In what is probably my least favorite Frank Sinatra song, old blue eyes croons, “Regrets, I’ve had a few – but then again, too few to mention…” Too few to mention? Really? As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve had plenty of regrets to count, and I hate the smugness of the lyric. Sorry Frank.
Early in my recovery from alcoholism, I carried my regrets around like a battered, old Gucci bag: holding on to the status symbols and “glories” of my past with a tight grip. I found myself remembering the trappings of my drinking days a little too nostalgically, and thinking back, far too often with regret.
I am here to tell you that chewing on your old ways like a dog with a dirty sock will always end in tears (or worse). It is not possible to go back and change history. It’s no problem to reminisce and tell an old drinking story every once in a while, or have the occasional bad day. But, when regrets paralyze you in the present, it is time to stop thinking about “what could have been,” and start dealing productively with “what is”.
I have a friend who seems very carefree and positive. She has a method of getting rid of the negatives and disappointments in her life by literally throwing them away. She goes someplace beautiful and solitary (by a river or a lake or even a ditch). She picks up a rock, thinks about the problem at hand and throws the stone into the water, watching it sink out of sight. Goodbye regret.
I tried that once. I was all about saying “goodbye” to the mistakes I had made with a particular man who shall not be named (Kirk). I went to my favorite beach, Guana Reserve with my rock. I stood on the deserted beach and said aloud something like, “Goodbye to the money I spent on fixing your stupid boat! So long to not listening to my friends when they told me you were enabling my alcoholism! Tata to not noticing you were a morphine addict and that you were stealing money out of my purse! Farewell regret!”
And then I pitched my rock and instead of it sailing out to sea with my remorse, it flew straight up over my head (I am not a good thrower) and came plummeting down. I had to duck and cover myself with an arm. The rock glanced off a shoulder and landed with a thud in the wet sand by my feet.
And that is the perfect metaphor for not properly working through the emotions associated with your past missteps before you let them go.
The good news is, there are techniques that can help you vanquish the past once and for all, that do not include potential head injuries:
- Acknowledge your Feelings and Faults: Be honest with yourself about your past peccadillos. Accept responsibility for your actions. Be a man. Or a woman.
- Try to Understand your Motivation: Why did you do what you did or (as in my case) turn a blind eye and do nothing? Understanding your own motivation and how you would handle it differently now, is empowering.
- Break it Down: If you regret being an addict (or some other multi-faceted, HUGE regret), try to separate the components and start small. Forgive yourself for falling into the cake for example, before you forgive yourself for ruining your sister’s entire wedding.
- Learn the Lesson: As hard as it may be to face, the key to letting go of regret is finding the meaning in the madness. So many people have said to me, “You are a better person now.” I have come to realize that even though I wish it had been easier to get to this point, what I have been through with my alcohol addiction and subsequent recovery, has shaped the person I am now. A better
- Give Yourself a Break: Seriously. You probably didn’t ruin the entire Put things into the proper perspective and remember that absolutely everyone (even your mother and your boss) makes mistakes.
Even now that you are in recovery (and an amazing and better person), there will be things you will regret in life. Learning to forgive yourself and put regret behind you, brings peace of mind, happiness, and a positive future-forward outlook.
Just watch out for falling rocks…
Regrets, I’ve had a bunch – but then again I’ve put them behind me….
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