Three years sober, I’m still dealing with guilt

2013 was the first time I finally felt like my recovery didn’t completely define me.

I’m so much more than someone who used to drink and use drugs to dangerous excess. But for the first two and a half years or so of my recovery, it felt like that’s all I was. I had to put so much energy and focus on staying clean and sober; sometimes, it took every ounce of willpower I had. And in the times when I was just hangin’ out and trying to be normal, I felt like everyone else could tell I was different or damaged somehow.

What I’ve learned this year is that I’m sort of resurrected. Old Jolie the Addict has gone away, making way for New Jolie the More or Less Normal Person.

It didn’t happen all at once. The morning I woke up and decided I would be sober forever, I was still wearing the previous night’s party clothes and had the same neuroses and attitudes. Changing those attitudes was a huge labor. Killing off the old, destructive thinking patterns and actions. Allowing new ones to grow in their place.

In my third year of sobriety, I realized that the good, healthy parts of me had finally grown bigger and stronger than the old, sad, weak parts.

The hardest part has been the guilt. Sometimes, it comes in the form of overwhelming regret for specific people I’ve hurt or chances I’ve wasted. Other times, it’s a general but permeating feeling of doom about entire years of my life — a sort of nausea of the soul.

All through Lent, I prayed and prayed, asking God to show me a way I could repent for the things I’d done and the person I’d been. Finally, on Good Friday, I had a breakthrough. I realized that those things and that part of my life were dead. I was still carrying the grief from them, but the only way I could truly repent would be to go on and live out my best life, my best intentions, my most sincere desires to help others.

Living in the past would eventually drag me back into the past. Living in guilt made it harder to focus on living unselfishly in the present.

I’m still someone who used to use alcohol and drugs to escape my reality and, as a consequence, royally screwed up my life and the lives of those around me.

But I’m also someone who today cares deeply about the homeless in my city, who loves inviting friends and strangers into my home, who tries very hard to be a good partner to a very good man, who works hard and loves her job, and who tries every day to be a better person.

Every now and then, I know the guilt will creep back into my mind, but I’ve found that living under the shadow of guilt only makes me a worse person — self-focused, angry, anti-social. The best cure for guilt and the negativity it creates is simply living for others.

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