannot move forward without a viable relapse prevention plan, and we can’t tend to this plan without monitoring ourselves. In short, too much focus on the future causes us to stagnate. Not only that, but in some cases we may even find ourselves slipping backward into past behaviors.
The other problem with “future tripping” (as it is commonly known) revolves around stress. Many will recall stress as one of their primary triggers while in addiction. How many times did we drink or abuse drugs to escape our worries about the future? In all likelihood, this number is quite high. We aren’t saying that you can’t have a plan. But don’t obsess over it and allow your mind to stray too far from what must be done today. If you don’t focus your efforts on how you can move forward within the next twenty-four hours, then your plan might turn out to be useless anyway. Future tripping isn’t even akin to counting your chickens before they hatch. It’s more like counting your chickens before you even know how many eggs there are in the coop.
One final caution is that you shouldn’t be too optimistic. Looking for silver linings and expressing gratitude when you can are both acceptable. But some newcomers make the assumption that things will always turn out well as long as they remain sober. This isn’t always true. Sober people must accept losses in the same fashion as anyone else. We lose jobs, relationships, and the lives of loved ones. There’s no telling which days might bring about new setbacks. Much as we had to move forward from the wreckage of our past, we must move forward from these things as well.
Every day is a new day. Don’t let yesterday wreck your momentum. The only hindrance to our spiritual growth is refusal to see our own potential. This often happens during hard times, but we must learn to keep moving. Seek comfort from those you love and trust. You’ll make it through, even if it feels like the hardest thing in the world. Just remember that, no matter what happens, you can get through it without drugs or alcohol. And when you do, you’ll learn to appreciate your sobriety more than ever.