Assessment of my past actions, behavior patterns, and belief systems is a key part to my recovery. Without a looking at what got me to the point of knowing my drinking had begun to be unhealthy I know that I would risk repeating the same patterns and end up undermining my recovery; I know this because much of my review has shown me patterns that started years before I became aware of my problems. Patterns my traditional therapy did not uncover and thus were a surprise to me.
One tool in my recovery is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). What I know about this type of therapy isn’t enough to make a complete sentence, but what I do know is that rather than talk and talk about an issue I use my senses and visualization skills to go into the problem and reimagine it in a way that allows me to move out of the old behaviors or thoughts that stemmed from the situation. For example, I had a horrible couple of sexual and romantic experiences as a young woman. These situations led me to treat sex and relations with my romantic partners as a power paradigm where I would be the one in control at any cost. It also created mistrust of my value as someone deserving of a loving, compassionate, and fun partner, so I would sabotage relationships to keep this belief alive. Instead of talking about this for hours my therapist guided me through an exercise that took me back into the heart of these two experiences as my adult self. My adult self then worked with myself from the time of the experiences to construct a different outcome and to review where we could be by changing our awareness of our own conduct and thoughts.
As we started this exercise I panicked. I thought to myself, “I am not doing this half-way, those measures avail me nothing, and I get into what we are doing as a way to get it done right.” My therapist and I realized that I don’t actually separate my current self from my past self in thinking of these experiences. I go right into them as if I have not grown up. This means I am going to be vulnerable to the experiences again and I won’t gain insight or growth, but will have to reinforce what damage was done. As a way to change this my therapist asked me to point to where I look to see the past – I pointed in front of me. Then he asked me where I look to see the future – I pointed behind me. Lightbulb!
If my past is in front of me all the time I am always reviewing and reliving my past (negative) experiences. I am stuck in time. And because I tend to review my negative moments more than my positive moments I am always fearful, vulnerable, and less learned than I am in the present time. I also can’t be very hopeful, because all I see is where I failed and not where I will succeed, live, love, grow, and more in my future.
I think the change came from my last job where we culturally spent lots of energy dissecting the past errors in our attempt to move from “good to great.” I also was in a situation there where my performance feedback was often second hand to my boss and not in the moment, so I had to think back to situations to try and change my behavior which is damned inefficient.
I also think that traditional therapy was not working for me. Partly because I was in denial about my drinking, but also because we would talk about the past but, since I was processing it as a present event, I wasn’t learning anything or gaining any safety from the talks.
Then in recovery I was instructed to look back as part of my growth. Again a reasonable request, but if I am living the past as if it just happened I am not leaving it.
My compass had turned so that the past was what was in front of me and the future was behind me – invisible.
As you journey in recovery and work to understand your past and create a new story for your future, be sure to incorporate tools such as CBT, meditation, visualizations, or just a quick check saying “which way am I facing right now?” If you find your present time is looking to the past and you are not doing an assessment, be sure to turn yourself to the future. It is only with eyes focused on the future that you can hope to understand the past and acknowledge it, but move on and grow from it.