Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

Dealing with “the past.”  On hearing these words or pondering this concept many people immediately find resistance rise up from deep within themselves.

“Why do we have to talk about things that happened a long time ago?”

“I don’t think about those things, why bring them back up?” 

“The past is not my problem; it’s the stuff going on now?”

..and on and on.

These kinds of thoughts and statements are common for those of us trying to get through recovery, but simply are another part of the problem that must be solved. 

To start simply:  If your “past” affects the way you act, interact with others, think etc. in the present then it is not really your past.  It is your present! 

You do not have to be in constant conscious thought about things from your past for these things to have a profound effect on your present.  Something like an abusive first relationship can change the way you see the opposite sex, dating, relationships, marriage, and yourself even if you refuse to let yourself have any thoughts about that person or that relationship.  Another example could be growing in a terribly abusive home with abusive parents.  A person might refuse to spend any time pondering his or her childhood or parents but is completely misled if he or she thinks those things do not have a major influence on how he or she interacts with others.  Every relationship and interaction this person has will have some influence from this sort of childhood and it is foolish to deal with major problems in this person’s life and not touch on the the root reasons behind the thoughts and behaviors.

On the other hand, camping out in the past is not a solution either.  There is far more to recovery and in fact growth of any kind than just looking at the past, but to not deal with these things is to leave a huge hole in any recovery through which “crazy” can creep into our lives through.

The passage we are talking about here is not only talking about looking at the past, it describes doing everything that is humanly possible to fix these things.  Step 4 is where we look at the more destructive things from our past (particularly those we prefer not to think about or deal with).  Step five is where someone else helps us to take a deeper look at these things and admit the truth behind my problems in these situations.

Steps 8 and 9 are where we not only deal with these things from the standpoint of what is going on inside of each of us, bet we actually go to the people involved and undo our part in all of this.

For some hearing this or reading this the idea is unfathomable.  How are you expected to take the craziness of the people that hurt you the most and turn it into your problem and go try to fix it?  That is a valid concern if we were talking about taking someone else’s crazy and simply converting it into something to blame yourself for and running back to them crying about how sorry you are.  That however, is not what we are talking about here.

Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I don’t want to travel to far into too many of the Steps as it would take us down way too many “rabbit trails” but, our recovery is about fixing the “us” not the “them.”  Your recovery is about fixing “you” not about fixing everybody else so you can finally stay sober.

In other words, if your idea of a Fourth Step is writing a list of what is wrong with a bunch of other people and your idea of a Fifth Step is to take some time to talk to someone else about what is wrong with a bunch of other people, you are not working “Steps” or working in recovery.  You are simply complaining. 

The way you see these situations is a huge part of the problem and writing that mess down and vomiting it all over some other person is not a “fix” for how you see these things.

Let me slow down and break this down a bit:

Lets see that you have a huge trauma like someone you care about being shot and killed in front of you.  Acting like you can really convince yourself it never happened (“I just don’t think about it”) is an outright lie.  The idea that you can just “suck it up and deal with it” is a Band-Aid placed on a major injury.  (There is a place for this mindset but it is simply a temporary and unsustainable short-term solution to a long-term problem).

The idea that you are not going to think about this event ever again and feel some of the associated negative emotions etc. is foolish.  It will come up again and it will somehow influence your world when it does.  The challenge is not trying to get it not to come up again.  You will never be successful.  Even if you convince yourself it isn’t coming up again, you are probably just disguising it when it does come up as something else.

The truth is you have to somehow change the way you see this even when the memories or related emotions do come up again.  In other words you have to deal with and change the way you see these things so that when they do come up the effect they have on you is different.  Much of the change that has to be done in our lives is the changing of our own perspectives and perceptions.  The other activities such as the amends we make in Steps 8 and 9 are simply a test of how much we really have changed those perspectives and perceptions.  As a matter of fact if a person’s perspectives and perceptions are changed in the way we are describing here then making amends would be a logical next step and wouldn’t even need to be described as a separate step or steps.

The main points here are:

  • If you are a heavy user of drugs or alcohol then no stone of your past may remain unturned.  If you are having major problems of any kind in your life then assume there is no past as everything is potentially affecting you negatively now (in the present).
  • Other people do crazy things that are hurtful to us and that is in fact their problem.  How you see these things and if they negatively influence the way you think and act now is your problem.  As such, they are responsible for dealing with their part and you do not control that. You however, are responsible for dealing with your part (YES THAT MEANS DEALING WITH YOUR PART OF THEIR CRAZY BECAUSE THEIR CRAZY HAS SPREAD INTO YOUR CRAZY AS IF CONTAGIOUS)
  • We look at what other people do or did to us while we are in recovery not to somehow “fix” them or to simply feel better because we talked about this stuff, but to find what we need to “fix” about ourselves.
  • If you are uncomfortable with (or outright afraid of) looking at something “from the past” or resistant to seeing particular situations differently that is often an indicator that this might be one of the more important situations from your past that you need to look at and deal with.
  • Just “sucking it up” and “just dealing with it” may be a part of the process but is triage (stopping the bleeding) so you can deal with these things later.  If you stop there you are just kicking the “craziness” can down the road to come up again later.
  • You have to fix the past in the present as part of changing your future.
  • You are not to camp in the past, but you do need to go to the past and change your view and your part (or secretly you are still camped there). 

Please don’t let discomfort with dealing with your past stop your recovery!!!  I leave you with these words from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6566)


Wade H.

Self-knowledge is NOT the Cure!!!

Self-knowledge is NOT the Cure!!!

That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

Looking at this passage the first thing we have to consider is that there are different groups described here.  There is one group all of this discussion is going to apply to and one this does not apply to.

There is the group who can stop using and actually not go back and there is the group who cannot stop without going back to using.

Now, before you feel relieved and tell yourself you are in the “can stop” group, let’s look a little deeper. 

Picture sitting with me at a bar or if you are more comfortable watching a reality show about alcoholics and addicts and I am this weeks star who is sitting in a bar.  Everyone is having a good time, but I am drinking heavily.  The bartender says something to me about my daily drinking and how I am overdoing it now.  The bartender then suggests that I may actually be an alcoholic.  I tell the bartender I am in complete control and in complete control of my alcohol use.  I then suggest to the bartender that I can prove it.  I am going to stop right now and pour ot the rest of my drink.  Five minutes later, I say, “See I can stop whenever I want to and don’t have to go back.”  Then I proceed to order another drink.  Have I really proven to anyone that I am in total control and not an addict?  

What I am getting at is that if you have periods of sobriety and then returns to using, it is probable that you DO NOT have control of your using and you probably are an addict/alcoholic.  Quitting for a week, a day, a month, six months or a year or two is not really quitting:  THAT IS TAKING A BREAK!

If you are in the “unable to stop” group or the “think I am able to stop, but just realized I only take breaks” group then this passage is written to you.  Those who can stop completely are not as far along as us or are somehow different than us and that has to be okay with us.  They are different than me and I am absolutely not one of them.  This reality is a huge part of the Step One experience.

For those that can stop PERMANENTLY whenever they want there simply has to be a strong enough reason for them to stop.  For them just information might be the cure.  This is the kind of person who when someone mentions that he or she might have a big problem, they never use again.  The kind that the first time that he or she is arrested or is almost arrested while he or she is using decides to quit altogether and never uses again.  The kind of person who the first time he or she notices that he or she gives less attention to his or her child when using quits completely and permanently.  For this kind of person just telling him or her that their using is causing a problem in an understandable way will bring about complete abstinence.

If that is not true of you, then it is likely that no amount of showing or telling you about the way that using destroys you, the lives of those around and destroys everything you care about eventually will make you stop for too long if it can stop you at all.

“Self-knowledge” will not be enough to keep someone like us sober.  That is who this passage is written for and in fact all of the Twelve Step materials.

The bottom line:  Information, in and of itself will not keep you sober.  The information is only as powerful as the amount of changing it causes in your life.  The Information is one of MANY tools that can be used in the process of change, but hearing and retaining information about alcoholism, addiction and about recovery will not keep you sober just because you heard it or heard and remembered it. 

No amount of information will keep you sober.  Either you are different or you are the same.  If you are the same, then you will get the same results.  If you are different, then you will get different results.  That includes being the same and knowing more stuff.  If you are pretty much the same except for knowing a bunch of recovery stuff.  You will do the same except for knowing a bunch of recovery stuff.  You may end up as a high or drunk person with a little more guilt because of the information you now have.

I say this because – – – well, as you read this, you can clearly see that I am in the information business.  What I am not is under the delusion that reading and memorizing this stuff will somehow magically make you sober as if I was writing a magic spell book that you can read and get better.  Nor is the alcoholics anonymous a spell book as such.  As a matter of fact, no recovery information is the MAGIC CURE. 

Information and education are a big part of the recovery process, but all of the information you take in MUST be an instrument of change or it is just more stuff padding the inside of your head to keep your ears from falling inward.

The knowledge is not the cure, you must somehow be changed completely by the knowledge you take in.  After all; either you are different or you are the same.  If you are the same it is reasonable to expect the same results.