The Process of Recovery and Letting Go of the Past By Gary Hilliard, LCDC

Nov 5, 2019 | Addiction, Substance Abuse

When in the process of recovery from an addiction it is very common to focus on the things you did in the past and dwell on how much you wish that you could change them. At times it seems these are our only thoughts and they consume us during our day-to-day affairs. Part of recovery is learning how to compartmentalize our past and use some of the very negative consequences to our advantage and to the advantage of those we would like to help.

Letting Go of the Past

Letting go of the past is a difficult process if we have not begun to learn new things about ourselves as individuals, acquired new coping skills to deal with past negative feelings, and come to the conclusion that if I am going to go forward with a positive future I am going to have to forgive others and forgive myself for what is not happening in the present. I once heard that forgiving myself was the process of abandoning all hope for a better past. I love this sentence. I love that it uses the word abandoning. That word gives us the feeling that we are completely letting something go no matter what the cost. There are so many past events that all of us carry that have no place in our current existence. To continue to hold on to these memories as if they are present-day happenings is counterproductive and will never let you move on to what is important today.

Compartmentalizing and Closure

Coming to grips with the past and mentally compartmentalizing it in its own place is what some people call closure. Unfortunately, most of the closure that we need to engage in comes with the idea that it is going to take someone else’s participation in order for the closure to be effective. This is not true. Actually, if you need someone else for closure, you are giving them all the control over the situation. This may turn out to be their closure, but it surely will not be yours. It is very important that we are able to define closure for what it really is. To have closure on a past event is to come to terms with the outcome. You may not like how it ended, what the outcome looks like, or your position after the outcome, but you have to come to full acceptance of the outcome and acknowledge that at this stage in time there is nothing more to be done. If, however, the situation remains in flux and the outcome has not yet been determined, then working on the current situation in a precise manner is what is important. However, if this is the case then the situation is not in the past it is clearly in the present. We now will need to conduct ourselves and our affairs over this situation as a person in recovery would, so therefore it does not become something to focus on in the future.

Human Beings not Human Doings

Living in the past denies us the present. In a basic sense, we have seldom lived as Human Beings, we were only human doings. What does this mean? As our life goes on, we always feel the need to be doing something. Sometimes it is an addiction to work, an addiction to love, a hobby that takes up a lot of time, or anything that you are focusing on or obsessing over. If we are to recover from this state of mind, we are to start living our life as “Human Beings”. Just Be. Be a good father, be a good husband, be a good friend. It is necessary at this point just to live life one day at a time knowing there is nothing more that you can do about your present moment. This new self of “being” may take the shape of you just sitting on a park bench for 10 minutes watching the world go by or sitting in a crowded shopping mall and just people-watching. It also can be a prayer and meditation time each morning where you may read for a moment some spiritual literature and for another 5 minutes just sit and ponder your life and what may be your next move. It is in these moments that we hear God talk to us through thought and intuition. No, you probably will not hear God actually speak to you, however, you will have positive thoughts and ideas that you can use that day that will enhance your life and help you to help someone else. This in turn brings you closer to God and closer to having a successful day of sobriety.

Jesus is very clear when he says in Luke 9:62, (NIV) “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God”. This represented perfectly the perspective we should give to things of the past. It is easy to visualize that if you are plowing a field and are not looking forward and continually looking back, your rows will not be straight, and your field will be a disaster. However, if you keep your eyes in front and focused on a point up ahead, you will have a straight line and your field will yield as much blessing as it can.

It is not usual to feel that the past was more important to us than the present and stronger than the hope we can have for the future. This is not unusual. When thinking about our past we still can feel the emotions of events, and the happiness or sadness of the environment. We do not have these feelings about the future because obviously, the future has not happened yet. For this reason, it is important that we put the past in the proper perspective. Although important to our overall growth as an individual, the past acts more as a guidepost for what we do and do not want to do in the future.

There is a multitude of techniques used to help us compartmentalize the past and put it in proper perspective. One is to make a list of things from your past that were seemingly earth-shattering at the time. It is beneficial to think of items that are more than 12 months old. Now, once you have made this list, write down how the situation concluded (if it has) and how it has affected your current situation. If the effect is pronounced, recognize that and write down what those effects are. If the effects are negligible, also write that down and take a hard look at what you thought would be a life-changing event when in fact it was just another situation for another day. What this exercise is meant to do is to help you put your past in perspective and to help you understand that how you handle things in the future will be more important than how you are visualizing things from the past.

Preparing for the Future

What we are preparing for right now is the future. Not the past. I must recognize that what I perceive as good or bad can all be used for the Glory of God and used to help others with similar situations. If there is an event in your past that you feel ashamed of or embarrassed about, then it is time to take that liability and turn it into an asset. If there is a name for whatever you did in the past, then others have done it before. In fact, so many people were doing it that they had to give a name to it. You did not commit the 1st sin and nor will you commit the last. The goal now is to take things from our past that we feel are negative and part of the baggage we still carry and use that event to help others. How? You share it with others who may have the same circumstances and think their life is ruined over this event. You may share your experience with them so that they can see that your situation may be similar and that you made it through so they can to. After sharing an experience like this with another person, it usually takes the negative feelings about that situation and turns them into something positive. Do we wish they had not occurred? Often the answer is yes. However, it is always very fulfilling when we can take our past and improve someone else’s future.

The bottom line is I recognize how hard it is to let go of the past. However, using that past for the benefit of others in the future is the best way to take that event and make it a new tool for you to help and save others. These situations are already there, why don’t we use them for progress and help our own enlightenment?

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.