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Can the Pain of Addiction Inspire Sobriety?

Pain is a difficult experience to revisit.

Nobody wants to feel the feelings, think the thoughts, or experience who they were back then. But in many ways, pain serves as a positive force. It can inspire us to be someone new. It can teach us to make new choices, and it can be a reference point for change. Although pain is difficult to experience, in recovery, remembering the painful moments can be a motivating force to stay sober and healthy.

One of the ways that you can gently touch upon the pain of your addiction is to read books or watch movies about addiction and recovery. For instance, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is a book that was recently published and written by author Sarah Hepola. It discusses the many heartbreaking and self-destructive moments of being an alcoholic. Ironically, however, she describes in her book that she felt a sense of power while drinking. She not only felt less inhibited but she also felt stronger on the inside. In an interview she did on National Public Radio (NPR), Hepola describes how she felt she had the power to say what she meant in a voice that was firm and forceful, which is different than how she is when sober. The book also describes Hepola’s promiscuity, frequent blackouts, and painful attempts to cover up her shame through more drinking.

Sometimes, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize – that is sobriety, 12-step meetings, support from family and friends, etc. And at other times, it’s necessary to revisit the pain, to remember how it was when you were addicted. Why? Sometimes, by revisiting the past you remember who you were, the choices you made and why, the emotional pain that drove you to drink or use drugs, and the denial that kept it all going.

Sometimes, by remembering and feeling that pain, you might feel the strong desire to stay sober. You might feel the desire to recommit to your recovery and strengthen the supportive relationships you have. You might feel the necessity of attending all your 12-step meetings, therapy appointments, and support groups. It might reawaken the importance of making choices that are healthy and in favor of your happiness.

However, there is an important caveat in revisiting your pain, and that is, don’t do this too early in your recovery! If you return to the memories of drinking and drug use too early you might feel the pull and the craving to return to that life. You might feel the desire to call an old drinking buddy.  Exploring the past in recovery is meant to be an exercise of healing and inspiration – just as it was for Sarah Hepola to write her book. She had to revisit the many painful moments of her past when she wrote about the 25 years she spent drinking alcohol. But certainly doing so brought insight, healing, and inspiration.

If you feel ready to take a look at the past, but perhaps afraid to do so alone, get the support of your therapist, drug counselor, or sponsor. Remembering the pain of your past can be a healthy experience but make sure you have the support of family, friends, and a mental health professional.