Seven years ago, I was a budding attorney, eager to make a change in the world. I made a sizable income, drove a fancy sports car and enjoyed a wide circle of friends. At 26, the world was my oyster…until it came crashing down around me when I least expected it.
I often wonder what my life would be like now had I not made that fateful decision to get behind the wheel when I shouldn’t have. Would I be married? Have kids? Made partner at the law firm I’d been working at?
Instead, I went to prison for the latter half of my twenties, only to get out and face a different set of personal and professional hardships brought on by my selfish decision to drink and drive. The course of my life had been permanently altered and, to be totally honest, it’s difficult to not longingly gaze in the rear view mirror sometimes and lament over “what could have been.”
When Looking Back Holds You Back
Regret is a negative cognitive and emotional state that involves blaming ourselves; it can also take front and center in the recovery process…if we let it. Thankfully, there are some simple ways to break free of the guilt and shame left behind by our chaotic, substance-fueled yesteryears.
Here are a couple of tips I turn to when I feel my past rearing its ugly head:
- Let it Go:
Many of us find ourselves wishing that we could somehow undo previous choices that we’ve made; we create suffering for ourselves by wanting it to be different from how it really is. The key here is acceptance. Only through embracing acceptance of the things we cannot change will we be able to attain some sense of peace and freedom from the past.
- Celebrate the Positive:
Negativity breeds negativity, and before too long, negative thinking and self-talk become habitual. Instead, focus on all you have to be thankful for rather than what you don’t. Only by looking at it from another perspective can we see all the good that comes into our lives as a result of bad decisions.
- Embrace the Learning Experience:
To find peace in recovery, you must make peace with yourself, which means learning from your experiences and letting the rest go. Oftentimes, the biggest mistakes bring about a great deal of wisdom – knowledge that can turn into greater fortune down the road.
- Focus on the Present:
What happened in the past can’t be changed; focusing on missed opportunities and making comparisons to other people rarely results in anything positive. Rather than dwelling on what could’ve been, focus on what you can do right now to create the life you want.
Remember, what happened in the past is in the past. Instead of getting bogged down on the poor choices you’ve made, acknowledge those mistakes, learn from them and move on. What happens today is what counts. It’s up to you now, so get out there, work hard to reach your full potential and don’t look back!
Additional Reading: Brain Factor: Can Thought Patterns Impact Your Sobriety?
Image Source: iStock