Free of Regret

It’s not easy to live life without regrets. It’s much easier to wonder sometimes about the “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Regret is a sadness or disappointment over what happened or didn’t happen in the past. “What might have been?” I can ask myself. “I could have been a better son, friend, husband, father and coworker. I might have made so much more with my life.” If we don’t stop the internal conversation it can lead to the vicious spiral of depression, more regret and relapse.

“The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second best time to plant one is today.”

The gift of the Serenity Prayer is acceptance of what we cannot change. One of those things is the past. I know that my life would be very different today had I taken another road in the past. I was in a relationship that wasn’t working and hadn’t been working for a lot of years. I knew it, but I lacked the courage and strength to leave. In the end, I was the one who was left behind. I can’t take back those years. I can’t go back in time and change them. So what do I do so as not to live in regret?

I have to accept what happened. I accept that my Higher Power was looking after me during that time and continues to do so. I accept that I had challenges to overcome and some lessons to learn. It’s not easy to learn to forgive oneself for roads not taken but I must. Steps four through nine help us to work through regret. So yes, things did or didn’t happen in the past and today I don’t have to regret those things. Rather I can use them as teaching tools for the present. I prefer to look at all that happened in the past was needed to bring me to who I am today. And I know that what happens today will lead me on to who I am to be tomorrow. I’m learning to trust the process of the program and my Higher Power. Today can I plant that tree I didn’t in the past without guilt, without remorse and without regret.

It’s important for me to remember that: “We will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it,” is a Ninth Step promise. I have to work all the steps that come before. There aren’t short cuts. Living the steps isn’t all that difficult but it does take persistence. I don’t get a vacation from being in recovery. I live in recovery 24 hours a day. So today I will plant a tree. It may be a while before it bears fruit, but an unplanted tree never will. Trust the process. It works when you work it!


I had lunch with some friends today. It wasn’t sunny, but the view down across the jungle to the ocean is magnificent. We’re not a particularly ‘close’ group of friends. We get together once a month to discuss our writing. So I was surprised when one member of the group shared an ‘epiphany’ that she had just yesterday.

“I had been so angry with the place I used to work because they unceremoniously pushed me out and forced me into early retirement five years ago. I was so flipping mad. I wanted revenge. I wanted to do the same thing to them. And I nursed that anger for the last five years. I had poured myself into my work and my work was good and often praised.  How could they do that to me!”

“Yesterday,” she continued, “I was sitting on my porch overlooking the valley below and I realized all of the wonderful things that had happened to me in the last five years. I now live in a beautiful tropical country, I have met so many new friends, I still write, but in a different way and I have just published a book.  None of these things would have happened without ‘those people’ letting me go. Two days ago I hated them.  Today I love them and what happened because none of this would have been possible otherwise.”

A powerful revelation for my friend. And it’s a huge change in perspective. We discussed how momentous this revelation is in her life. Perhaps she needed the last five years to get to this moment of forgiveness and understanding, and arrive at the shore of the sea of gratitude. I have no doubt that this will change how she looks at so many other twists and turns in her life that she wasn’t happy about.

I can look at my past and regret it. There are plenty of things that happened in my life that I thought would have turned out otherwise. I made some questionable decisions and rash judgements along the way, but here I am! I survived and I have a serenity I wouldn’t trade. Each step along the way was necessary to get to today. Each element is another brick paving the road of happy destiny.

When I am in the thick of it, when I am mired deep in the crap of everyday life, when faced with impossible decisions and doors close in my face, I can turn and run. And who would blame me. Such an impossible choice and terrible circumstances. However, I have another option. I can stand tall and walk forward. Today I am grateful for all events in my past. Today I know that while I may not understand what is happening right now, it is a small piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t yet know what the final result will look like so how can I judge if what is happening is good or bad? This might be that moment in my life when everything changes.

I am grateful that I can trust in something greater than myself and keep putting one foot forward and moving on. I don’t ‘get’ it all, but I know that I too will someday be able to reflect on this and see how intricately the puzzle is cut and the beauty of the final mosaic.

Thank you Carol. You made my day!


There is no room for resentment, anger or fear in a heart full of gratitude.

This is a statement that I picked up from my sponsor.  He will celebrate 27 years in the program next month.  He’s picked up a lot of tidbits over the years. I am picking them up from him.  He’s also taught me that I can trace these three emotions back to my ego. When I have a resentment, it’s because I didn’t get my way in the past. When I am angry, I’m not getting my way now. And when I have fear, it’s because I am worried I may not get my way in the future.

When I am feeling resentment, anger or fear, I believe it is all about me.  It’s all about ‘my way’.  It’s what I want to have happened, happen now or to happen.  It’s all about unfulfilled expectations in the past, present and future.  I heard another tidbit from a member this past week that summed it up quite neatly.

Expectations are resentments under construction.

Past, present and future expectations find their source in my ego and getting ‘my’ way. Expectations have little regard for what is going on around me, who I am dealing with, or where I happen to be at the time. And when they fail to materialize, then I become upset because you didn’t say you liked the gift I bought you; the traffic is making me late; the noise is making me lose my concentration.  All expectations of how things ‘should’ be and not accepting how they are. The world revolves around me, don’t you know! Expectations start in the future and stealthily move through the present and slip into the past as resentments.

Gratitude removes me from resentment, anger and fear because it moves out of me and away from my ego. When I am grateful I am no longer thinking of just myself. I am thinking about the things that have been given or done for me.  I stop and realize that this world isn’t just about me and about my thoughts, feelings and desires.  I see how much I have been given by my Higher Power and by others around me.  I see your part and how important it is in giving me the incredible life that I have.  I am thankful for what I have been given, for what I have and for what I know will come my way in the future. I stop taking things for granted.

An earlier sponsor loved gratitude lists.  She suggested that I think of at least three things I was grateful for every night before I went to sleep. She told me that when I am upset about something that if I focus on the wonders around me and be thankful.  During the day, the real or imagined storm that is whirling around me will lose its strength immediately if I am thankful.

This sponsor died suddenly after only working with me for six months. I remember feeling abandoned and and fearful because now what was I going to do, who was I going to turn to, why would my Higher Power do this to me?  I was focusing on how her death was affecting me: this wasn’t how I wanted things to go! I was turning the tragedy of her death into my tragedy because I expected that she would be around to guide me for a much longer time. Fortunately, I had worked with her long enough to realize how egocentric, how selfish I was being.  I began to focus on how grateful I was for what she had taught me, for the love and kindness she shared with myself and others and for the challenge to follow her example of living the program.

The practice of gratitude takes practice.

It doesn’t happen overnight. And there are still times when I can get all tangled up in my mind because my focus is not on the present moment but on my resentments, anger or fears.  With practice I am able to see my fear for what it is: an expectation of the future. If I remove that expectation, I can accept life on life’s terms and not be shaken by what happens.  If I am not upset with how things turn out, then I have no reason to create a resentment.  But as I said, this takes practice.

Getting into the habit of making a written or mental gratitude list is changing my focus away from the belief that life all about me.  It changes my focus to see the wonders around me instead of in me. This habit helps to keep me focused in the present. I’m still working on it. I still have fears, resentments and anger, but they are less intense and I move on quicker.  I can accept what is and not wish to change it. Like me, my focus on gratitude is a work in progress.

♥  ♥  ♥

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