Using the Past to Create a Sober Future

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Using the past to create a sober future

For many former drinkers working to stay sober, the past contains many painful memories that they would prefer to leave behind forever.

However, the memories from their drinking days can be very helpful to them in overcoming their addiction.

Many ex-drinkers used to drink in order to forget the bad things that happened.

Issues were covered up with alcohol, and the pain was numbed.

But now that they are sober, it’s time for them to face the problems in their life head-on.

If you are a recovering alcoholic yourself, use the tools provided in this article to strengthen your sobriety.

This article will also be helpful to those want to help former drinkers, but for optimal results, have the former drinker read this themselves.

Learning from the past

People avoid early on to avoid dangerous actions such as placing their hand on a hot stovetop.

They may have ignored warnings as a child, but after doing it once and getting painfully burned, they avoided it in the future.

They learned from the past.

This is something that alcoholics in their drinking days are often unable to do.

All sorts of pain and misery will be caused by their drinking, both to themselves and others, but they will go right back to doing the activity which hurt them, even though the logical response would be to avoid drinking and thereby avoid the harm it causes.

Now that you are striving for sobriety, you can permanently change that pattern.

By closely examining the harm that drinking caused, you can understand in deeper ways why you must avoid drinking.

Study your drinking history.

Look back at when you started drinking, and why, and what the results were early on in your drinking career.

It’s best to write these things down as well as reflecting on them.

  • When did you start drinking to excess?
  • When did you start drinking often?
  • What was going on in your life when you did?
  • And what changed in your life after you started drinking heavily and/or regularly?

The point of all this is to examine what the effect of drinking was on your life, what harms it caused.

As you move on in writing the history of your drinking career, take special care to study the worst disasters in detail.

Would those bad things have happened if you hadn’t been drinking?

If they wouldn’t have, and if the drinking caused them, understand that similar disasters can easily happen if you back to abusing alcohol.

You need to know in your heart that alcohol has hurt you and know in your heart that alcohol can hurt you again.

Another good strategy for learning about your past drinking is to talk to others about their experiences when they were around you while you were drinking.

They may remember things that you don’t or have perspectives and feelings on the situation that are enlightening.

If there were any major incidents during your drinking career that friends or family witnessed, interview them and ask about the things that you did and how it affected them.

Avoid becoming defensive, just listen and learn.

You will likely find that many people were worried about you, and that will become another motivation to avoid relapsing.

The more aware you become of what happened when you drank, the stronger your sobriety will be.

Throughout this exploration of your past, keep in mind that the things that happened while you were drinking can happen again if you keep drinking and/or relapse.

A few months of sobriety does not make you immune to destruction after you’ve relapsed.

The good things in life are dependent upon your sobriety.

Don’t risk losing them by bringing alcohol back into the equation.

Cleaning up the wreckage from your drinking days

Many alcoholics have seriously hurt others, especially the people they love.

While drunk, in their misery and their state of lowered inhibition and increased aggression, they lashed out at others both verbally and physically.

They neglected responsibilities and allowed their duties to others to go undone. They lied, cheated, stole, manipulated, and used others for their own gain.

It may be hard to face the facts of what you’ve done but doing so will give you the knowledge and power needed to never treat people so badly again.

You must use the past to your advantage to create a brighter, sober future.

Whether or not you are in AA, you should create what the programme calls a “moral inventory”.

This is a hard and honest look at both the good and bad things you have done in your life.

This is to be written down, and traditionally in AA, (12 Step Treatment Programme) it will be shared with another person who will keep everything a secret.

However, if you are not in AA, whether it will be shared with others is up to you.

Either way, when you write a moral inventory, hide nothing from it.

Even the most awful things you have done should be written down. You should keep your moral inventory in a secure location, either in a password protected file or in a lockbox if handwritten.

This will give you the confidence needed for full honesty.

Write down the name of every person you have hurt in a major way and write down what you did to them and how you think it made them feel.

Focus on things where the person was significantly harmed or upset by your actions because recording every small wrong would take too long.

For example, if you said rude things on a regular basis to a loved one, focus on the overall themes of how you treated them rather than writing down everything you said, although especially hurtful words can be written out specifically.

Take your sobriety seriously

The power of writing a record of your wrongs should not be underestimated. A moral inventory has the power to take your sobriety to the next level and prevent urges to drink.

Once the moral inventory has been completed, you can carefully begin the process of contacting the people you’ve hurt and apologising to them or making amends.

For amends, an example would be that perhaps you stole £100 from someone to spend on alcohol.

You would apologise and pay that money back, even if it is difficult. (In this example, it could be done in small instalments over time if you are low on money.)

If a person was very badly hurt by you and would rather not see you, or if they might hurt you when they see you, you should leave them be, however.

This process should not include taking serious risks or contacting people who want to avoid you.

You won’t be able to apologise to everyone, and not everyone will accept your apologies, although you may be surprised by how forgiving many people can be. The point is to try your best to right your former wrongs.

If the person you need to apologise or make amends to is a friend or loved one, be sure to have an in-depth conversation with them about how you can treat them better going forward. Ask them about what you did that was hurtful and how it made them feel.

Work to truly understand how your actions affected them, so you can have a deeper understanding of how vital it is to avoid repeating such mistakes and misdeeds.

This process of working to understand and right the wrongs you’ve done to your loved ones will be appreciated, and unless the damage done is too great, it can lead to stronger bonds in the future.

Looking exclusively at your own failings in a relationship may be humbling and frustrating but put in the work and you will greatly enjoy the rewards.

Doing a moral inventory and then making amends will bring about what AA calls a “spiritual transformation”. What that ultimately means is that you become a better, more caring person.

The process of righting the wrongs you have done brings about a profound psychological shift and change in attitudes that makes sobriety much easier to maintain.

It will help you to understand on the most fundamental level why it is wrong for you to drink—the reason being that drinking ends up causing you to hurt other people and yourself.

After you’ve done your best to fix the damage done during your drinking career, you can move on to a new and happy phase of your life. But you need to put the work in first.

Acknowledging past wrongs and making amends.

How to get hep

Getting help early can prevent experiencing severe consequences of drinking or disrupting the lives of loved ones. Call our local number 01603 513 091

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: October 31, 2023