6 Ways to Stop Drowning in the “What Ifs” of Recovery

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What if I had never gone to that party? What if I had never taken that last drink? What if I had never taken the car keys back?

Getting a case of the “what ifs” in recovery can keep you stuck looking at the dismal past…and prevent you from focusing on a brighter future. It’s like drowning in all the mistakes you’ve made along the way – over and over again.

Leave the Past Where It Belongs

A pattern of negative thinking can quickly lead to relapse. With that in mind, here are six ways to stop drowning in what ifs of your past and come up for a breath of fresh air.

  • #1 – Change Your Focus

    When you catch yourself going down the path of “what if,” do something future focused. Learn something new, take up a new workout regimen, clean out your closet and donate clothes you don’t want anymore, or just give the house a good cleaning – get busy getting your mind off the past.

  • #2 – Give Yourself a Gold Star

    Make a list of what’s going right – right here in the present. Did you make it to a support group meeting? Make a new friend? Sometimes just even going to grocery store can feel like an ordeal. Making a concrete list on paper can help shift your focus away from the past. Every little achievement counts!

  • #3 – Acknowledge You Didn’t Lose

    No matter how bad life got during your substance abuse, you’re here now. It seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that by thinking through how bad things didn’t happen can help me be grateful for what I didn’t lose to my substance abuse.

  • #4 – Live Your Life in the Now

    Make amends, but don’t constantly beat yourself up with what you did in your past. It’s only through the life you live now that you can make living amends. Taking care of yourself, doing your best at work or school, and volunteering – either with your support group, a religious organization, or a community group – can help you focus on the person you are now, not who you were when alcohol or drugs controlled your life.

  • #5 – Lean On Your Support System

    Have a trusted friend or family member on speed dial – someone you can openly and honestly talk to – for those times when you start going down the “what if” road. Ask that person to give you a reality check and help you focus on the positives in the present.

  • #6 – Let Go of the Past

    Guilt can be a major trigger for relapse, so cut those “what ifs” off before they get to you! Be vigilant in recovery about keeping your thoughts healthy. I recommend that, to the extent you can, you wipe the phrase “what if?” out of your vocabulary. You can’t change the past, but you can live your life now in a way that avoids regret.

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