Putting the Past to Good Use – Part 1

Putting the Past to Good Use - Part 1“Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have—the key to life and happiness for others.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 124)

We are told that our past experiences—good and bad—are our most valuable assets, yet we are also counseled not to dwell in the past, engage in morbid reflection, recount the highlights of our crazy, drunk days or hold grudges. Which part of the past do we retain? What do we let go of and try to forget?

The Last Days

If you are like most alcoholics, the last days of drinking before entering detox, rehab or your first AA meeting were the darkest and most desperate. Though you will be tempted to reflect on the glory days of the past when drinking was the accompaniment to social, fun, carefree times, these fantasies don’t do you any favors. Though no one wants to remember the hell of late-stage drinking, this is the reality that is going to serve you.

This is why: alcoholism is a progressive disease. It get’s worse and never better. That means the early days are forever gone; they have given way to the dark days. As much as you would like to believe it is possible to return to a time when alcohol wasn’t your master and nemesis, it is impossible.

You cannot go back to the illusion. You do, however, have the choice to return to drinking. And if you do, you will soon find yourself in darker more desperate days than you ever experienced previously. Thus, your painful drinking past is a powerful asset. Burn into your mind the memory of your final weeks in active alcoholism. When you are tempted to have a drink or give up on the Program, let these painful memories serve your sobriety.

Sin and Shame

We have all done unspeakable things in our alcoholic days—acts for which we may now feel deep shame and remorse. We have damaged relationships, exhibited a horrendous lack of judgment, selfishly pursued our own desires with no care for the consequences, and even committed crimes. We have sinned against God and others, and no longer have the benefit of drunkenness to help us forget.

Recovery requires we lay down this burden of guilt. But simply committing to forget it is not enough. There is one solution: deal with it properly, make amends where necessary, and let it go.

The Steps guide us in this process. Once you have confessed your wrongs, sought God’s forgiveness, made amends with the offended parties, and prayed that God would show you a better path in the future, it is time to release the past. In faith, you must believe that God has forgiven you and that He loves you. Know that you have done everything in your power to make the situation right and then forgive yourself.


There is no way around it, grudges must be released and forgotten if we are to move forward in recovery. We can’t deny that people have wronged us and the Program does not suggest we simply brush it under the rug. But we can’t live soberly if we cannot forgive. The steps are designed not only to free us of the wrongs we have done to others, but also to free us from wrongs committed against us.

AA never suggests we “forget” anything until we have properly dealt with it. Think of a doctor removing a tumor; there is never simply a headstrong removal of the tumor or organ, and a definitive declaration that everything is well. Instead there is the initial examination, then the biopsy. After the tumor is removed, it is examined. The patient is checked again in the future to make sure the offending cells were effectively removed and that no new cancer has set in.

We do the same as we cut out the anger and grudges we hold. We examine, we find the roots, we look at our own conduct, we pray for the other party, and we ask God to help us forgive. This process—practiced faithfully—helps us to deal with and heal our relational past and live free of resentment and grudges in the future.

Continued in Putting the Past to Good Use – Part 2.