Time is a hot commodity, in our part of the world. In fact, it’s been the time crunch that has kept me from posting to the blog in the last couple of weeks. In my work with people who are battling addictions, I am struck by how often I watch people try to make up for lost time. When looking back at years of addiction, there is a common theme of, “if only I had figured this out sooner! Can you imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t fallen into the pit?” Or similarly after a slip following a period of abstinence from addiction, there’s much lamentation about “starting from scratch, again.” While it is undeniable that addiction wreaks havoc on lives, the idea of lost time is an assumption I usually try to challenge in therapy.
Is the time really lost? I never doubt that the time spent in addiction could have been spent differently, but even when people are consumed by their addictive behaviour, they often continue to have friendships, relationships, jobs, and other meaningful experiences in their lives. And I have yet to meet someone who couldn’t sense, even in the middle of an addictive process, that something was amiss in their lives, and that change of one sort or another was needed. So during that time there’s still growth and development and learning, in addition to the struggle and pain that addiction also brings. Any time logged in that includes a clear head and being free from addiction—even if it’s short lived or followed by a return to the addiction—is time when we are listening more closely to ourselves, which provides us with invaluable information about how to care for ourselves.
I focus on this learning and growth, as I often watch people try to erase the years they spent in addiction, due to a sense of shame. This is because you can’t get rid of that part of you. EVER. NOR WOULD IT BE GOOD FOR YOU. The time is really only lost if we decide to throw it away, and not learn from it. In the rush to do the million good deeds, or to make advances in that career TODAY, or in trying to make up for every hurt that’s ever been caused, people often run the risk of recreating similar problems and patterns of relating that they engaged in while in the throes of their addiction.
I recommend instead that people be more charitable and gentle with themselves. Trying to move past one’s past at the speed of light only reinforces the shame felt when thinking about the time and energy spent in addiction. Shame never gets us to the next station in a good way. It’s not an effective motivator to make sustaining changes, and typically it makes us feel so badly that we revert to other ineffective coping tools, which is how we might have developed the shame in the first place. Being more self-forgiving involves looking back at the time spent in addiction and figuring out what there is to be learned from that time so we don’t go back there.
Time is finite. There are no do-overs. But, this doesn’t have to be a devastating realization. For all the important lessons we are to learn in our lives, we get many opportunities. I often think of it like one of those floating sushi bars where the plates drift by on a watery canal, and you can choose what you like. If you don’t pick up the dynamite roll the first time it goes by, there will likely be another in a few minutes (Oh dear. Did I just Forrest Gump, but with sushi?). Life’s opportunities are also like this—if we wreck a relationship we may not be able to get THAT relationship back, but we can use what we’ve learned from that loss to help us make different decisions the next time we find ourselves at a similar crossroads in another relationship.
The time isn’t lost. You are good enough, even if you’ve made decisions you now regret. Don’t throw away your time. You deserve better.