The past has always been somewhere I have looked at with an uncomfortable gaze. Carrying around my unhappy childhood with me every day until I got sober meant that whenever I examined it closely, it simply made me a few degrees more miserable than I already was. So, I carried the pain of the past but always tried hard not to examine it too closely.
On the occasions when I was forced to look at it my natural and human negativity bias ensured that I saw only the bad. From my perspective, there was nothing good to see back there. Of course, there were good things that happened but I generally felt that these paled into insignificance against the endless, droning misery.
Fifteen years ago, I started to learn about personal development and read all the books on forgiveness, living in the now, letting go etc. I know now that I took all of that learning onboard in an intellectual way but not heart and soul.
When I stopped drinking, I was hit by a tsunami of one revelation after the other. All of the learning I had done over the previous 15 years bloomed in me on day 21 of my sober journey and I knew on that day I would never drink alcohol again.
Like me, if you are using alcohol so you didn’t have to deal with a past trauma, I know how hard it can be to give up.
The Past Part 1 – What was done to you
Many of us drink to deal with a past that is filled with pain and misery. If your childhood was miserable and you were never able to fully deal with it then the likelihood is that you have used alcohol to avoid dealing with the pain.
If you grew up in a house where you were never taught how to deal appropriately with your difficult feelings, when you discovered alcohol it will have been a blessing to be able to drown your unhappiness and blot it out.
Of course, at some point it will just have to be dealt with. The alternative is to continue a) avoiding your problems and b) ruining your health by carrying on drinking.
When you stop drinking all of this awful stuff will be fully present with you every day and, if you don’t find a way of dealing with it, will more than likely make you want to continue to drink.
You need to want to be free. You need to learn that what is in the past can never be changed. You need to learn that you can change your view of your past.
Being sober gifts you a wonderful, clear minded, opportunity to deal with this stuff once and for all. It may not be easy, but I promise – it will be worth it.
The most important thing you need to learn is that it’s not your fault – but it is your responsibility to fix it.
Almost 3 years sober and I have finally accepted my past, understand that it no longer holds sway over my feelings and emotions and I can see the truth of what happened.
The Past Part 2 – What you did
We’ve all done things in the past that we wish we could erase. That particularly drunken night out that ended in your own personal World War 3 is something you probably never want to revisit.
Feeling shame, disgust and embarrassment is a typical response to one of ‘those’ nights. The difficulty with these feelings is that, if you stay wallowing in them for too long, you give them the opportunity to become a part of who you are. You change your behaviour to accommodate these feelings by hiding your drinking and becoming someone you’re not supposed to be.
For me, the only purpose of the past is look at it through the lens of education. What can it teach you? What can you learn from it?
The moment you open your eyes with your hangover from the night before, you know you can’t change anything that happened, however, you can choose how you react to what happened and you can choose how you feel about it.
We are very good at editing our past to make things more palatable, or to make ourselves look better. It’s a normal, human survival mechanism. However, if we don’t learn the necessary lessons from our past so that we can move forward in a healthy, positive way, we will simply continue to stuff down our uncomfortable feelings and never progress.
So, as a one-time exercise I want you to look at your drinking past with the primary aim of learning what you need to learn from it. I am a huge fan of journalling and I would strongly urge you to write the answers to these questions without too much forethought. Just let your pen flow:
- How much of your day to day conversation and focus is on the past? How much on the present and future?
- Does someone need to take responsibility for what was done to me as a child?
- Do I have the resources to deal with that? If yes, what’s the next step? If no, how do I make peace with it?
- What good came from the bad things you did when you were drunk?
- How have your feelings of shame and guilt made you feel about your life as a whole?
- If you’d never had a drink of alcohol, what would your life be like now?
- If you stopped drinking today, what would your life be like in a month, six months or a year?
You cannot change the past. You can only learn from it. What do you need to learn?
With love, Jules xxx
PS If you’re ready to move into the future find out how you can create a beautiful future for yourself here.