M(3), 3/23/15: I’m Taking a Trip… a Guilt Trip, That is


Today’s reading selection came from the book As Bill Sees It:  The AA Way of Life.  I would describe it as a “best of” book, in that it is composed of excerpts from hundreds of different letters, articles and book chapters written by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson.  Each selection of excerpts centers around a particular topic or theme; this morning I chose the guilt as the topic from which to read.

While smaller in attendance than last week’s meeting, the sharing was much more animated than the week prior.  I did take my own suggestion and brought donuts for the first meeting of spring, so perhaps sugar is the key to conversation!  In any event, everyone had a personal experience to relate with regard to the topic of guilt.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is no comparison to the role that guilt plays in the life of the actively addicted versus the life of a recovered person:  guilt is all-encompassing and pervasive while we are still drinking.  No matter what feelings of guilt we experience in sobriety, they pale in comparison to the guilt we lived in active addiction.  Every one of us in attendance this morning had the opportunity to recall the caliber of guilt in active addiction, and be consciously grateful that we no longer have to live that way.
  • Mucking around in the past is a pointless exercise that needlessly brings back guilt.  Sometimes it is necessary to stop yourself mid-thought and bring yourself out of that state with the reminder that the past is unchangeable; all that can be done now is to live the best way you know how today.
  • The worst thing we can do with our guilt is to keep it inside; one of the greatest blessings of fellowship within a 12-step program is the ability to share our burdensome feelings with people who understand completely.  Sharing our guilt helps to lessen its power.
  • Guilt over past mistakes with drinking can very well lead to relapse.  The inability to forgive, combined with self-pity, led one attendee in the room back to the bottle time and again for years.  Each time she would drink, then feel horrible about herself for drinking.  Over time the guilt turned to thoughts of “why is this so hard for me?”  Eventually, those feelings became too much, and she would pick up again.  It was only in letting go of past mistakes that she was able to accrue her three years (and counting!) of sober time.
  • Several of the long-timers cited step four and step five, in which they completed a personal inventory of themselves and then shared that inventory with a trusted advisor, as the turning point in the eradication of guilt as a driving force in their lives.  The act of looking at their drinking lives thoroughly and honestly, and admitting to themselves and another human being their defects of character, was enough to allow them to let go of the past.  The follow-up work in steps 8 and 9, where they made amends for the more egregious of faults, solidified their ability to live in the present rather than bemoan the mistakes of the past.

I picked this topic today because it had application to some recent events in my life.  This past weekend I attended an annual charity event in which members of my family have participated for years.  Personally, it is an event I dread in the days that lead up to it, and this year for whatever reason it bothered me more than most.  The problem is that I associate bad memories with it both in active addiction as well as in sobriety.  The active addiction is simple enough:  I think of the times I attended while chemically altered, and the guilt hits me like a blow to the stomach.  But then the memory hits me, like a one-two punch, of the first time I attended this event sober.  It was very early in my sobriety, and I still had so many strained relations with a variety of family members, I actually had to walk away from the whole event and circle the block, I was having such a hard time catching my breath.

Both memories are still so powerful to me, they are really hard to shake.  This year’s event was a perfectly fine one, both of my children participated and had a marvelous time doing so (my daughter even won a medal for second place in her age category!), plus I had a variety of friends participate this year so there was lots of good distraction.

But the bottom line:  emotional hangovers can be nearly as powerful as alcoholic ones, and I wound up feeling physically sick most of the day Sunday.  I could be creating a link where one doesn’t exist, but at the very least the emotional hangover did not help the physical ailment.

So what’s the answer when guilt grabs you by the throat?  I’m not sure I have the sure-fire remedy, but I can certainly tell you what doesn’t work:  wallowing in the memories.  I spent some time doing that this weekend, and I can say with certainty that wallowing only exacerbates the issue.

The only two solutions I know I have employed this morning:  I prayed, and I talked about it.  I suppose this post counts as a third:  I am taking the time to write it out.  Hopefully all three things will help put these demons to rest once and for all!

Today’s Miracle:

Waking up and getting back to a normal routine after a sad sick day is always a miracle!

Posted on March 23, 2015, in Monday Meeting Miracles, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Acknowledging we have changed and forgiving ourselves for our past behaviour are different. Guilt from the past that surfaces shows that we truly do not forgive ourselves, that somewhere inside we think we should have known better, done things differently, etc.

    Because we all know we can’t change the past, I see finding forgiveness as the answer. I really like Louise Hay’s mirror work. I often look at myself in the mirror and say I forgive you. I love and accept you just as you are. No apologies or improve,nets required!

    I think the more I do it, the more I believe it.

    Happy Monday!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise Hay’s mirror work sounds like something from which I could benefit, although what I’m imagining it to be would cause a lot of eye-rolling from me at the outset (I’m picturing Stuart Smiley from SNL!).

      Definitely I need your last piece… “the more I do it, the more I believe it.”

      Thanks Anne, I will be looking up Louise Hay in a few moments!


  2. What helps me these days is trying not to fight whatever it is, just letting the feelings come and trusting they will move through me. And they do. It’s always temporary.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My therapist taught me to “drop the rope” when it came to my guilt (I have a big huge chunk about my mom). I made a place for it in my life and have come to respect and honor it for what it is…an emotion. I don’t fight with it anymore trying to make it go away because it won’t. I also don’t engage it very often anymore.

    Funny how that worked. I was dumbfounded.

    You’ll get there my friend. I promise.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I like this thought: don’t fight it, but don’t engage. When framed that way, I can see what happened Saturday as exactly that… engaging it all weekend long. I am really going to try the “drop the rope” analogy the next time. Tell you therapist thanks, that’s a great visual!


  4. untipsyteacher

    I have forgiven myself for all the dumb stuff I did.
    If I have a memory come up, I just let it go.
    I made my amends, and that helped too!
    You are doing wonderful stuff here!
    I am so glad the donuts helped!!
    I LOVE donuts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did consider the amends process, but I actually have made amends with the people involved in last weekend, so it’s strange. I think I just tend to hold on to things longer than I need to as a general practice, but specifically with guilt. I like the idea of letting the memory go, thanks for that visual, I will try that the next time it happens.

      Thanks so much Wendy!


  5. I hope this note finds you feeling better and refreshed. To be sure, those emotional hangovers pack quite a punch. It sounds like you handled it like you handle everything that comes your way – with grace, prayer, poise, and self-awareness. You’re a gem! xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • The note certainly does have me feeling better and refreshed, probably because I received a note from you 🙂 I think of you so often, Michelle, especially as the weather is FINALLY starting to change… I imagine you making all sorts of plans for greenhouses, and gardens, and other outdoor oases (is that the plural of oasis?) that I can’t even imagine!

      As always, your kind words elevate my mood, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Awww…shucks, Josie! I feel the same way about you 🙂
        You know me too well! The seedlings are growing out of their pots and aching for the ground.
        I hope you are having a great week. I think of you, your beautiful smile and positive attitude all of the time! xoxoxo

        Liked by 1 person

  6. pickledfish2015

    So far… I am still feeling guilty. I did not forgive myself for falling off the wagon numerous times. I am experimenting now with living in the moment, one day at a time, not thinking about the next day. It does help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pickled, having just read your most recent post, I would say as much as humanly possible you need to put the guilt to the side. So easy for me to say, isn’t it? Early sobriety is so damned difficult as it is, it is critical to clear your mind of the past as much as humanly possible. For me, early days were whittled down to the simplest of tasks, each of which were designed to keep me from picking up a drink or a drug. If I did those things, I called that day a success.

      I realize I am not practicing what I preach, but I’m saying it anyway (just do as I say and not as I do here ;)): go as easy on yourself as you possibly can. What you are doing (sobriety) will take all the strength you’ve got, you don’t have any to spare on guilt. Keep telling yourself, and one day at a time was a huge tool for me in early recovery. Come to think of it, it is a great tool for me now as well 🙂

      Thanks for comment, Pickled!


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