I am often asked if I have “regrets” about my past and my behavior in active addiction. If I could turn back the clock, would I do things differently? If I look at my history in a vacuum, from a simple behavioral standpoint, the answer is yes. Of course, I have regrets. Life, however, doesn’t occur in a vacuum and I don’t see the point in beating myself up daily, dwelling on the ugly and painful moments, not only for me but for people I hurt during that time.
I do however sometimes reflect on the fact that I did hurt them. I don’t bemoan the overall path that put me where I am at over 13 years in recovery, but it’s important for me to acknowledge the collateral damage along the way. I see this as a necessary process to both make living amends for my behavior and to continually build resilience for my future.
One of the issues I have struggled with in quarantine is the strong re-emergence of these feelings of regret for those “lost” years. The feelings that it was all wasted and pointless, rather than focusing on what I have control over which is how I deal with the present and beyond. I reached out to Cindy T. Graham Ph.D., a clinical psychologist for some tips on managing feelings of regret during quarantine. Here are her tips:
Regret can be a part of the recovery process. It tends to include a feeling of wasted time — weeks, months, or years — that was spent in active addition and missing out on events of one’s life. These feelings of regret at times signify unresolved feelings about the time one struggled with addiction. The current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the emergence of similar feelings for some who experienced regret during their recovery period.
During this time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place there is a lot of focus on missed opportunities. Birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations have been canceled, postponed, or otherwise altered from the usual gathering of friends of loved ones. Even everyday moments of going to the gym, coffee shop, or playdates has been put on hold. This is understandably reminiscent of social occasions that were missed during active addition. Automatic negative thoughts return to the forefront and the feelings of regret come rushing back.
Tips For Managing Regret
- Address the unresolved feelings of regret from past episodes of addiction. Spend time learning to truly forgive yourself for the time you spent battling addiction. It was a battle after all, so give yourself the space to process why you may still be upset with yourself for that lost time. Hindsight is 20/20 — trying to remember what you learned from overcoming addiction and use that to help you through this time.
- Get to the root of the regret amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Is it possible that the feeling of being cheated out of time is partially rooted in the increased awareness of your own mortality that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered? Perhaps the regret is coming from a place of loneliness and loss of connection. It is important to get to the root cause of the feeling of regret and address it accordingly. Consulting a mental health professional can be particularly beneficial in identifying what the triggers are.
- Focus on the present. Try to keep perspective on the fact that you are in recovery. Automatic negative thoughts and feelings will happen so try to keep sight of the fact that while you may be feeling like you are losing out on precious time, there are many ways to stay connected and make the most of the time you are in. Live life during this pandemic in such a way that you will not feel regret when you later reflect back on this time. Said differently, would you rather one day look back at this and remember it for being a time you were stuck in regret or as a time that you allowed your prior experiences of regret and missed opportunity to propel you into living life to the fullest under the circumstances?
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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