This article was written by Morgan Werner and published by RCA
After leaving treatment and returning to everyday life, the work we must do to stay sober truly begins. Now that we are no longer hiding or distracting ourselves from the pain and fear that lead to our addiction, we are forced to take a look deep within ourselves to figure out who we once are and the person we are destined to become. This process of letting go requires us to have courage and compassion for ourselves, the belief that we deserve forgiveness, and the readiness to move forward.
Reflect and Identify
By understanding ourselves – past future and present – we can begin to come to terms with the underlying causes of our addiction and identify the thoughts that may be holding us back in our recovery. By getting to know ourselves, we can begin to grow and pave the way towards a better and more fulfilling future.
Though it may be difficult, self-reflection is a great way to get to know ourselves fully. Self-reflection is an exercise in which we spend time connecting with ourselves – evaluating and analyzing emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and experiences. In active addiction, this is an exercise we avoided at all costs. Before seeking treatment, we survived by suppressing all negative feelings by picking up a drink or a drug. However, denial and rejection of these feelings only leads to more pain and slows our process of healing. For us to truly begin to heal and change our lives, we must allow ourselves to feel, to come to terms with our past, our mistakes, our regrets, and let go.
The 9th step includes making direct amends to all persons we had harmed and asking for their forgiveness. But what about ourselves? For most of us, the person we had harmed most was ourselves; we were not kind to ourselves in active addiction. For us to achieve long-term recovery we must be able to show personal compassion. We must believe in our right to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and wrongdoings, and actively work at it every day. Remember, self-forgiveness is a practice – it takes time, patience, and understanding.
If you’re struggling with where to start when it comes to forgiving yourself, try writing a letter to your past self. Using what you know now, give your past self some advice, and reflect upon it later by asking yourself if you’re following that advice today. You can start by picking a date in the past – try a major turning point or life event and speak to the person you were at that point in time. Address questions such as:
- “What have I learned since then?”
- “What are some things my past self should look out for moving forward?”
- “What could I have done differently to overcome some of the challenges I faced?”
- “Who has helped me along the way?”
- “Who or what has made my life more difficult?”
Writing is an excellent way to free some of the emotions that we tend to bottle up during active addiction. An exercise such as this one can be a wonderful opportunity for healing and closure. When writing this letter to your past-self, be mindful – show them compassion, empathy, and understanding for what they have done. Share with them all the ways you have grown in the years that have passed and reassure them that life does get better. Most importantly, close the letter with a statement of forgiveness.
Focus on Positive Growth
Personal growth is a lifelong journey, so we must take it one day at a time as we do with recovery. If we stop growing and changing, we face the likelihood of becoming stagnant, which is dangerous for our sobriety. Now is the time to move forward and explore self-growth.
After you’ve written a letter to your past self and forgiven them for their mistakes and shortcomings, try writing a letter to your future self. To get started, pick a date or age you would like to be when you read this letter. Maybe you want to open it one year from the day you write it, when you’ve hit a milestone in your recovery, or on a certain birthday. Choosing a specific date to open the letter will better help you pinpoint the goals you would like to accomplish by that time. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Share who you currently are in this moment and some triumphs you are proud of
- Identify your core values and morals – such as family, friends, health, and spirituality
- Describe in detail all your hopes and dreams
- Share any fears you may have at this point in your life
- Give yourself some advice
- End with the most important thing you wish your future self to know
The purpose of this writing exercise is to gain insight and jump start personal growth. While you’re writing, you may find yourself beginning to think about what you need to do in order to achieve the goals you begin to set for yourself, and identify any reservations you may have moving forward.
Ask for Support
Though the process of letting go and moving forward in a positive direction requires us to work on ourselves introspectively, we are not alone and we don’t have to do this alone. Raise your hand at meetings and share your progress when it comes to self-forgiveness and self-growth. Identify a trusted person within your support network and share your journey with them – they may be on a very similar journey and can provide you with advice and understanding as you go about this process.