Learning From Past Mistakes & Moving Forward

Depressed blond woman
Photo by SandraKavas/iStockPhoto.com

One of the most challenging aspects of getting sober is dealing with the fallout from the bad decisions made during active addiction. I used to have a pretty severe alcohol problem, and during my time drinking, I made countless bad decisions, a wide array of mistakes, and an overall fool of myself on more than one occasion. I dealt with the emotional burden of my poor decision-making habits by drinking more. Needless to say, this never really solved any of my problems, but it sure made them all a lot worse.

In my opinion, much of addiction is running away from things. I was running away from problems, running away from responsibilities, running away from life, and so on. The thing is, you can never run far enough to actually get away from these things. You may forget about them for a while, but they will still be there when you sober up. I often found that I usually felt much worse about my problems when accompanied by a hangover.

I didn’t learn from my mistakes during my drinking days, at least not in the way I should have. When I got a charge for driving under the influence of alcohol, I learned that I shouldn’t drink and drive because that doesn’t end well, but I didn’t understand that I was someone who probably shouldn’t drink. A few years later, when I got into an altercation while under the influence, I learned that I shouldn’t drink and get into fights. (Some of these things are embarrassing to admit because you think they would be common knowledge, but that often goes out the window during addiction.) When I got in trouble for drinking while on probation, I learned that I shouldn’t get caught. The common theme here was that I was not taking responsibility for my mistakes.

As you can see, the things I “learned” at the time of these events weren’t healthy lessons. They weren’t things a responsible person would take away from the situation. Instead, these were things someone with addiction would say to themselves to keep drinking, which I did for several years. It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to admit that the common denominator of all of the significant problems in my life was alcohol. Once I could face the truth, I knew that it was time for me to stop drinking. Although I think deep down I knew this all along, I didn’t want to admit it.

DUI police testing an addict
Photo by kali9/iStockPhoto.com

During my addiction, I often just went through the motions of the consequences of my poor decisions. The judge on my DUI case court ordered me to take classes and do community service. I lost my license for a year and had an ignition interlock on my car for four years. I wasn’t ready to take responsibility for my drinking problem, so I just did what the court told me I had to do to pay for my crime of drinking and driving. I didn’t learn from this mistake; I began to drink more during this time in my life because I was so miserable.

When I finally went to treatment for my drinking problem and sobered up, I was able to take a look at all of the things I had done. When I tell you that it hit me like a ton of bricks that first week I am not exaggerating; the total weight of all my poor decisions came crashing down on me, and I had nowhere to run and nothing to do but finally face them. I still remember the day it all hit; I was overcome with emotion, and had I not been in a safe environment, I probably would have gone out and drank. Luckily I was at a Narconon center where people were available to help me through this process. I went on a long walk with someone and sat on a hill behind the building staring off into space, realizing that I had a lot of work to do if I ever wanted to make any of this right.

I distinctly remember the part of my program where I had the opportunity to start taking responsibility for my past mistakes. I dreaded this portion, but I was also eager to get working on it because I hoped that by finally facing all of the things I had done, I would then be able to work through it all and move forward. Taking responsibility for my actions was a slow process; it was painful at times and overwhelming. It took me several weeks to work through this part of my program because I wanted to make sure I did as much as possible to finally take responsibility for my past so that it would stop haunting me.

If you have ever dealt with an addiction firsthand, then you will understand the incredible toll that mistakes caused by addiction will cause. It starts with small things here and there and slowly builds one on top of the other until, eventually, the whole thing feels too heavy to bear. At the start of my sobriety journey, I felt worse, but after taking responsibility for these things, the weight that I felt slowly began to be less and less. The more I took ownership of, the freer I felt.

I never realized how much all of these things were weighing me down until I was finally able to learn from them and let them go. I stopped blaming other people for my actions; I took responsibility for the things I said and did in a way I never did before. When I did this, I was finally able to learn from the giant mess that had been my life. Once I was able to see everything for what it was, admit to all of my faults, and see what I had to do to prevent these things from happening again, I was finally able to move forward with my life.

The biggest thing running away from our problems robs us of is the opportunity for growth and self-reflection. I still make mistakes nine years later. We all do because that is part of being human. Granted, now that I am sober, I make a heck of a lot fewer mistakes than I did while I was drinking, but I do still mess up from time to time. Now I don’t run away from the uncomfortable feelings of making a mistake; I make a point to use these experiences to learn and grow.

Happy sober woman driving a car
Photo by janiecbros/iStockPhoto.com

Self-growth is not always an easy process; the idea is often romanticized as someone making a huge change by selling their belongings and moving across the ocean to live in Italy for a year. The mundane everyday self-growth is often not that spectacular. It is found in the little moments of life, the ones that make you stop and wonder. It is found by owning up to our mistakes and then learning and growing from them. It isn’t always fun, but it is certainly worth it. It is only by genuinely taking responsibility for our mistakes that we can take responsibility for our lives, and once we do that, the opportunities to enjoy life become endless.

Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC



After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.