When I first got sober, I felt extremely guilty. Guilty not only for the things I had done during my active addiction, but also for having the addiction itself. I felt like being an addict was my fault and that it was the result of me being a terrible person. To me, addiction was the physical representation that there was something morally wrong with me.
I mostly felt like this because my chronic disease led me to do anything and everything in order to fulfill its demands. No matter how hard I struggled against it, I was never able to fend off my obsession. This was the driving force behind many of the poor choices that I made during my active addiction, and I wound up in many precarious situations that I would have never been in if it weren’t for my disease.
Up to No Good
Even though I always fancied myself a good person before I got sober, I was able to recognize that my actions during active addiction rarely measured up to my personal moral standard. This conflict would usually result in a cognitive dissonance within me that would lead to a huge moral dilemma.
However, in order to maintain my addiction, I had to do things that didn’t fit into my morality and because of this I really only had two choices: to change my actions (which I couldn’t at the time) or to change my morality. Unsurprisingly, every time I was faced with this decision, I always ended up changing my morality—the disease of addiction simply wouldn’t let me do otherwise.
Understanding this dichotomy today has allowed me to see that I was indeed a sick person in my addiction, and not a bad person. Of course, this does not absolve me from all responsibility for my past, but it does place my actions in a proper context in which I can digest them in an appropriate way and, in turn, take responsibility for the things I have done without getting stuck in the past.
Tying Loose Ends
One tool that has helped me move on in particular is the 9th step. Of course, making amends frightened me at first because I wasn’t sure what type of response I was going to get from the people I had hurt. However, I was extremely surprised when the majority of people that I made amends to said that they were just happy I was finally sober. They forgave me and told me that they always knew it wasn’t really me doing those hurtful things—it was my addiction.
Recognizing that people did not hate me as much as I did finally allowed myself to extend self-forgiveness and remove much of the unneeded guilt that I was carrying. Being free of this guilt was one of the greatest experiences of my life, as I had carried it for so long and it did nothing but weigh me down. Today, I no longer berate myself for the actions of my past. For one, this is because I have made amends for them, but also I have come to the understanding that a lot of those actions were a direct result of my addiction.
Just because I stole does not mean that I am a thief, and just because I lied does not mean I am a liar. The actions of my past do not define who I am today. Now with this knowledge, I try to be gentler with myself, understanding that I have a chronic illness that has not gone away just because I am sober.
When my disease boils up, as it tends to do from time to time, and begins to spin its web of lies, I try to take a step back and remember that just because I thought it doesn’t mean it’s true, and that regardless of what my mind tells me, I am a good person and I am just doing the best I can.