Promise # 3: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it
What man does not want to make peace with his past? After talking with so many men over almost two decades, the true question is: Do I deserve to be make peace with my past? In other words, can I -that piece of proverbial sh$# – be forgiven? Can I forgive myself? Interestingly, the principles that correspond to Step 8 (justice and brotherly love) and Step 9 (self-discipline and good judgment) are not focused on forgiveness, though forgiveness is identified as part of brotherly love. That is very telling. As always the focus is on how we can be of service and live in right action. The process of forgiveness is a result – or byproduct – and cannot be the sole aim.
But, again, I believe that The Promises and the vision contained within them are so much bigger than the 9th Step. They are a vision for life in recovery. At some point, then, we must be able to forgive ourselves if we want to fully experience the power inherent in The Promises. To avoid this important part of the process leaves us feeling as though we must continue to suffer for behaviors from long ago. There is absolutely no benefit to us wearing the hairshirt of recovery, that fits so many of us so well. We may be able to develop a recovery persona which will help us to establish some precarious footing in sobriety – possibly even a modicum of true happiness – but until we truly face ourselves we cannot be free. Truly free from the incessant and brutal voice of self-loathing and criticism.
We enter recovery with deep feelings of shame for how we have lived. Rightfully so, in many ways. If the shame goes unaddressed it keeps us acting out in ways that tell us that we do not deserve forgiveness or to even get better. Which keeps the shame alive. It is a sad and vicious cycle. I have sat with many a Big-Book thumper and quoter of the library of Twelve Step literature who was absolutely drowning in shame. Much of the shame being a result of unaddressed trauma. Hell, I have been that man! It is a horrible way to live. The recovery persona, this false identity where we hide who we truly are behind someone purporting to have mastered the program of recovery, is perhaps one of the most dangerous. Talk about cunning, baffling, and powerful!
You may have heard the saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” That is one of the main reasons we are told to remember our last time using. But remembering our past versus allowing it to hold us fettered against the whipping pole – are two entirely different things. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. The past is done. Over. It cannot be undone. We learn from it and move on or it controls us. Destroys us. We do not seek to forget the past, merely to let it go. In fact, the Past is not the one holding on!
There is also the time-tested saying that we “are as sick as our secrets.” The secrets we carry around with us weigh us down. The same secrets that we promised we would take with us to our grave are the keys to another lost soul’s freedom. They are the key to our freedom. That which caused us so much shame becomes our greatest way of authentically connecting to others, showing our humanity to them, and helping them to feel free enough to do the same. This Promise tells us we can face our past, not live in shame about it, and not runaway from or deny it. Our past does not have to define us, who we are, or how we live our lives. We see this Promise come alive the first time the haggard newcomer whose soul has been ripped apart stands up with his hand out welcoming another. We see this Promise come alive every time someone from the recovery community tells his story with his head held high. We see this Promise come alive as we watch men in recovery rejoin the community – building families and giving back, being of service in ways that go beyond the Twelve Step community, and simply living Life.