In active addiction, you can’t process your emotions. They either get distorted, exacerbated, or buried. Sometimes trivial things are blown out of proportion, while issues you need to deal with get pushed aside. If you have painful memories to process, you can’t healthily do so—which means they may come back when you are sober.
When I was 8, I cried from nostalgia when looking at a picture of myself at age 2; I understand how hard it can be to let go of the past. Difficulty releasing the past is something I struggle with almost daily. But at over five years sober, I’ve learned ways to cope. It’s okay to visit the past sometimes, but it’s detrimental to live there. It prevents you from moving forward.
First, it’s important to notice how a memory makes you feel in a given moment. This takes building self-awareness through things like therapy, journaling, and meditation. We have a blog about learning to identify your feelings here.
Let’s say you smell something that brings back a happy memory and it feels nice to go back for a while. There’s no reason you should force yourself out of it. But if rumination about the past is not serving you, the best way to snap yourself out of it is by coming back to the present.
Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground or, if you’re sitting, your body against the chair. Pay attention to your senses: what do you see, smell, or hear? These are fairly simple exercises you can do any time that take you out of the past.
Meditation is also helpful—though be aware that if you’re thinking of the past, those thoughts will likely arise as you meditate. One thing I’ve found helpful is to turn the thought or memory into an image, and picture it floating away like a balloon. You can do this as many times as you need. If you meditate often, you can train your brain to be more present.
Another great way to stay present is to participate in “flow state” activities; this means being “in the zone.” When you’re in this state, everything else tends to fade to the background. You could get there by playing an instrument, making art, playing video games, exercising, or any number of other things. If you haven’t figured out what works for you, take time to explore new things—this will also be a healthy distraction.
In recovery circles, “being of service” is spoken about frequently. But it really is wonderful for both your recovery and keeping you present. It can be hard to know how to be helpful during COVID-19, when the kindest thing is to stay away from others. But we’ve listed ways to be of service during the pandemic here, and ways to be of service in the fight for racial justice here.
Releasing the past can be hard—but you don’t have to do it all at once. In moments when you feel stuck in the past, there are small steps you can take. They will add up over time, helping to keep you present and ultimately improve your quality of life.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you process and let go of the past so you can build a sober future. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.