How To Take The Long View In Recovery – When Your Recent Past Is Still Too Fresh


Getting up today, was it tough to think of the day ahead? Were you caught up in all the negative consequences of your addiction that came flooding into your mind as you tried to motivate yourself to get on with what you need to do for your recovery right now? If so, you may be stuck in the middle of nowhere – too hung up on the past and not being able to get going on the here and now.

There is a solution to this dilemma. It involves learning how to take the long view in recovery, even when your recent past is still so fresh in your mind that you can’t seem to figure out how to get beyond it.

But how do you take the long view in recovery? What does that really mean? Is it different for everyone, just like everything else in recovery is? Or are there some similarities that pertain to all ways of looking at recovery – from the perspective of it being a lifelong journey – which we can perhaps use to our benefit?

Of course there are. First, though, let’s be clear that the following are merely suggestions that may help you clear the hurdle of being trapped in the past. They aren’t guaranteed to work immediately or every time, but they will undoubtedly provide fresh ideas for you to consider as you embark upon your continued journey in recovery.

As always, use what works for you and discard the rest. Feel free to add to, modify and adjust as necessary. It isn’t what you do that is important, but how you make use of what you find works for you.

Paint a Picture

This may seem like a stretch, but go with the idea for a moment. Consider taking out a blank sheet of paper or, if you feel artistic or like the challenge, get a piece of canvas and a set of paints. The actual medium of colored pencils, charcoal, watercolor or oil paint doesn’t matter. The principle is to give your mind free reign to create whatever kind of picture you come up with.

Maybe you don’t think you have any artistic ability. The exercise is still worthwhile from the standpoint of freedom of expression. Even if you paint dark, choppy and disconnected strokes, you are releasing some of the tension, anger, uncertainty and fear that you may be feeling, a holdover from your recent past. This can be very therapeutic and quite surprising in the process.

Keep in mind that the picture is only for your own use. No one else need ever see it. You can actually do this exercise repeatedly and it will never be the same picture twice. Frankly, you will probably be amazed at the different emotions you feel as you work on and complete each picture. Better yet is the way you’re likely to feel when you are done working on the piece for the day.

Maybe you want to have a work in progress, one that you come back to daily to add a little here and there, scrub free with the appropriate solution, and start over. This is your picture, your expression, so it’s totally up to you what you do with it.

Here’s a little secret about this activity: You can see a change from one day to the next, from one painting or picture to the next. Over time, you will begin to notice a difference not only in what you create, but also how you feel about what you have created. You will also start to feel different about yourself. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing.

Plant Something…and Nurture It Along

There are few activities more gratifying than the simple act of planting something and nurturing it along as it begins to grow. You learn patience, for one thing, the ability to recognize that growth takes time. You can’t rush it. A newly planted seed will need to first take root, or begin to sprout roots, in order to establish a foundation upon which the stalk will rest as it pops through the soil.

You water it at regular intervals, make sure it gets adequate sun, fertilize it when necessary, and wait and watch it grow.

In the meantime, you’re not worried about other plants that may have died in the past, or your technique or ability in picking the “right” plants to grow. You become involved in the process, biding your time, doing what needs to be done at the appropriate moment.

Recovery works in much the same way. While you may have had terrible consequences in the past as a result of your behavior during the worst of your addiction, concentrating too much on that will keep you from taking positive action in the here and now.

Like the new plant, you have to allow yourself time to establish a firm foundation. The bits and pieces of things you learn on a daily basis will help you solidify that sound base, making further action you take more likely to succeed.

Indeed, even if you’ve not had much success in your past, all it takes is to begin to work your recovery in small and incremental steps. Focus on the present and on what you can do now. Watch your progress as you learn and grow, for it is a logical result of your careful and proactive approach.

Keep a Journal

So what if you have some horrendous things in your past? Consequences of your behavior during addiction are almost always going to be a measure of concern. How could they not be? After all, what you have said and done has brought harm and pain to others as well as yourself. If you look at the situation objectively, which is very difficult to do when you are still so close to it, it is possible to see a direct cause and effect stemming from your addiction.

Start your recovery by keeping a journal. Write down your thoughts each day, taking the time to record your observations of what you did today, how you felt, any obstacles that stood in your path, how you attempted to overcome them, and any intrusions or difficulties from your past that may have hampered your effectiveness.

Don’t be afraid of committing your thoughts to paper, or to a word processing program that you save to a thumb drive. This journal is for your eyes only. No one else ever needs to see it. The purpose of journal writing is for you to let go of outdated beliefs and to vent leftover emotions that are holding you back. It also allows you to keep track of what works well, along with what doesn’t.

Over a period of months, as you look back on what you wrote in the first entries, note how your language changes. Your outlook will undoubtedly seem more positive the further along you are in your recovery journey. In other words, the darkness from your past can’t stand a chance when you are making slow and steady progress toward goals that you establish for yourself in recovery.

Join a Discussion Group

Does anyone else suffer with recurring flashbacks, nightmares, and disturbing thoughts about their actions during addiction? While it probably seems like you’re alone in this suffering, you really are not the only one going through such an ordeal. Many, many others in recovery, especially early recovery, have been right where you are now. They have managed to get beyond a fixation on their pasts and all the bad that they have done and to venture into new areas that offer the possibility of hope and growth.

The recommendation to join a discussion group is in addition to your participation and attendance at 12-step meetings. It could be an offshoot group of the 12-step group, or it might be another discussion group altogether. Talk with your sponsor about any such groups that may be devoted to discussing persistent problems that occur during recovery. You can also consider the one-on-one discussions you have with your sponsor to be part of this discussion group, although the two of you form a very small group.

Why get involved in a discussion group? The simple reason is that collective input is always better than trying to figure out a recipe in your own head. Sometimes you just need the objective ideas that others can bring to the item under discussion. Strategies and techniques that are mentioned during the group session may very well turn out to be something that you can see yourself doing. The idea is to try many different things. You’ll eventually discover which ones work better than others.

Spend Time Outdoors in Nature

Nothing looks as bleak and hopeless when you take yourself out of confining surroundings and get some fresh air. This is not to say that just being outdoors in nature is a sure-fire panacea or will immediately solve all your problems. It won’t. But what will very likely happen is that you will be taking a break from all the negativity and allowing yourself time to look at something that has nothing at all to do with your problems.

Think about nature and how majestic and wonderful it is. Mountains took many millions of years to emerge and yet appear as ever changing and indescribably beautiful to our eyes. The sunlight on a leaf or a flower makes the patterns and colors of the object appear differently depending on the angle, the time of day, whether we look at it from one direction or another. It is possible to lose yourself in the experience of nature merely by taking a long walk in the woods.

If possible, make sure that you have allocated sufficient time to spend outdoors. That means you don’t want to feel rushed, like you have to get back at such and such a time for an appointment. Turn off your cell phone or put it on auto-answer. Don’t take or send any texts, either. The point is to disengage from what’s been bothering you and causing you frustration and simply breathe in the fresh air. Walk vigorously, stopping on occasion to look at your surroundings, really seeing them, not just glossing over what you pass.

When you spend time outdoors in nature, what you are doing to benefit your recovery is helping to develop a sense of perspective. Life goes on, with or without our input. Things that seem so troubling and monumental may really not be that significant in the long run. You can learn new ways to cope. You can take charge of your recovery. Your past needn’t stand in your way any longer.

Learn How to Meditate

Trying to silence the clamoring in your mind over your past misdeeds may need a little additional help. Many in recovery have sought and found great relief from the practice of meditation.

Think that meditation is only for mystics and new-age followers? Actually, people have been practicing various forms of meditation for many thousands of years. There must be something to it or the practice would never have survived for so long.

The fact is that there is no single way to meditate. You will find what works best for you, whether it is taking instruction and following a certain type of meditation or just reading up on the subject, buying a few tapes and beginning your own brand of meditation.

Simple breathing techniques are instrumental in helping you to calm the inner turmoil you may feel, to help quiet the raging storm you continue to experience from your past. As with any other technique that is designed to help improve your recovery, you need to give it time to work.

Chart Out Your Goals

Everyone needs something to look forward to. When you have a goal, or a series of goals, you are already a little primed to spring into action. Maybe it takes a good while for you to actually summon the motivation to begin work on a particular goal, especially if the goal is quite far off or involves a series of complicated steps or a prolonged learning period.

You need goals of different types. Initially, begin by writing down some short-term ones, goals that you can see yourself being able to achieve in a relatively short period of time, say one to two weeks. Even one-day goals are appropriate, as in, I will strive to remain sober today, for the next 24 hours. After all, you only live in the present. Today, right now, is all you have.

Each short-term goal that you successfully achieve adds to your self-confidence, makes you feel more ready to tackle new goals the next day. You build upon what you have already accomplished. But you also learn from the slight missteps and mistakes you make along the way. You learn what didn’t work so that you can adapt and revise your actions accordingly.

It also helps to look at a chart of your goals, the short-, medium-, and long-term things that you want to achieve. Remember, this is your recovery. These are your goals. Keep in mind, too, that what you deem important and worthy of your efforts will change over time. As you become stronger and more secure in your recovery foundation, you will discover and develop new interests, be more open to exploring new directions, and be able to recognize and accept new opportunities that come your way.

Share Your Dreams

One final recommendation is to take the time to share your dreams with someone you care about. It’s one thing to write about what bothers you and to keep a list of goals that you constantly revise. It’s another to do all this in isolation. You need to share the good things, the events and activities and possibilities that really get you excited and motivated to keep on going.

Maybe this person is your spouse or loved one or another close family member. If you don’t have a family or they aren’t readily available, the person you choose to share your dreams with may be a friend, a co-worker, your 12-step sponsor or another person you’ve become friends with in the rooms of recovery.

The benefit of sharing your dreams is that you receive support and encouragement to continue, validation for your continuing efforts, and you begin to feel the surge of hope, perhaps for the first time or the first time in a very long time.

In the end, how to take the long view in recovery, especially when your recent past still seems too fresh, will be very much what you make it. Deciding what you want to do with your life in sobriety, choosing the new you that you want to be, all very much factors into the equation. Everything is possible. This is a new life, a fresh start, a time that is yours to fashion as you wish.

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