In recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, we find that our past, in all its dark and shabby glory, has become our greatest asset. It has been said that we “will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” This is because our experience, individually and collectively, with the pain and loneliness of addiction is not only part of the bond of mutual understanding that we have with others in recovery, but also because it establishes us as credible to the newcomer who needs help.
That said, it’s important that we don’t dredge up the past for the wrong reasons. I sponsored a man in recovery who had just come out of a horrendous detox episode—alcohol, no professional help, no medication—and who had nothing left: no car, no job, no money. And yet he couldn’t stop thinking about—and talking about—the BMW, his successes as a businessman, and how much cash he used to have. It was as if without those things he lacked an identity, which is often how we feel when we are stripped of alcohol and drugs and all the things that propped up our lives.
The thing is, a new identity is waiting to be discovered and nurtured in recovery, and letting go of old attachments is the best way to take care of this emerging self and support its growth. That holds true for our attachments to situations—circumstances, relationships, disagreements, resentments, and negative emotions in general. Resentment in particular is critically dangerous for us in recovery. The word is a combination of the intensive prefix re, which can mean either again or strongly, and sent, meaning to feel, and the combination has come to mean a continuing feeling of anger and bitterness. Resentment is literally a way of being stuck in the past, whether recent or long-ago.
Instead of staying stuck there, we have tools for examining the events that caused our resentments, and understanding that we usually played a part in what transpired, or at the very least had an expectation that wasn’t met. As we learn from our past and become willing to let go of it, we find new freedom both emotionally and in our thinking. In the process, we grow further away from our desire to drink or use.