Not Regretting the Past in Recovery

In my early 30s during my first year of recovery, I ran into my “best friend” from high school who I had not seen in over 10 years.  The encounter occurred as I mopped the floor of a factory where he was a senior administrator.  When he approached me, I pretended not to know him and said he mistook me for someone else. The names on our security badges made short work of that attempted ruse.  We had an awkward conversation, me faulting my memory, with a promise that we would get together at some point.  As the factory had over 15,000 employees I successfully avoided him after that first meeting.

Why the denial?  It had nothing to do with my blue collar vs. his administrative position.  Rather, as someone new to sobriety I was profoundly embarrassed by my drunken past – the inappropriate behavior, taking advantage of people, irresponsibility, and the list goes on.

About 25 years after that factory meeting, we both planned to attend a small reunion of the “gang” from high school.  Before the reunion I wrote him a letter on why I was so embarrassed at the factory floor meeting years before.  I cited and apologized for incidents of my drunken rage, spoiling planned events with my behavior, and so forth.  He graciously accepted my amends, and noted that we all did stupid things when we are young.

Today, although we live at opposite ends of the U.S., we occasionally get together for an evening of reflection and to solve the world’s problems.  Our divergent and convergent pasts are important parts of our conversation.

The AA Promise “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” is increasingly true in my recovery.  As I reflected in last week’s post, accepting my past is an important part of who I am today.  Without the despair and self-loathing I experienced in my active alcoholism, I could not appreciate today’s blessings and opportunities.  Without taking responsibility for all the manifestations of my addiction, I could not appreciate today’s freedom and knowing that my “problems” are of my own making.  My horrific personal relationships of the past, have taught me how precious friends are today.  I understand too that I have lived on borrowed time for my three decades of recovery.  Were it not for my sobriety, I certainly would have been dead long ago.  I would not have lived long enough to be diagnosed with cancer or have my recent heart attack.  I write that not for dramatic effect, but as a statement of fact.

Today, I am not proud of my behaviors during my drunken past, but I am no longer embarrassed by them either.  They were the logical consequences of my substance abuse.  I am grateful for the 12-Step Program that allowed me to learn and grow in my recovery over the years.  I well recollect laying in that detox bed in 1984 thinking all I want is to be able function in today’s world.  My past has provided me with the experience, strength, and hope to do that and much more!

9 thoughts on “Not Regretting the Past in Recovery

  1. Hey lovely human!! Thank you for continuing to write about your recovery. Sobriety is a journey for life. I love reading your progression into consciousness and love. I absolutly love that you lived to experience the gifts of cancer and a heart attack. Life is not finished with you ever Robert. Your evolved consciousness when it folds back into the mind of God will continue.

  2. I think many can relate to the pretending not to know or pretending not to see. I have had instances like this in the past and I still remember them as well. I often think of a “do-over” when next I know or see them.

    • Amazing how the kneejerk reaction is avoidance. I remember in early sobriety, I would immediately turn off of a street if there was a police car within a few car lengths behind me – then it hit me that now I could actually pass a sobriety test and I did not have any unpaid tickets or warrants. Alas, I have never been pulled over in sobriety for such a check.

  3. You write: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I am at the stage where I am convinced that indeed that door should stay open for all sorts of reasons but mainly because the hiding in active addiction was one of the most destructive dynamics. But what about not regretting, why is it good to not regret? I could see how it would free up energy, and possibly regretting could cultivate shame, which is another destructive emotion. Well, maybe I answered this question myself. Did I get it right? 🙂
    xx, Feeling

    • Thanks for your comments. On the not regretting, I see this from several perspectives. As you note, one could just become completely consumed by guilt, shame, and so forth. And I do grapple with this notion of “if every breath I have ever taken has gotten me to where I am today, I would not change a thing.” I take from that I have learned from the good, the bad, and the ugly. A good case in point – during my first go-round at college, while drinking, I accumulated a whopping 0.7 GPA. Do I regret that? Not really. I learned the valuable lesson that when I went back to school 15 years later, and sober, I maintained a 4.0 GPA through my PhD program. That lesson served me well, and something that I regularly use in advising students that there is always redemption, and the ability to make amends, and second chances. Then too, if you take the example in my post about my high school friend, he was completely willing to forgive me and not regret my behavior toward him, why can’t I do the same? And then, there is the whole thing of just living in the past, crying over spilt milk as it were. Learning from the past? most definitely – it has been a key point in my recovery. Regretting? I really just don’t see that as a good approach to recovery or life in general today.

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