She’d been an alcoholic since before I was born. And on top of that she was an abusive monster when she was drunk.
And she was drunk all the time.
For my own safety, I’d cut her out of my life in my early teens and lost contact with her for over two decades.
It wasn’t until she got sober in her late 50’s that I reached out to her. To be honest with you, I don’t know why I did. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do.
But that’s where I was wrong. Like, W.R.O.N.G.
The more involved I got with my mom the more the past haunted me.
Talking to her kicked up shame, old trauma, resentments, betrayals and other painful memories.
I obsessed so much about the past that I even started dreaming about it.
My feelings made zero sense to me. After all, I truly believed that I’d moved on from the days when my mom was a drunk.
And that’s when I brought up the whole, “I love you,” thing with my therapist.
What she told me next felt like a punch in the gut. She said,
“You feel sick because you’re angry.”
I couldn’t understand how that could possibly be true. My mom was sober after being drunk her entire life. How could I be angry? If anything, shouldn’t I be grateful?
But here’s what I eventually realized, just because my mom was sober and ready to move on didn’t mean that I was.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your husband, sister, boyfriend, mom or niece. They’re recovery doesn’t magically wipe away any resentments, trauma or anger you feel.
If you’re having a hard time dealing with your sober someone’s past, then today’s post is for you.
Below, I’ve got 7 tools and ideas that will help you move beyond your loved one’s past and stop obsessing.
As always, thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful then please share it with your people.
All right, let’s do this.
#1 Ain’t No Shame In Your Pain
Here’s the first thing we need to get out of the way. Sobriety doesn’t magically dissolve any resentments, trauma or anger you feel. And it certainly doesn’t make whatever happened in the past okay.
You can be grateful that your husband is sober and also feel angry about things that went on while he was using.
Why is this okay? Because you’re a human being and we’re complex creatures.
And addiction is complex. It’s all part of the same screwed up bag.
Try to think of it like this.
Let’s say you were in a car accident. I know it’s a dramatic example but just play along for a minute.
So, you were in a car accident and you broke both of your legs. Even though the accident is over, wouldn’t you still have a bunch of stuff to deal with?
You’d be in the hospital for a bit. You’d have physical therapy. You’d have to learn to walk again. And you’d probably be traumatized.
Well it’s the same concept when we’re talking about moving on from someone’s addiction.
You’re going to have emotional wounds that need tending to. In your relationship, you’re going to have to learn how to trust again and forgive.
Emotional wounds need time to heal just as physical ones do.
So instead of judging yourself, remember that you’ve got some healing of your own to do. And that’s okay.
# 2 Know Who You Are – And Own It
You’ve probably heard the term codependent or codependency.
And if not, get on Amazon right now and check out the author Melody Beattie. She’s a guru on the subject.
Anyway, codependents are typically disconnected from what they think and feel as individuals. And as result, we suck up the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the people around us.
And when we don’t know what we need or want, setting boundaries becomes impossible.
But here’s the deal. To mend your relationship with your newly sober someone, you’re going to have to know who you are.
What do you want?
What do you believe?
What do you want to come home to everyday?
What’s your favorite color?
Because if you don’t know who you are – you’re going to keep bumbling around.
Instead of moving forward, you’ll be spinning in circles.
And that my friend will only make you dizzy.
#3 Every Relationship Starts With You
Now this idea might piss you off a little. I know it did the first time I heard it. But just try to keep an open mind.
Every relationship in your life starts with YOU.
That means, every relationship that you enter into, you’ve agreed to.
If you meet someone that’s married and you still date him, you’ve said yes to that.
If you meet a woman that’s emotionally unavailable and you bring her into your life, you’ve said yes to that.
And yes, this idea applies even to relationships we have no control over, such as the family we belong to.
Now, you might be thinking,
Hold on a minute, I didn’t say yes to my daughter becoming an alcoholic. Or I didn’t say yes to my cousin stealing my jewelry for drug money.
And that makes total sense that you didn’t. But what you’ve done is allowed these people, in your life, to treat you a certain away. Even if that way is disrespectful.
You see, this idea not only applies to the people you let into your life but also how you teach people to treat you. It’s about what you’re willing to tolerate. It’s about boundaries.
What this isn’t about, is beating yourself up over choices you’ve made.
It’s all about knowing who you are and putting that power back into your pocket.
I’m not saying you have to agree with this idea, if you’re resistant that’s fine. For now, just be willing to consider it.
Take what you like and leave the rest.
#4 Get The Hell Out Of Your Head
That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent. Proverb
Obsessing and worrying has never, as far as I know, solved any problems.
You can spin the same questions and doubts around in your head for days and it won’t inspire clarity.
It’s totally normal, once your loved one is sober, to obsess over the past and worry about the future. But letting those thoughts take over your life will make you sick and prevent your relationship from moving forward.
That’s why you’ve got to come up with creative ways to get the hell out of your own head.
When your mind starts to spin, slap on your sneakers and go for a long walk. If you’re into journaling, pick up a red pen and let loose on those pages. Get your butt in the kitchen and bake some cookies. It doesn’t matter what you do just as long as you’re doing something that gets you out of your head and into the moment.
#5 Walking On Egg Shells Hurts, So Stop Doing It
But I don’t want to say anything that will shame or guilt her.
I don’t want to harm him. He’s newly sober and doesn’t have a high tolerance for emotional pain.
I just don’t want to make things harder for his recovery.
Here’s how this one goes.
You don’t want to bring up what’s bothering you because you’re afraid the pressure will lead your loved one to relapse.
I get it because I’ve been there. And I would’ve stayed there if I didn’t realize this one important truth,
The only person I ever have control over is me.
Think about all the times you begged your loved one to stop using. And how many times did what you say actually alter their behavior?
If you didn’t have control over how and when they used before sobriety, you definitely don’t have control over what could trigger a relapse.
It’s a different side of the same coin.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have license to berate or intentionally harm your loved one.
That’s definitely not what I’m advocating here.
But what I am encouraging is healthy communication and respect. Stuffing away what’s bothering you is just as destructive as verbally abusing someone because you’re pissed off.
Again, it’s a different side of the same coin.
#6 You Don’t Have To Feel Grateful To Be Grateful
At times it can be difficult to live with your resentments and feel grateful for your loved one’s sobriety all at the same time.
Granted, it’s an emotionally painful place to be but it’s far from unusual.
So, here’s the question I have for you. Who said you can’t feel resentful and grateful at the same time? Who said you can only be one or the other?
Because here’s the thing, you don’t have to feel grateful every day, 24/7 to be grateful.
Some days you’ll be pissed off, other days you’ll be neutral and you’ll have days where your heart swells with gratitude.
These are all necessary pieces to your emotional puzzle. Remember, we human beings are complex creatures.
And that complexity isn’t going to disappear just because your loved one got sober.
#7 Learn To Coexist With The Unresolved
This last idea comes straight from Victoria Moran’s book, Creating A Charmed Life.
In her book, Victoria talks about coexisting gracefully with the unresolved.
This idea is all about living your life, as fully as possible, during the good and bad times.
As loved ones of addicts, we frequently put our lives on hold as we wrestle with the unresolved and unknown.
We obsess, we question and worry. And as a result we become miserable, depressed and bitter.
Now, if a life threatening situation pops up, of course your focus will change.
But as Victoria Moran says,
Even solvable problems seldom have instant answers. Until these problems are worked through, we share space with them. It’s no small thing to attend to your life in general when everything in you wants to obsess over some nagging particular. But as Rudolf Nureyev once said of ballet, “It never becomes easy. It does become possible.
If you’re wondering how you can apply this concept to your life – why not try this.
In the morning, take out a blank sheet of paper and write out all your unresolved problems.
Fold that paper up and stick it in an envelope marked, Problems To Be Solved.
Tuck the envelope away in a safe place and get on with it.
If you catch yourself obsessing during the day, relax and remember that your problems are resting back in that envelope where you left them.