Looking backwards and forwards — what does it have to do with sobriety?
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All of us seem to be predisposed to thinking about the past and worrying about the future. We lose sleep over things we regret and also over things we are worried about. We let past mistakes lower our self-esteem, and we let future worries prevent us from pursuing goals.
This common tendency can be particularly problematic for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder.
A focus on the past is dangerous for a person in recovery because drug or alcohol use may have led to serious consequences—job loss, broken relationships, injury (or injury to others), and much more. Looking backwards might also lead to troubling memories of trauma or mental health difficulties that may have contributed to the development of the substance use disorder. Spending time in the past can cause a person’s inner commentator to consistently deliver a litany of criticism, which in turn can undermine the confidence and resolve that support ongoing sobriety.
And things are no better in the other direction. A person in recovery who allows worries about the future to consume them will also find it difficult to maintain their sobriety. They may be sorely tempted to turn back to drugs or alcohol as a way to calm their anxiety about the future, for example. They may also be less likely to set goals for themselves and work diligently to achieve those goals because they are constantly worried about all the things that might go wrong. And of course, a tendency to look backward with regret makes it more difficult to look forward with hope.
So where does that leave us? If looking to the past is problematic and looking to the future is fraught with danger, where can we settle our thoughts?
The answer is obvious (though not easy): We can settle our thoughts on the gift of the present.
Take a Moment to Meditate on Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness is all about bringing our thoughts to the present moment so that we live a life of awareness rather than of rumination and worry. That sense of awareness also allows us to experience our current emotions in a non-judgmental manner.
Admittedly, it sounds a bit easier than it actually is. Developing an ongoing sense of mindfulness involves setting aside time to practice mindfulness techniques that can then be applied in day-to-day life. There are plenty of ways to get started, including a variety of online options. There may also be mindfulness meditation classes in your community, and there are plenty of books you can learn from as well.
Mindfulness can help reduce stress and feelings of anxiety. It can also be a useful tool for effectively dealing with cravings. These benefits support your sobriety while also encouraging you to truly live in the moment—a practice that has benefits all its own.
We Propose You Strike a Yoga Pose
Yoga is a practice that holds a somewhat unusual spot in our cultural imagination. On the one hand, you can find plenty of examples in which yoga and those who practice it are the butt of a joke or where the word is used as a stand-in for behavior someone thinks is a bit “woo-woo.” On the other hand, we tend to be pretty impressed by people who develop strength and flexibility through yoga.
But for a person in recovery (or anyone, really), yoga might be thought of as a more physical version of mindfulness practice. As you move from pose to pose and hold various positions, you are encouraged to focus on the connection between your breath, body, and mind. Focusing on that connection brings you firmly into the present moment, and you can carry that connection (along with your yoga mat and water bottle) beyond the confines of the yoga studio.
Speaking of which, while yoga classes at a local studio are a great option, there are other options as well—including online resources—that can help you get started.
If You Are Struggling With Substances, Give Yourself the Gift of Sobriety
We have said quite a bit in this entry about staying in the present. But there is one situation in which staying in your present is not the right move at all. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, the moment to get help is right now.
At Bel Aire Recovery Center in Kansas, we can help you regain your sobriety, and we can offer the resources and support that will help you maintain that sobriety over time. If your present includes drugs or alcohol, it is the right time to give yourself the gift of sobriety.