The Happy Addict: How to Be Happy in Recovery From Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

By Beth Burgess

Health & well-being, Personal growth

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5 mins


Do you Happen to be Best Friends with Doctor Who?

Have you got a time machine? Or do you count Doctor Who as one of your best mates? Has he promised to lend you his Tardis any time you want? Or maybe you're Sam Beckett? No, not the writer. You know, that guy out of Quantum Leap. The one who travels back and forth in time and space, taking over the minds of different people to try to change their lives for them. You're not a fan of 70s TV? Never mind. My point is that only fictional characters can become somebody else for the day, or travel back in time to change the past. You can't.

OK, so that's obvious, right? I'm sure you know that intellectually. If it's so obvious, then why are you constantly harking back to the past, getting stuck in the things that happened to you, or feeling guilty about the things you did to others? Bless you. I did it too, trying to do the impossible. I seemed to believe that if I wished hard enough, then I could be somebody else or I could alter the course of history. But I couldn't.

Now just because you can not change the past in physical terms of what you did, or what happened to you, it doesn't mean you can't change your reaction to the past or your way of thinking about it.

In this book we are going to be looking at the past, but not in the negative or wishful way that you might be used to. We are not going to regret anything, nor sit around mourning our misfortunes, nor playing the 'If only...' game. We can use the past for practical purposes, but not as a feeding-ground for fantasy or regret. The past is over. You can not change it, so you are wasting your time wishing you could.

Another crime I was guilty of was believing that just because I'd had an awful past, it made me a bad person, a person who couldn't get things right, a person who had some deep, murky soul that would never be redeemed. Utter rubbish. My life now shows that I can operate up there with the best of them. There is no 'Rocky moment' for me. There is no “I could've been a contender...” speech; because I am a contender. Even though I wasn't always, thank goodness I finally pulled myself out of my difficulties, and I am now.

But there was a time when that wasn't the case at all. There was a point in my life where I believed that it was all too late and that I had been through too much to really make a spectacular life for myself. In fact, there was a point where I didn't see much of a life for myself at all. A point at which I was completely held back by the past and a sense of my own limitations.

The first time I got sober, I was eager to undo all the damage that I had done to others in the course of my addiction. As soon as I thought I was getting well, I started trying to atone for the past. I apologised to my friends and family, I spent quality 'make-up' time with people, I bought presents, I made grand gestures and I generally started being Mrs Nice Gal. But underneath all of it, I couldn't forgive myself, no matter what I did.

My loved ones would sometimes get quite exasperated with me - because they had forgiven me and wanted me to be happy. My own mother, who had for years put up with my moods, my drunken sobbing phone calls, my abusive language, the worry of not knowing how I was doing, who I was with, what was happening to me, or if I would drop dead at any time, told me not to be so hard on myself. I was doing all the right things now - and that was all that mattered to her. But that wasn't enough for me - no, I had to go on self-flagellating, hating myself, and everything I had done.

I kept trying to trace it back to a cause, so that I might be able to lay the blame at someone else's door. Maybe it all went wrong because of something that happened to me when I was young; maybe that one long illness I had as a youngster sent me down the wrong road; maybe I had hung out with the wrong people; maybe I was just too damn sensitive for this world after all and should never have been born. I used to be a bit of a dramatic sort, me, given half a chance.

I think the most difficult thought-trap that I got stuck in was that I never believed I would ever truly be redeemed of what had happened - and that was because, outside of the bubble of intoxication, I now realised my mortality. I only had one life, and a lot of it was already gone. I felt like so much of my life had been wasted, utterly wasted, gone down the drain; time I could never reclaim. And that kept me miserable. The more I thought about it, the more horribly depressed I became. My catchphrase was “It'll never be alright ever again.” Yeah, I told you I was dramatic.

That genuinely was my catchphrase throughout my drinking years, and I even repeated it for a long time when I was sober. During the chaos of my drinking, I had been in some bad places, physically and mentally, and I had felt some terribly painful feelings. I took seven overdoses, ended up in two mental hospitals, got raped twice, had an abortion and worked as a semi-prostitute just for somewhere to live. And that's the edited version. It was a horrible existence and I used to have the Samaritans on speed-dial.

My mind was scarred; my body is still scarred. And so I carried my woeful catchphrase into sobriety. I had lost my innocence and would never get it back - and so I would never be 'clean'.

That dreadful waste of my twenties plagued me - when everyone else was out and about, having fun and being young and full of life, I was mostly ill or moving from one crazy situation to the next. When all my peers were graduating from university, creating careers or starting families, I thought my life was already over. And when I did stop drinking, all those people were already way ahead of me. They had enjoyed themselves and built up good lives for nearly a decade, while I was in and out of hospital, and I was left with nothing to show for all that time. “Those should have been the best years of my life,” I thought, “and they're all gone.”

Now you can see how I came to that conclusion, and many of you may have come to adopt the same sort of fatalistic mantra, even if you never verbalised it in the same way that I did. Even if you've never laid it out in those black and white terms before, you may know exactly what it means to be stuck in the past, no matter how much you try to move on.

Well, this is where I came to a shocking realisation. What if all I was doing by worrying about the past, cursing myself and hating everything I had ever done before, was simply wasting more time? There may have been a part of me that was hating myself in order to punish myself for the awful things I'd done, or the people I had hurt. And that was a good-hearted part of me - but that part had all the wrong ideas.

If I genuinely felt bad about the things that I had done, wasn't it more productive to do amazing things with my future? What if I could make my family happier than they'd ever been and prouder of me than they ever could have dreamed possible? Wasn't that the way to make it up to them? And wasn't that a way that would make both them, and me, happy?

And as for that part of me which was worried about all the time I had wasted - well wasn't I wasting even more time now, when I'd been given this amazing gift of sobriety? Was I going to celebrate that and honour it by clinging onto things I couldn't change? Hell, no.

The day I realised how unhelpful it was to me, and to anyone else with whom I came into contact, for me to be hanging onto my past like a ball and chain was the day I decided to stop it. It sounds so simple, and actually, that's because it is. The first step in making an amazing recovery is to just decide that you are going to stop focussing on the past in a negative way. No man, woman, child, nor Doctor Who himself, can change your past - but you can change the present, and by doing that, you can determine the future.

For those of you who are still struggling with the concept of it being an easy decision to make, read this chapter over again and come back to this place in the book. Do it now. Go on...

Did you do it? Are you back? Oh, look. You've just wasted more time. Do you want to go back and read it again? Do you get it now? It's pointless, useless and counterproductive to carry on holding onto the past. It doesn't serve you, your loved ones, your friends or family; it doesn't serve your employers, your children or anyone you will have in your life from now on. Stop wasting more time, when you could be becoming a better person and building an incredible life instead.

There will be more on the past later in the book - but we won't be dwelling on it this time. We'll be using it for good! If you are finding it hard to imagine getting unstuck from it, there will be more on this later on to help you. In the meantime, it's time to complete your first coaching exercise. Give it a go - there's no time like the present.



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