An AA considers how an alcoholic can come to accept the past for what was
At a meeting last week, I heard a man with over 10 years sober speak. He made a comment that he still had a hard time with the concept of not regretting the past. He still felt badly about some of the things he had done.
This got me to thinking. I know I have received this promise, but how had it happened?
When I was less than 90 days sober, I went into a treatment center to mitigate the legal consequences of what I pray was my last drunk. While there, over 29 years ago, I heard about the Promises for the first time. Many of them sounded like something I wanted and a few almost seemed attainable, but this one I didn’t even understand.
First of all, I thought: how could a sane, rational person not regret what had brought him into the rooms of AA? If my actions weren’t regrettable, why would I think I had a problem? And even if I could avoid or deny the regret, how would I not want to shut the door on the past? I wanted to slam it shut, lock it and nail it closed.
To regret means to feel sorry or unhappy about what happened. I felt a lot of regret when I first came into these rooms: regret, shame and fortunately, powerlessness. I wondered, exactly how did I become relieved of my regret? There is a reason this promise comes at the end of Step Nine.
My sponsor told me as I did Step Eight that I should put myself on my amends list. At the time I thought he was being a little soft–mostly in the head. I didn’t feel I deserved to be on that list. It made no sense to me.
But as I progressed with Step Nine and made honest amends, I was less hard on myself. At one point, I asked my sponsor how I could forgive myself for some of the things I did when drinking. He asked if I believed God would forgive me, and I said, “Yes, of course.” “Well,” he asked, “if God can forgive you, who are you to hold a grudge?” This almost made sense to me.
As a result of Step Nine, I no longer carry a bag over my shoulder full of all the bad things I did. I used to bring one of them out to beat myself over the head with if I started feeling OK about myself. My Ninth Step gave me a way to empty the bag and the Tenth Step helps me to keep from filling it up again.
So, I think that the way I stopped regretting the past was that I forgave myself for the things I had done. This does not mean that if I had the chance, I wouldn’t do things differently–of course I would. But that is my sober self talking. If I were still drinking, how I could I have done it differently?
When I first got here, it was such a blessing to hear how people in AA had not shut the door on their pasts. The fact that their past was so much like mine and their present was what I wanted my future to be is what made me stick around. Their stories of the past were enough like mine to convince me they knew what they were talking about. God bless their past, it gave me hope.
I benefited so much from their past that it became clear by the time I got to Step Nine that my past might help others. “No matter how far down the scale we had gone, we will see how our experiences can benefit others.”
No longer am I haunted by my past deeds. Step Nine requires I make any changes I can. As for those I can’t, I will learn from them and forgive myself, not in a selfish way but in a way that allows me to move forward with my life and help others. Shut the door on my past? Now, I wouldn’t if I could. I can be of more benefit to others by remembering the past. It also reminds me of what it will be like if I drink again.
And for these things, I am grateful.