“The past is never where you think you left it.”
― Katherine Anne Porter
Oh, how sweet life would be if the past sat still, well-behaved like a service dog for the blind, waiting to be called on until you need their eyes. How easy life could be if the future had patience, instead of always rushing at you with what-if’s. How easy recovery could be if all your wrongs untied themselves with each passing sober day.
Wrongs that hang there like double knots in your lifeline, shortening your rope and holding you back, like an anchor dropped at sea.
You’re still floating, but you’re held in one place.
I think I’m pretty good (and getting better) at simply being present, bearing witness to the past as it taps on my shoulder and the future as it pours sugar down my imagination’s throat. I try to let them arrive and depart like unexpected guests, with no feeling of obligation to either entertain them or serve them tea. Like Shunryu Suzuki said, “Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go.”
When you’re in recovery, you could charge a cover at the door. All your past wrongs line up and camp out overnight just waiting to get in so they can drag their dirt all through your house. All the drunken deeds you thought you had buried come parading back to you like The Walking Dead, resurrected and infected.
But what happens when you aren’t the one with the shovel in hand, digging them up and setting them free. What do you do when the ones you hurt while soberly-challenged are still hurting? How do you raise the anchor so you can both sail forward, no longer tethered in place, moored by the actions that Drunk You did?
I wish I knew.
The best apology is changed behaviour.
I wish that healing was contagious, and that we could spread it like the common cold. That just by being near someone, you could undo their hurt and untie their knots.
That apologies could disinfect the past.
I wish I could pour my sobriety on all the open wounds I’ve left in my path and help them close without scars. I wish I could properly explain the dark and passive indifference that consumes you when you’re sitting there at rock bottom. I wish I could explain how in the unawareness of addiction I couldn’t see who I was hurting, while I was spinning wildly and blindly with a knife in my hand.
Maybe it’s in the slow untying of those knots in sobriety that your rope grows longer so you can throw it out to others. So the ones you dragged down with you to that lower, darker, painful new depth can begin to climb back out.
When you make amends, you hand someone a bandage – but you don’t get to decide if they choose to use it on the wounds you carved. When you explain that you stumbled when you barely knew how to walk – it’s not up to you if they remember your fall, or instead, your struggle.
Sometimes you need to make peace with making peace.
We are all characters in each other’s stories, and we hold no control over how we are written in to anyone else’s. Despite starring in a new role in your own, you may always be a flashback in someone else’s, forever repeating the same horror scene until they choose to change the channel.
These are the truths that come with recovery.
When you slowly and finally wake into sobriety from the nightmare of addiction, a time arrives when you need to admit that it wasn’t just your own bad dream, but you were the monster under other people’s bed, too.
Sobriety cannot be selfish.
You can’t stand there and release your regrets like balloons to the sky without noticing who you’ve left burst and deflated. Just because you’ve buried your demons doesn’t mean others haven’t just put theirs to bed.
To bed, where they will eventually wake up.
To bed, where they’re just resting.
To bed, where you can still hear them snoring, always reminding you that they’re still there.
So far, one of the hardest parts of recovery is realizing that my past is not only my past. It’s a poorly coloured picture that spills over the lines, my mess marked in ink and impossible to erase. It’s the rearview mirror I try and check only to see how far I’ve come, but at times I’m called out and forced to stare in the eye all the horrible things I’ve left behind and can’t undo.
The past is never where you think you left it.
― Katherine Anne Porter
It’s never where you think you left it, because it’s been scattered across the many pasts and paths of everyone you drove off the road on the highway of your addiction. But how do you try and help others see that a flat tire is no reason to get rid of the whole car?
And even though you’re now sailing on the sober open road, sometimes you need to turn around and tend to those you left in ditches. Sometimes you need to try and help people see that just because you lost control once, doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver. And sometimes that means you need to return to the scene of the crime, as ugly and painful and uncomfortable as it may be.
Only the one that hurts you can make you feel better
Only the one that inflicts the pain can take it away
– Madonna, Erotica
Part of recovery is coming to accept that there are many things I cannot control – notably the future, the past, and how others have written me into their stories. I can’t control if I’m thought of as an explosive trainwreck or The Little Engine That Could.
And I can, and I did, and I am.
I also can’t control whether others want to forgive me enough to come along for the ride.