There is a common expression which says that some people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The reality is that all of us have responsibilities. As we grow in emotional sobriety our responsibilities often increase. Work, family and service fill a void that existed while we were active. These aspects of life are normal, unavoidable and appropriate for a person to carry.
There are a number of other items that many people carry which are unnecessary weights on their shoulders. Many of these are rooted in guilt. People have such strong guilt about the past that they cannot let go of it. Carrying this guilt has absolutely no purpose. It in no way helps the person recover from their feelings. It also doesn’t improve the lives of the ones they think they’ve hurt.
People also sometimes carry feelings of undo responsibility around with them. Our codependency leads us to carry the burden of constantly seeking the approval of others. In the vast majority of cases we will never receive the love or approval from others which they think they deserve. The best course of action is to release ourselves from guilt and codependence.
Personal Reflection: What burdens do I need to let go of?
As active alcoholics and addicts we did many things that we weren’t proud of. When we entered sobriety, we finally put down our drug of choice. That was a truly wonderful thing. The problem was that we carried around remnants from our days of using. These often manifested themselves as guilt. Even after an extended period of sobriety, we still had strong feelings of shame. We continued to have obsessive thoughts about events from long ago. Although others had long forgotten those actions, they were still front and center in our mind.
What changed for us was that at meetings we began to hear people speak about their gratitude. They too had done things in the past which they regretted. By going through the steps they had made their amends where possible and had moved on. Their focus was now on the present. Many of them had a daily practice of making a gratitude list. We decided to follow their example.
Over time many of those obsessive thoughts of guilt and shame dissipated. Since we could only keep one thought in our mind at it time, it made sense to us to make that thought one of gratitude. Even when we had guilty thoughts about current actions, we learned to let go of them as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I chose gratitude over guilt?
All of us make mistakes. It’s a part of life. Of course we initially get upset, but hopefully after a few days we get over it. For many people that is actually what happens. Then there are the rest of us. Something happens and we too get upset. The only thing is that we don’t let go of that upset. In fact over the next few days, weeks, months and sometimes years we continue to carry those feelings around. Some people turn it into rage and resentment, some into shame and some into guilt. Each of those feelings can have a very long shelf life. The problem with carrying them around is that they can actually intensify over time. What might have essentially been a triviality turns into a major issue in our minds. When this happens it can cloud our decision making abilities. Everything becomes tainted because we are holding onto a greatly inflated set of feelings.
To escape from these long carried sentiments many of us turned to alcohol, drugs or food. We then felt guilt and shame about having turned to our drug of choice as well. It was only when we put down drugs and alcohol that we could begin to address our long held feelings. We began to learn to be more in the moment and leave guilt, shame, resentment, and rage in the past where they belonged.
Personal Reflection: Is there something I need to let go of?
A woman was sharing at a meeting about her recent experience at the airport. She had overpacked her bag and was quite over the 50 pound limit. She had to repeatedly remove items from her suitcase until she met the correct weight. Hearing about the experience another member commented about our emotional baggage. As we evolve in the program, we need to make sure that our emotional baggage is well under the allotted limit. To accomplish this we remove resentments from that emotional suitcase. They can take up so much room and really weigh us down. Some of those resentments have been carried around for years. There are resentments which we probably don’t even remember exactly what they were about.
We also need to remove guilt from our emotional suitcase. These are essentially resentments against ourselves. So many of us walk around beating ourselves up for what we should or shouldn’t have done. Engaging in this type of behavior prevents us from living in the now where we could have a lightness to our step. Instead, we are dragged down by remorse.
We also need to be clear about our destination. When we wander aimlessly through life, even relatively “light emotional baggage”, can begin to feel heavy. Meetings and a sponsor can help us with that one.
Personal Reflection: Do I travel light?