Ghosts of a troubled past

As close friends know, we’ve had a lot turmoil in our family over the past year. My mother fell in her home in April of last year and has spent the past 12 months in and our of rehab and is now residing in an assisted living facility. Back problems kept me down for three months and now Amy is currently on a leave of absence from work and on workman’s comp because she messed up her back while helping unload a truck.

But the past 12 months pales in comparison to revisiting the 30 years of drinking that preceded my decision to quit. When I took the first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous 16 years, eight months and 27 days ago, it was 18 months before I reached step 8: Make a list of all persons I had harmed while, and become willing to make amends to them all.

For someone who drank heavily for 30 years, that list was long and I’m still trying to find some of the people who made the cut. Most of those I have contacted with so far forgave me. Some did not. Some refused to even return my phone calls or emails.

Confronting the past is one of the most difficult of the 12 steps of a recovering alcoholic.

Although I have had, for the most part, lived a good life along with enough adventures to last several lifetimes, there are places in my past where no one should revisit.  I hurt a lot of people, let many down and left a trail of damaged lives in my wake as I sped through life without regard to the feelings or needs of others.

But my recovery from three decades as a drunk cannot proceed without going where no man should go.  I’ve literally come face-to-face with my past many times over the past 16 years, eight months and 27 days and sometimes wonder is doing so has created more problems for those who — like me — have been forced through my contact to also revisit memories that should remain buried.

It’s a delicate balancing act and one where I don’t always succeed. I’m still haunted by the hurt and turmoil I see in faces of the results of my past misdeeds and I have to wonder: Is that pain worth the cost when my healing comes at the expense of others?

I don’t have an easy answer to what has become a difficult question as I deal with a troubled past.  After nearly 17 years of trying to turn my life around, am I still bringing disorder and chaos into the lives of others? Yes, sometimes I do and that is the paradox that haunts me more and more as the process continues.

In the movie, Ghosts of Mississippi, based on the true story of the efforts of Hinds County assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter, in 1994, to convict Byron De La Beckwith, the white supremacist accused of the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, DeLaughter’s boss warns him that “you’re visiting the past and in Mississippi that’s not a place you want to go.”

At 63, I look at my amends list and realize that I’m not even half way through it and time is running out to revisit a past that, perhaps, should be left alone. but I cannot because this step must be completed. There are four other steps that remain and time is running short.

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4 thoughts on “Ghosts of a troubled past”

  1. That’s a tough one Doug. I don’t like the idea if it has to do with you deciding the timeline as you have. It is self serving as part of your chosen program. That seems selfish and inconsiderate of those that have moved on and don’t want to be invited back to your trip down memory lane, good intentions or not.

    Perhaps some other quips are just as valid. “Don’t worry so much about what other people think about you, they probably don’t think about you at all.”

    What did your pastor have to say, or have you asked yet?

    • It’s hard to say. For most that I have contacted, the process has brought closure for both of us. For some, it has dredged up old, painful memories. In some cases, it has caused more harm than good. Like I said, it’s a delicate balancing act. I am committed to AA and the program has helped keep me sober for nearly 17 years. I just don’t know.

  2. Doug,
    As admirable as your quest to make amends to those you have injured may be, sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past. My father was an alcoholic who finally sought professional help through an inpatient rehab program based on the 12 Steps of AA. They asked me to confront him with his past drunken transgressions, an exercise which I refused to do. Daddy was 68 years old. What purpose would that exercise have served, other than to dredge up very bad memories? In addition, he would have replayed my words for the rest of his life and we would not have had the wonderful relationship that we enjoyed for the last years of his life. You can heal without walking all 12 steps. You can also make amends in many other ways, which you are doing by 1) remaining sober 2) taking care of yourself and your loved ones and 3) working to improve the human condition in general. Something to think about.

    • Cynthia:

      I wish it were that simple. Closure is an important part of the healing process but it can reopen old wounds that can never heal. I just don’t know. I’ve been traveling that road for several years now and it is difficult to stop. Still, the collateral damage bothers me. Facing up to past mistakes is never easy. It’s not supposed to be.

      Thanks for the thoughts.

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