At any stage of recovery, most of us will agree that a vital component of this process has to do with inner reflection – reflection upon the person we were when using or drinking, the person we are now in recovery, and the person we would like to be and remain. This contemplation goes hand in hand with meetings we may attend, counseling we may have the opportunity of receiving, and of course our own insightful ruminations about ourselves. This can be a challenging endeavor in that we will pull up in memory the hurtful indiscretions that occurred with those around us and the treachery we exerted upon our self.
Reflection during recovery can also entail recognizing the pathways that led to our addiction. Each person has their own set of circumstances and life happenings that contributed to their descent into total dependence on a substance. Sometimes this precarious journey entailed a rather sudden episode such as progressing from the use of painkillers to heroin or crack addiction. It can also result from spending a long portion of one’s life drinking alcohol, seemingly innocuously at first – “just on the weekend,” or “happy hour” after work -- then crossing the barrier into routine use, descending into abuse and, finally, full blown addiction.
Remembrances of this segment of time immediately prior to getting into some kind of recovery or detox often do not stop short of recalling total misery. For example – I cannot remember what happened last night. I am shaking and I am nauseous, let me get a couple of drinks in to calm my nerves. Do I have any money left to buy my next fix? Does my spouse know about my addiction, do my kids know, does my employer know? Exactly, what lie or version of a lie did I use yesterday, and which one am I going to use today? I do have to hide this, but where? I do not want anyone finding my private stash or my bottle. These recollections typically lead directly into regret. It is completely normal and to be expected that we feel regret about the agonizing havoc we created through our addiction and alcoholism.
Haunting questions can prevail during this early transition into recovery and detox. How am I going to mend my life? How can I face those people that once loved me but do not trust me anymore. How did I let this happen? Am I weak? Am I selfish? How could I have been one person just a few years ago, seemingly thriving in life, and now only a facsimile of my former self, living in despair? Where would I be now if I had not become an alcoholic or started using drugs? These types of questions can spin through one’s mind and are not easy to answer or cope with. There is immense sadness that surrounds addiction and alcoholism – certainly for us and just as certainly for those important ‘others’ in our life that have suffered greatly. I will never write superficially or frivolously about the pain that surrounds this type of reflection and the subsequent regret that follows. How can anyone address this topic without being completely honest about the dreadful repercussions that accompany addiction and alcoholism? I have said this before and will repeat it - this can be a life or death crossroads in someone’s life.
Once in recovery, how do we begin to feel acceptance of ourselves and live with the memories and regrets? I can start answering this question by first looking at the labels that others may cast upon us even when in recovery. Some will identify you as an ‘only an addict.’ Or, ‘did you hear about her, she had a real drinking problem, I think she’s an alcoholic.’ There is little any of us can do to stop these kinds of comments. Many people simply do not understand (or choose not to understand) addiction and alcoholism. In the course of life, we ultimately have very little say in determining how others will define us. We have this day, this moment, and the actions and thoughts we now embrace – One Day at a Time. But the one-days build day upon day and we forge a consistent pattern that over time will prove the continued desire to remain clean and sober is really happening – trust is rebuilt over time. Actions really do speak louder than words and we need patience as our circle of loved ones and people in our lives begin to feel secure around us and trust us. This is vital to repairing the damage our addiction has created. We must endeavor to accept that there will be loved ones, family members, close friends who will have difficulty trusting us and forgiving us for our past transgressions – again, give it time. We simply cannot force the renewal of these relationships. We are working on ourselves now and this takes considerable determination and an unconditional commitment to never using or drinking again.
I believe this process of acceptance in recovery is more powerful than I ever thought it was before I stopped using alcohol. When I used to utter the words, “I accept myself,” it left me feeling flat and feeling insignificant. In fact, I now believe that one of the great underlying causes leading to addiction and alcoholism has to do with forgetting who we are – going off course or not being true to ourselves. One of the core precepts of AA is “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Accepting ourselves is the beginning to a realization of who we are. Discovering love is what lies beyond acceptance. One can be wealthy, poor, young, old, successful, known to many or barely known outside of one’s personal circle of relations. Addiction and alcoholism crosses over every chasm of life and can hold anyone hostage in a perilous and destructive life.
Acceptance and taking ‘ownership’ and ‘responsibility’ for everything that has culminated from our addiction is a powerful phase in recovery. Please recall the familiar and wonderful phrase - grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change. It is here that we begin to discover what was missing in our own life, missing within our thoughts and emotions. Most importantly, the emptiness we have experienced in our life can never be filled through escaping with an addictive substance. Once we have deeply reflected upon our past, and then acknowledged the list of regrets resulting from our addiction, and accepted them and taken ownership of them, we can truly change. We can now discover new, healthy ways of relating to our inner self. We may need to replace self-condemnation and self-hatred with acceptance and positive assertions as to who and what we are.
The road of recovery crosses many crucial bridges – reflection and the realization of regrets, acceptance through taking ownership of our actions, love, forgiveness, and finally making amends for past actions. This process is completely in line with the steps in AA. In fact, the AA Steps seem to be almost organically based in the real process of psychological recovery and rehabilitation. One does not have to believe in God or wish to accept all of the tenets of AA and the association with a God concept. But, please do not overlook the thoughtful and powerful value inherent in the AA Steps. These Steps can truly work for you.
Real meaning and compassion enters our inner being when we begin helping others in need. This journey takes us from the innermost vestiges of our past and a realization of the many transgressions against self and others. It is in this communion with others in need that we begin to feel that completeness of self. That tenacious and seemingly unescapable void that once existed and defined much of who we were, is finally no longer. Now, look at who we have become in recovery. We have journeyed from a path of selfishness and dysfunctionality to a path of discovery, embracing not only ourselves, but embracing others. What a superb and joyous turn of events. And, this is due to our inner pledge of Unconditional Recovery. Until next time, continue to reflect, be patient, make amends whenever and wherever possible . . .