• Cleaning Up the Mess in Your Past

    Cleaning Up the Mess in Your Past

    Early recovery from addiction is full of opportunities for addicts to clean up “wreckage” from their past. Most addicts have demolished relationships to repair, financial disasters to overcome, employment or education holes to patch, and quite often, legal issues to be resolved. Learning to prioritize and work through these issues is challenging and can feel overwhelming, when heaped together.

    What Comes First?

    One of the mottos of 12-Step recovery is “first things first.” We can seldom be effective in cleaning up our wreckage until we are adequately equipped: emotionally, financially and with stable recovery. Gaining solid footing in recovery is the first and most important place to begin. With that foundation, we can process any and all of life’s challenging situations with a degree of composure.

    Whether or not we participate in a 12-Step program, the steps can be used to maximize benefits of early recovery. Starting with step 1 and progressing to step 12 will give you a greater understanding of how to move forward. This process can be done with the help of a support group and/or a sponsor or guide—someone who has achieved freedom from the past by working through issues and maintaining long-term abstinence.

    Utilizing the Steps

    Step 4 requires that we list resentments with people and institutions, such as banks and government agencies. This shouldn’t be overlooked because it leads to discovering our part in each broken relationship. This is readily recognized when we remember we have stolen from nearly everyone in some fashion—time from employers, family and friends due to our inability to be present when addicted; money from everyone in our lives when we borrowed or stole for drugs or alcohol; love and understanding that we withheld because we were so selfish in our active addiction. We cut ourselves off more as addiction progressed and made excuses for doing so, blaming others for our inability to remain in relationships.

    Addicts have spent a great deal of time in their addiction apologizing for their behaviors and making empty (though heartfelt) promises to “do better next time.” These seldom comfort the people they have hurt. While made in all sincerity, once they are off and running again, they continue to repeat the behaviors over and over. Therefore, few who are involved with addicts have any sense of trust left. Lies, cheating and stealing are typical behaviors for the addict and though they are sorry for it, others may have lost faith in them.

    Therefore, just apologizing is not truly making amends. The word amends, used in step 9, literally means “to change or alter for the better.” To do so, step 8 tells us to “make a list of those we have harmed.” This is done with the sponsor/guide to make sure we are on the right track. Making amends to friends and family, co-workers and others means that we tell them what we did wrong and how we intend to make it right. If we have done things we are not proud of, we talk about how we will not do those things any longer, now that we are recovering. And we actually stop doing them.

    If we owe money, we begin to pay it back. If we owe more than we have, we begin a payment plan with the help of the guide/sponsor and the person(s) to whom we owe money. Sometimes this may even be to banks, the IRS and other government institutions.

    Amends for legal issues is going to take time; each situation will need to be addressed to find the right path to navigate. This is when the advice of legal counsel may be needed.

    Remember to take this one bit at a time. We cannot clean up all of it at once. The importance of a guide/sponsor to walk us through these stages cannot be stressed enough. Without direction, we will be overwhelmed and stop. At this point, many addicts relapse into active addiction.

    As you clear up the problems created in the past, you will soon find peace within yourself and see that you are not as bad as you once believed. Each step along the way will increase your confidence and self-esteem in recovery.


    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.

    Copyright © 2022 MH Sub I, LLC. All rights reserved.
    Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | Health Disclaimer | Do Not Sell My Personal Information |