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How to Make the Most of Your Regrets

Most of us would prefer to outlive our worst moments. We would rather wish to change the past and erase our most regrettable mistakes. However, none of us can time travel to speak to our past selves. We cannot take the past back and need to move forward, knowing that we have caused hurt and pain to ourselves and others before making changes. 

Dwelling on the past and living in guilt over our regrets is not helpful to anyone. When we continue to live with the guilt over our regrets, we are not moving forward or making amends. Instead, we indulge in our negative emotions and keep ourselves from truly making up for our mistakes.

Remember Why You Made a Change

Both parents and kids who struggle might be holding onto guilt and regret. Parents of children struggling with addiction or other problematic behaviors might blame themselves for their child’s issues. They might think, “I’m a bad parent” or “I didn’t do enough to help.” Kids struggling with these issues might feel like they have let their families down or caused multiple problems for their loved ones. They might hold onto these ideas, which can lead to self-esteem and confidence issues, as kids hold onto lingering thoughts, like “I’m just a bad kid.”

Regrets and other negative emotions, like guilt or shame, can remind us why we want to make changes. Negative emotions remind us of what we want to move away from, where positive emotions push us towards our wants. Motivation to make positive changes is a means to avoid painful, negative emotions and gain uplifting, satisfying feelings from personal growth.

Often, when entering a treatment program, we are likely facing the consequences of regrettable behaviors. Perhaps we got into trouble with the law or came close to an overdose. Generally, in early recovery, most people are motivated to learn to avoid causing further pain in their lives. Hoping to move past their lowest points, they want to make amends for their worst actions and avoid feeling the negative consequences ever again.

Who You Are Versus Who You Were

During the worst stages of addiction, we trade things to continue our behaviors. We give up family, friends, goals, careers—anything—to continue giving in to addiction. We are often only motivated to get our next “high,” and our lives become fixated as a means to an end of indulging in our addiction. Little else seems to matter.

However, once we accept that we want something more for ourselves and take steps toward a better life, our worst self is already in the past. Who we chose to become is who we are, and we become who we chose to be. Even in the early stages of recovery, making positive decisions to move forward puts that former self in the rearview. That was who we were. That was our lowest point, and we are now moving forward for a brighter future. 

We do not need to be at ground zero to move upward, nor do we need to continue living with guilt over our past. Any positive change will be a step up, even if we are not at an extremely low point in our lives. These things are relative—not everyone needs to lose all of their friendships, homes, or jobs just to make changes. Our regrets can be big or small; however, we can use regrets to our advantage by not dwelling on them, yet not denying them either.

Recovery Is Not Easy…

Recovery will not be easy. We might need to come to terms with our lowest points in life. We might need to open up about our deepest emotions and feel the initial discomfort of exposing our vulnerabilities to others. However, when things get tough and challenging as we move forward, we might need to look back on our past. We can use our regrets to spring us forward, knowing that we do NOT want to go back to our lowest point no matter how difficult things may seem.

…But Neither is Addiction

Looking back on our lowest points, was our life really easier, or did we just not know any other way to live? As we heal in recovery, we realize that we had choices in dealing with our inner turmoil. We might have used drugs or alcohol to numb ourselves from feeling pain. Now that we do not have these substances to shield us from pain, we feel raw as we experience the feelings we have tried hard to avoid. But, when looking back, was living life motivated solely to get to our next “fix” really easier than recovery? 

During the tough days of recovery, where we consider “what if I just took one hit?” or “can’t I just have one drink to reward myself?” remember where these decisions lead us. Once we put some distance between our past selves and our new selves in recovery, gain experience with success and fulfillment, we can use our past selves to remind us why we chose recovery—and why we continue to move forward.

Our regrets can hold us back from healing or springboard us into continuing in recovery. We can look back to these negative experiences and the pain brought on by them to remind us of the things we want to avoid. During the challenging days ahead in recovery, we might feel tempted to give up. We might want to reward ourselves for our progress and take just one hit or just one drink. However, during these moments, we might need to recall the painful memories of our past, not to feel guilty, but rather to remember that our lives were actually more complicated during our active addiction. We experienced more losses and fewer gains when our focus was all about giving in to addiction. If you have a child struggling with addiction, we’re here to help. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center can help kids and parents move forward from the past for a brighter future. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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