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10 Tips for Dealing with Regret About the Past While in Addiction Recovery


Friends - one teenage girl comforts anotherSometimes those in early recovery can be so overwhelmed by regret and guilt about the past that it knocks them off-track. When caught up in alcohol or drug abuse, many are so focused on satisfying their habit that they hardly notice the harm they are causing and the opportunities they are missing. It is only upon entering recovery that they really have time to appreciate what has happened, which can lead to all types of bad feelings; it can feel akin waking up from a bad dream.

The problem with guilt and regret is that these feelings are just not beneficial; in fact, these can make the person feel depressed and demotivated. It is vital that you are able to take control of these emotions or it could destroy your recovery. Below are 10 tips to help you deal with the troublesome emotions that could derail your new life.

1. Expect Feelings of Regret and Guilt to Arise

The fact that these emotions of regret and guilt occur so commonly mean that it could be described as part of the process. On the other hand, to be even more accurate, these are one of the obstacles that people are likely to face in early recovery. If you are prepared to be challenged in this way, you will be better able to deal with it. It will mean you understand that what you are feeling is not anything unusual and that you will not feel this way forever. The fact that you have been expecting this regret and guilt to arise should also mean that you are better able to deal with it now that it has.

2. Understand That You Can’t Change the Past

It sounds like a cliché, but it is also the truth – there is nothing you can do that is going to change the past. What is done is done. It matters not how bad you make yourself feel; it is not going to change anything. Getting upset about the past is about as effective as getting upset over the weather.

3. Remember that the Important Thing is What You are Doing Now

The important thing is not what you have done in the past but what you are doing right now; it is this that will determine your future. You deserve to have a second chance in life but this will only be possible if you are prepared to move on with your life. The way to do this is to now focus on doing positive things so you can begin to reap the rewards of this later on. Looking backwards is only going to ever hold you back, so the important thing now is for you to keep looking forward and making progress. You can become a successful human being now, which is the best thing you could possibly do to make up for the past.

4. Be Aware Of How Regret Can Be Used To Justify Relapse

One of the most dangerous aspects of this guilt about the past is that it can actually be used as a justification for relapse. In fact, some people dwell on these thoughts because they are just not fully committed to recovery and they want to have an excuse to go back to drinking or using drugs. This type of thinking can occur consciously, but it can also be going on unconsciously. If you feel overwhelmed by regret, you need to understand that this is related to addictive thinking and it could mean that your sobriety is in jeopardy.

5. Understand That Obsessing About the Past Could Be Considered Selfish

Feeling regret about the past is never really about others, even if the regret you feel is connected to those you have hurt. The problem is that if a person really wants to make amends for past misdeeds they understand that feeling bad is not going to benefit any other person. This is why instead of feeling guilt and regret, it is much better to do something positive.

6. Use a Recovery Programme to Help You Clear Up the Wreckage of the Past

The 12-steps can be a particularly good programme for helping people deal with the mistakes they made in the past. This is because part of the process is about doing an inventory of past mistakes and making amends for these mistakes. The 12-steps also include an on-going assessment process so that you are far less likely to end up with similar regrets in the future. Those who have completed the inventory part of this programme and have started to make amends can develop an almost born-again feeling.

7. Speak with a Therapist

If these feelings of guilt and regret persist then there is a danger that it could destroy any chance you have of finding happiness in recovery. It is therefore vital that you do something to deal with them. Attending sessions with a therapist would be a great way to begin dealing with this wreckage of the past. One of the great benefits of entering a rehab programme is that you will usually get to spend a good deal of time with this type of professional. This means you really get to dig down into your experiences. It is also going to be possible for you to spend time with a therapist as an outpatient, which can be an excellent way for you to strengthen your recovery.

8. Develop Some Self-Compassion

One of the main reasons why this regret about the past can be so crippling is that people can have this almost constant stream of negative thinking going on inside their heads. This inner dialogue can be highly destructive, so it is vital to be able to take charge of it. One of the best ways of doing this is to start developing some self-compassion. This means changing the soundtrack in the brain from one that is bullying and negative to one that is supportive and positive. Humans do not get to choose which thoughts appear in their brain, but they do get to decide which ones they are going to focus on; this is what developing self-compassion is all about. There are different techniques available for developing self-compassion, but one of the most effective is loving kindness meditation.

9. Do Some Service

Doing volunteer work can be an excellent way to overcome feelings of regret while increasing your self-esteem at the same time. Even just trying to do one kind act every day can be a great way to enjoy the benefits of helping others. If you belong to a recovery fellowship, you will find that these organisations offer many ways for you to do service. You do not have to spend every waking hour helping others, but you should try to do at least one good action like this every day. This is also about planting positive ‘karma seeds’ that are going to benefit your life in the future.

10. Understand That You Are Just a Human

It is part of the human condition to make mistakes and everyone has done things that they deeply regret. It is vital that you are able to accept your fallibility and just move on with your life – always trying to be better in the future. This is not to justify doing wrong, but to allow you to function in recovery. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you do not need to obsessively beat yourself up over them.

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