The past…

Recently, I have reached a new level of surrender with respect to painful events of the past.  Mainly with regrets of my own behaviours.  On a much deeper level, I am learning to let go of these regrets that at one point, used to bounce around inside my head like a ball of “flubber” (fictional flying rubber from the 1963 Disney movie that would bounce perpetually, never losing energy).

More than ever before, I am finding it an automatic response to place painful memories and regrets of the past where they belong…. in the past.

It is a typical characteristic of an alcoholic to ruminate self-destructively about regrets and resentments so I know I come by it honestly.  Throughout my life, I had trained myself to assault myself over and over with the past.  It was not until I began to understand recovery that this habit began to lose strength.

Today, when pain of the past comes to mind, I envision myself picking up the event, and placing it in a container labelled, “The Past”.  I close the lid and walk away.  Knowing full well and resting in the fact that there is nothing I can do to change the events of the past. 

Furthermore, God as I understand him assures me that he casts my wrongs into his “sea of forgetfulness”, which tells me that God actively practices forgetting that which he does not wish to remember.  If I am created in his image, should I not seek to do the same?  So I envision God as the keeper of The Past container… this is my process of surrender.

There is a widely held belief that we cannot forget our past.  But really though, is this completely true?  Can we not progress toward forgetting by removing the emotional charge from what were once painful events of the past?  I believe we can learn to.  I have found I have made progress in this area over the years and that those once painful memories begin to dim.

And as I fill my mind with new and positive things, the painful past dims even more.  To me, this is not denial, it is moving on.  And like a highway sign fades in the rearview mirror, so I believe our regrets and resentments can if we learn how to let them go.

Just this week, an event of the past came to mind that at one point had hit me like a torpedo.  It was something my ex-wife had said to me as she was walking away from our marriage.  When it was said, I felt like I had been punched in the chest and had the wind knocked out of me.  I felt this injury over and over again for years.

My recent realization of it was that I had actually for the most part forgotten it happened.  There is virtually no emotional sting to it anymore, and my life has been so full in the past several years of new and wonderful things for which I am deeply grateful for, that that once life-changing hurt that I centred my life around for a time actually faded completely.  And when it did reappear, it had almost no sting and I was able to envision picking it up and placing it in that place called The Past yet again.  And there it sits losing even more of its power, and I will probably forget it again as life moves on full of new wonders, challenges, and victories.

So are we sure we can’t forget?  I am convinced that we can, through practice and repetition, actively and progressively forget.  For me, it is largely by keeping the past where it belongs… in the past.

Ciao.

Chaz

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About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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27 Responses to The past…

  1. emdashwood says:

    I’ve found the same thing… that as I move forward, things that my ex said or did that once hurt me deeply no longer carry the sting they once did, and no longer have the power to send me spiraling into sadness.

    • Chaz says:

      …. and how many of us in the midst of our pain would have believed at that time that one day the source of pain and would one day fade toward obscurity?

      At least a dozen people told me regarding numberous issues of pain, regret, and resenment that “this too shall pass”. The best I could do at the time was to accept by sheer faith that they were right. I felt no reprieve at those moments.

      Yet now, I can’t believe how many things have faded from my conscious mind. Virtually all of them. Perhaps you experience it the same way?

      And when they do from time to time show up, I have a place for them. Just as God does.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

      • emdashwood says:

        Yes, very much the same as you describe, I was told over and over again that I wouldn’t be broken forever. That I would heal, and move on, and there would be better things on the other side of the pain. I couldn’t believe it at the time, I felt as though I couldn’t possibly get through it – at times, that I didn’t even want to get through it – to see the other side. Now, I don’t feel broken, just different. The experiences have changed me, my outlook on life is less easily swayed by negativity. I know it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but there was a time that the worst thing I could imagine for myself was the failure of my marriage. I spent a third of my life thus far trying to hold together the thin fibers that kept it from falling apart, and it was exhausting. Now, I feel like I’ve survived the worst, and so much of the day to day stressors are miniscule in comparison. It’s so much easier to move through each day, because I’ve seen firsthand the truth of “this too shall pass”.

        • Chaz says:

          Emdashwood… yes, a very parallel journey indeed.

          And true to what people told us… we did get through the worst of it. And the other piece of truth that I am sure you were told as well…. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

          I have proven this second part to myself over and over again.

          In AA, we have a reading that states the observation, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us”.

          I paraphrase this to say that the bully will not be able to stare us down the way he used to. The bully being the problem or pain we faced.

          We become battle-hardened veterans who no longer flinch in the face of danger. So have our exes and past pains not thereby made us better people? Have they not actually done us a favour?

          Amazing isn’t it?

          • emdashwood says:

            I’m maybe not far enough along to recognize it as a favor quite yet. I still see both the good and the bad that came of it. I struggle often with finding a balance between using what I’ve learned to keep my heart safe from hurting that way again, and being open to loving someone in the future. I have a constant battle going on between my head and my heart as to how to handle current and future dating relationships. My head tells me to be cautious and suspicious, perhaps to an unhealthy extent. My heart tells me to ignore my head and not be afraid, that all men cannot be judged based on the unfortunate experiences of my past. The sense of loneliness is hard to take, and I have a difficult time when life gets too quiet. It’s silly, really, because although I spent the last 10 years with someone who wasn’t actually listening or interested in my thoughts, at least I had someone on the other end of the couch that I could talk to. I get the same amount of caring and feedback from that empty sofa cushion next to me, but some days I still feel like something was better than nothing. Yet I’m scared to replace nothing with someone who might genuinely be interested in what I have to say, I’m not sure I would know what to do if that ever were to happen. Sorry for rambling, but those are the thoughts that came to mind when I read your reply.

            • Chaz says:

              Hi Emdashwood…

              I am certain that one day, the positiveness of what your journey through pain can teach you will become clear. It has for everyone I know who kept on moving, searching, and growing. No need to rush it. Lights come on when they do. Seldom sooner.

              I can understand the battle between head and heart. We all go through it. My battle was slightly different. I desperately wanted to love again…. but all the desperation got me were relationships that I wasn’t ready for. Until I finally reached a point where all of the recovery work meant something… and I could love again. And have done so for a number of years now in a new and wonderful marriage. And we are well beyond the honeymoon phase. We have survived some of the tests o time. I am sure more will follow.

              So relax and do what you need to do to heal and grow. I honestly believe the right person will appear in our lives at the right time. And the healthier we are, the better we will know them when we meet them, and the less chance we will make poor decisions around relationships.

              Ciao.

              Chaz

  2. okishes1 says:

    Although the past may be painful, there is somewhat closure to know that it is behind you. By accepting the pain, you understand the cure. I wish you luck and I look forward to your future posts.

  3. Chaz says:

    Thanks Okishes1… whishing the best for your journey too. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the dialogue.

    For me, a huge part of what makes closure possible is recognizing where I continue to unkowingly hold onto past hurts and regrets. We can do much in our conscious mind and be convinced we are past something.

    Yet, subconsciously, we are still holding on. These subconscious behaviours are harder to spot and in my experience, take longer to change. I have found the most effective way to re-train my subconscious is by disciplining my conscious mind to consciously let go and surrender whatever it is I am struggling with. This is why the visual pictures of the container of The Past and Sea of Forgetfullness.

    Our subconscious takes is cues from our conscious mind. And our conscious mind is all we have any immediate control over. A steady stream of repeated messages to our subconscious trains it to give up the remembering. And of course time is part of that process as well.

    This is the way it seems to have worked for me anyway.

    Thanks again for stopping in.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

  4. I have found, with affairs related to the past, that they have gone. Some of my memories are fuzzy, but the pain and distress the past used to have has receded from my mind. I don’t dream about them either in a long time. I used to rehash over and over until I learned how to let go. But letting go is a time honored tradition, and also your readiness to let things go and not hold on to them. There is the willingness and the effort needed on your part to make the past become the past. And not carry it into the present.

    J.

    • Chaz says:

      Hey Jeremy…. always happy to hear from you.

      Yes, “learned how to let go” I believe is the key. Few of us do this intutively, especially those of us prone to alcoholism or addiction. We just seem to be wired to ruminate in a self-punishing way.

      I have discovered that letting go is a skill we develop with practice. It is a gift when we realize we can actually do this. There was a time in my life that I felt and declared to others that I was actually owned by my past… mainly the pains of the past. I could try to leave them alone but it felt like they never left me alone. But how could this be? They are simply facts of the past unless I give them power to bring me pain.

      Naturally, some pains are harder to overcome than others. There is such a thing as post-traumatic stress disorder. But even people who suffer the most horrific traumas can improve in time and with applying the appropriate efforts to it.

      Glad to hear you have let go of so much of your own painful past, Jer.

      Thanks for adding to the dialogue.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  5. Chaz,

    This is key; letting go, going through. You are dead on. It is part of the recovery path to look at the past, make amends and learn from the lessons. As an ex user and drinker AND a child of alcoholics I have my fair share of really rotten memories. I also have fairly serious PTSD because of the past.

    I spent years self medicating to rid myself of the memories. I have spent years in therapy and years on my knees and sometimes something triggers my PTSD and all bets are off. It is a tricky thing at that point because the past comes back as a physical and neurological function and I am, SEEMINGLY, back where I started. I need to reel myself back from the brink and this is with 20 years of being clean and holding to my Faith.

    I finally have begun to use EMDR therapy and Brain Spotting with my therapist to take the sting out of the specific memories that trigger the PTSD. It has been a miracle and has shown me that I do not necessarily need to bottle up the past and toss it; maybe I can keep it and SEE it with different eyes. So much of what caused the PTSD has been a gift and made me the strong Woman I am today. It is tricky to toss that all out. I figure it is all my God doing this; Same with each of the rotten memories of both things I have done or were done to me. God gives us a path and we walk it and gratitude plays heavy in here. My path, God, Free Will and Gratitude all mixed up together to make me, me.

    I LOVE this:

    ““We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us”. THANK YOU for reminding of this! WE DO know IF we let our higher power take over!

    So right on. The question for me is; “am I letting go and letting God?”

    I mean really? Turning it ALL over to my God is the key

    thank you for the reminder and the wisdom born of struggle and surrender and recovery.

    Peace, Jen

    • Chaz says:

      Wow Jen…. quite a reply…. thank you for it.

      First off, I too am an ACOA. My father was an active alcoholic and quite emotionally abusive to us as kids.

      I had also read a blog a couple years ago about PTSD and was shocked at how closely it described me. For me, the major trauma was betrayal by my first wife. Or rather, the trauma was what I made of it. It was like being hit by a train. And not only did it hurt, but my unhealthy side got ahold of hit. And the ring-master of my unhealthy side had always been self-pity. So down a steep and fast spiral I went. From clean-cut, church-goin, suburban family man and professional… to crack addict and alcoholic.

      I mention to highlight the severity with which I reacted to the event… my weaknesses made sure it was trauma and I reacted accordingly.

      After a wide variety of counselling and help of many types, I too sought out EMDR. I was told that I was not a likely candidate for it being helpful to what my background was. But I did end up introducing it to someone close to me who had suffered some significant phyiscal abuse in childhood and it helped them significantly.

      I am all for us finding what we need. I think your reply makes clear that even if we have psychological treatment like EMDR, that we still need to do our own individual part by continuing to surrender, turn over, let go in GENUINE ways.

      I emphasize GENUINE because like you, I too have had to double check if I was actually letting go and letting God. I found I had unknowingly developed a sneaky habit of handing over something to God with one hand then quietly taking it back from him with the other… then wondering why I still had the problem and resulting pain.

      I am sure you can relate to how it feels to finally learn how to turn something over wholly. The weight that comes off one’s shoulders is amazing. It is better than the drugs and booze we used to think would do the job for us. The elation is better than the false high of drugs or booze.

      Thanks for popping in Jen and adding to the dialogue. You’ve inspired much thought.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  6. I like the visual of placing the past in a container. I personally don’t feel as though I need to forget the past as much as put it in its proper “container” or perspective. Once tucked away I can always retrieve it, however this is where it can get tricky. I certainly don’t want to retrieve it to stroke it and massage it and make it come alive again. Rather I want to be able to retrieve it when there is some value in doing so. The big book says something like our dark past is a valuable asset in that it can be used to help another. I agree totally. I also find that my past continually teaches me, even long after I’ve stored it away.

    Perhaps the past returns to show us how much we’ve grown or how much we still need to grow. Maybe it returns to teach a new lesson or remind us of an old lesson. Whatever the case I’m grateful for the experiences and grateful to now know I can grow from my past.
    Thanks for writing this and giving me something to think about.

    • Chaz says:

      Hey Rich… nice to hear from you.

      You bring up some good points. In fact, the motivation behind my original post was my remeberance of the past that I had otherwise forgotten. I know this sounds a little circular.

      That rememberance did indeed teach me something. It taught me I could and had grown and changed over the past few years. So yes, aspects of the past have value in remembering.

      I suppose the forgetting that I needed to do was the thoughts and memories that I was not handling in a healthy way. Things that brought me excessive pain or tempted me to resent, self-pity, or engage some other unhealthy pattern of thought.

      Amazing thing is that when I now remember these types of events from the past, rarely do they have the emotional charge anymore that I process unhealthily. More often, the memories are mainly of emotionally benign data. Just the facts.

      So perhaps this is not permament forgetting, but rather, as you state, a safe place to store things for a period of time while we get healthier.

      Certainly, the fact that we are veterans of specific battles does make us uniquely able to be a resource to others now going through such challenges. To borrow a line from Narcotics Anonymous thiat has universal applicaiton, “The therapeutic value of one addict (or whatever) helping another is without parallel”. How could we be of help had we not experienced what the other person is experiencing? And how could we draw on our experience if we don’t remember? I think this is what you are saying.

      Thanks for adding a balancing perspective to the post, Rich.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  7. john p says:

    I really appreciate your article. Thank you so much for your honesty and your sharing. God Bless You!

  8. dysfunky says:

    Thanks for writing this article. I really appreciate your writing style, and your honesty and openness. God Bless you

  9. A great post and one that really hits home for me. I struggle daily with regrets from the past… some from years ago, some from yesterday. I love the visualization of the container and keeping those pains and frustrations where they belong.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Effortlessly… thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Regrets of the past practically defined my life at one point, which is why I am so grateful to have detached from their control to a large degree. It is an ongoing process that takes time and like any new habit, repetition.

      Dont worry if you have to re-surrender something a number of times throughout a day. Each time you practice surrendering and detatching, you get better at it. It becomes more automatic and habitual. This is the slow road to progress. Slow but effective.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  10. J Holmes says:

    Hi. Thanks for this useful article. I am not always skilled at leaving parts of the past in the past.

    • Chaz says:

      Thanks for stopping by JH….

      Am sure you have experienced the reprieve of leaving the past behind. It is a skill we slowly develop with time and practice.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  11. Anna says:

    Hi Chaz
    It’s been a long time since I been blogging, I miss reading your wonderful words. Letting go, in the early days I didn’t even understand what that meant and there are days I can still fool myself into believing I have let go when I haven’t. I’m still a master of manipulation, I can fool myself at the best of times. I have to be on guard at all times and I got a few days back to back now. I try to remind myself that sitting in that pain and self-pity is just another form of self sabotage. That one thing I refuse to do anymore in my life.
    I’m not to sure what I’ve been struggling with lately. I know I should be reaching out more. I can justify everything I do or don’t do, because of my health. But the bottom line is I’m not happy right now. So something in my life needs to change and I think I’m afraid to face that.
    Anna

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Anna… thanks for the reply. It has indeed been a while. Sorry for being a while replying back… I had been away.

      Changing our thinking patterns is something that does take time and practice as you have highlighted. Old patterns are programmed into our base code… meaning at our deepest level… often because we learned them young and essentially practiced them over and over for our whole lives until they became instinctive and reflexive.

      I often equate it to the first Karate Kid movie where Mr Miagi had his student wax his car over and over and over so the movements became reflexive. Yet the movie portrays him doing this over a day or two… we rehearsed our behaviours over our lifetimes to date.

      So unwinding the habits of thought…. such as going to the past or to self pity… is not an instantaneous thing by any means. And the fact that you or any of us continue to work on it or fall into its trap after years of change is not at all surprising or untypical.

      The great part is that we caught a glimpse of the problem and that glimpse turned into enlightenment as we began to work at it. The 12 steps can be a helpful tool or some of us, self included, find great benefit from additional help from medical, pshycholgical, self-help teachings, and of course our systems of faith…. my being the Bible.

      Glad to hear you are continuing to move forward in your journey! Thanks again for stopping by.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

      • Anna says:

        Thanks, I’m the best isolator I know. Lol run to the hill. It’s funny I hated being alone before, now I love being by myself, too much. I really have to be careful because I tend to isolate when I can’t figure out what going on for me, instead of reaching out for help. Next thing I know it’s been weeks and I haven’t talked to anyone. I’ve only gone to my home group and other than that I’ve basically a hermit. Which is not healthy behave for me. I’m miserable, unhappy, snappy and wonder why. Duh!!! Lol
        I don’t know about you, but I’m my own worst enemy. I seem to have to still torture myself at a subconscious level. I don’t do it deliberately, I think part of me is still having a hard time accepting my disability and the way it is. Staying isolated is a way of not having to face any of that.
        So it’s nice to be out of my shell again, back in the real world. Starting to feel normal again, it’s hard to face some things. Life isn’t always easy. I’m remember to replace fear with faith and step forward. A moment at a time if a have too. I find when things get bad I go back to the basics. They never fail you. Today I don’t ever think about using its no longer an issue for me. It’s just trying to find a better way of dealing with life on life’s terms in a healthier way. Cause I still tend to torture myself. I want that to stop. I deserve more than that today. I suffered more than enough everyday as it is. I don’t need to punish myself on top of it.
        Anna

        • Chaz says:

          That’s Right Anna… No need to punish yourself.

          I find that when I am in my head constantly, I shut my brain off, ignore all of the rationalizing thoughts that try to jump to the front of my mind such as self condemnation and rationale to remain isolated… And I just get myself to a meeting.

          My head fights me the whole way usually but I just go anyway. Even when the meeting starts, my mind wants to judge and forecast what will happen.

          I shut those thoughts off too. I then ask God to show me what I need to be shown. I have contributed all I have to contribute…. I showed up and left my thoughts at the door.

          Every time I have done this… An answer came. Never what I was expecting… But always something helpful.

          Ciao… Chaz.

  12. Heid Fogle says:

    I don’t know how I missed this one and a few others recently. Guess it was during the lack of internet times.

    I love this post so much that I’m sending the link to a friend who just today has been talking about giving up the crutch of anger over the past as she works on Step 6.

    I’m going to add that I’ve also prayed for God to remove the remembrance of painful things unless I need them for some real reason (like to comfort others where I’ve been comforted).

    It has amazed me how often someone will mention a past event that I’d spent years bemoaning and now I’ve entirely moved on, forgetting it and even, more importantly, not ‘feeling’ it when remembered. Just like you said. It’s wonderful!

    • Chaz says:

      Thanks Heidi…. so many things are common to all of us with similar backgrounds. Ruminating appears to be one of them for virtually all of us. Glad you felt a connection with the post. Thats how we help each other, isn’t it?

      Ciao.

      Chaz

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