The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. — Abraham Lincoln
One thing you’ll hear often as you enter recovery is that you need to let go of the past. You do need to take responsibility for your old actions, but that doesn’t mean dwelling on the past — that will only impede your progress by taking focus away from here and now.
Living in the past is not just about reminiscing. While letting go of old habits or bad influences is important, there’s also real danger from being so paralyzed by your shame and guilt that you can’t move beyond your mistakes. You may be feeling anger and pain over some of the things that happened to you. You may also feel fear about the unknown since the past, however destructive, is at least a familiar road.
Imagine you’re packing for a road trip: your journey to recovery. Think of your hope for the future — all the new things you want to do with your life — as your essentials that you’re packing into a suitcase. Now think about your mistakes, guilty memories and romanticized experiences from your days of addictions. These are the “extras.” Not only do you not need them, they will also weigh your suitcase down.
If you’re ever traveled, you know how unpleasant it is to lug around extra baggage (not to mention the extra fees you’ll be paying). A wise traveler knows to stick with essentials because the extras are unnecessary. They’re just dead weight. So it is with your new journey. Just for today, pack your bag only with hope and leave the burdens “at home.”
In practice, of course, you need more than metaphors. Here are some strategies to help you along.
Recognize it’s not an easy journey.
When things get tough, you may romanticize your old habits — thinking how good and easy life seemed when you abused drugs or alcohol. Set the expectation upfront that it’s going to be a very bumpy road, so a setback won’t catch you by surprise.
Fill the void with new experiences and positive influences.
As the proverb goes, “the hour of idleness is the hour of temptation.” When you give up social activities like partying, you’ll need to keep yourself busy in other ways. A fresh start doesn’t mean becoming a recluse!
You need to build a new social circle of people who can support you and understand what you’re going through. Cultivating new relationships takes time, but there are easy places to meet new people, like your recovery support group and recovery birthday meetings.
You can also use some ideas discussed previously about partying the sober way, finding new hobbies and rewarding yourself, and trying out new activities that can help you reduce stress and feel refreshed. Keep an open mind and be ready to engage.
Create new goals.
One way to leave the past behind is by making plans for your future. The future feels abstract without any goals, so you need goals that align with your recovery efforts. Just remember to be flexible because your goals will evolve as you meet new milestones.
If you’re a fan of the classic film “Gone with the Wind,” you may recall Scarlett’s closing monologue as she reacted to Brett’s departure. “I can’t think about that right now… I’ll think about that tomorrow,” she tells herself. Put a twist on that and tell yourself, “I’m too busy right now working on my recovery to think about yesterday.” Just for today.