Can I Laugh at My Addicted Past?

woman thinking if she can laugh about her addicted past
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If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, you might view it with mixed emotions. On the one hand, culture says that we have to feel guilt and shame about addiction. On the other, media and television consistently glamorize substance abuse while demonizing addiction. Realizing that your behavior in the past was laughable or ridiculous in any way can help you to feel better, but it might also result in guilt and feeling like you’re dismissing pain and harm caused to yourself and others.

The thing is, your past is your own, you can laugh at it if if you want. However, it’s important to take a nuanced view of your history as an “addict” and approach yourself with kindness and compassion as well. Humor can heal many wounds including those caused by addiction, so it’s almost never something you want to avoid. This article will go into details on why that’s the case.

Responsibility First

A major part of recovering from addiction is about taking responsibility for your actions and becoming accountable for your actions. No one chooses to become addicted, but you did choose to take the actions that resulted in addiction and those actions did hurt people. Acknowledging that is an important first step in having the agency to change your behavior. And, it’s important that being able to laugh at yourself and your past actions is never about dismissing them. They may seem ridiculous or sad or funny or painful, but they shouldn’t be dismissed.

Taking responsibility first means you’ll have the grounds to continue self-care and your recovery, which is important no matter what you’re doing.

Societal Pressure to Feel Guilt

Modern society often pitches addiction as a personal failing. For example, you might be told by friends, family, or a church that addiction is a weakness and that you have to choose to be better. You might see stigma, experience shame, and even have friends and family members lying or hiding your addiction. For example, family members might say you’re away on vacation while you’re actually in rehab – and otherwise take steps to ensure that even their close friends don’t find out.

Addiction is treated with shame, which pressures you to feel guilt. And, that can make you feel guilty when you laugh about the past, because you’re laughing about an inherently very serious thing. The thing is, guilt and shame do not help you to stay clean and sober. Instead, they create negative cycles that make you feel bad.

In addition, addiction isn’t about weakness. It’s a behavioral disorder, much like any other behavioral disorder. To overcome it, you have to learn new behaviors and give yourself tools and coping mechanisms. That’s not about weakness, that’s about not having coping tools to begin with. So, much of the shame that people are asked to feel is based on a misunderstanding. It’s okay to feel guilt over how you treated someone or over specific bad decisions. But you should be able to overcome and outgrow guilt about addiction.

Society can also pressure you to feel guilt about who you are because “once an addict, always an addict”. That saying is intended to make people feel like they should stay on their toes and be mindful of the possibility of relapse. However, it often makes people feel like they can’t change, which directly prevents people from making active decisions for treatment and recovery. However, if you’ve already been to treatment and are clean and sober, you know that isn’t true and you know that you don’t have to feel guilt about who you are because you can change who you are.

man laughing his addicted past as a form of letting go

Laughter is a Form of Letting Go

Humor and laughter can help you to improve your mood, improve your outlook on life, and improve your self-esteem. Even though it may sound counter-intuitive, being able to laugh at yourself when you do something “wrong” is actually good for your self-esteem. It helps you to let it go, see the instance as situational, and keep moving forward.

That can be powerful for your long-term recovery and for your ability to move forward. After all, one of the problems with guilt and shame in addiction is that society often suggests that once you are addicted you’re always an addict. Being able to laugh at yourself, acknowledge that you were in a bad place, and joke about it means that you are acknowledging you’ve moved on from that place – and so far that you can now look at yourself differently.

Of course, it’s important not to judge yourself. You deserve the same care, consideration, and kindness as everyone else in your life. If you’re making mean-spirited jokes about yourself, you’re essentially bullying yourself. That’s not okay, even to a past version of yourself. It’s also important to be kind and understanding of where you could be if you slip up now.

But, laughter doesn’t have to be mean-spirited or bullying. You can laugh at yourself in a healthy way, creating more acknowledgement and distance between yourself and your addicted past.

Respecting How Others Feel

Not everyone will be comfortable with jokes about your past. That’s true for close friends and family who were effected by your decisions and actions. It’s also true of people how might be struggling with substance abuse right now. That means it’s important to be mindful of your audience and to respect when people say that something is uncomfortable. Being able to laugh at your own traumatic experiences is important. Forcing others to do so as well is not. It’s always important to be mindful of who you’re speaking to, what they are going through, and how they experienced your past. And, if you’re not sure, you can always just ask.

If you’re far enough into recovery that you can look back on your past and laugh, it’s okay, feel free to do that. Keep in mind that joking at your own expense should always be done mindfully, with yourself and the people around you taken into account. It’s never okay to be cruel, even to a past version of yourself, and it’s important to practice the same compassion and love towards yourself as you would want for the other people in your life. Either way, congratulations on your recovery and hopefully getting to laugh will help with moving on and moving forward.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide community-based recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living. Recovery IS possible!

About Jim Sugel

SEO and Digital Marketing Expert Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry. His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.