November 21, 2022

The Pros and Cons of Nostalgia in Recovery

While nostalgia for your past can be an enjoyable daydream and affirm your current perspective, it can lead you to over-romanticize your former lifestyle and create yearnings for a version of you that has come and gone.

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Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on June 5, 2023

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In some ways, it can seem like things were simpler before you changed your life.

While nostalgia for your past can provide an enjoyable daydream and affirm your current perspective, it can also lead you to over-romanticize your former lifestyle and give rise to yearnings for a version of you that has come and gone.

While you don’t have to let all the way go, it’s important to set boundaries with seductive thoughts of what used to be. Developing a healthy relationship with your past self is key to a successful future.

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Learning When to Let Go

As you adjust to the many transitions that recovery can entail, you may be tempted to seek mental solace in the pleasant memories of your old lifestyle.

While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in wistful nostalgia from time to time, be careful not to let rose-tinted glasses fool you into thinking that you’ve irredeemably derailed the fun you used to have or the trajectory you would have achieved.

Things always seem harder in the moment, and many years from now, it’s likely that you’ll look back upon your decision to get sober as one of the proudest personal arcs of your life.

Some people find that overcoming addiction means rebuilding their life from the ground up. In some cases, getting sober might come at the cost of your old career, former relationships, past social groups, or a particular role you played in the world.

If you struggle with feeling as though you had to make a warzone of your life and seal it off behind you to reach where you are now, try to remember that you’re the same person you used to be, only in changed circumstances.

You’re moving on to brighter, healthier habits. Don’t mourn the life you used to live; take this chance to make the life you’re now living even better.

Enjoyable though it may seem, directing your attention into your inner well of memories can sap your motivation from ongoing efforts. You have real, practical work to do now in rebuilding your life.

Don’t get lost in the endless swirl of what-ifs and could-have-beens. Neither should you allow yourself to indulge in the nihilistic attitude that can arise from contemplating the sudden and unexpected twists that your life has taken.

No matter what you’ve done until now, you are here, and you can change things for the better. What was is gone — focus on what is!

Learning When to Hold On

At the same time, it’s vital not to banish your entire previous identity just because of the challenges you faced. You’re going to make good and bad decisions throughout your whole life, and remembering to embrace the good ones is just as important as learning from the bad ones. 

Very few parts of recovery are set in stone. If you find that maintaining a certain romantic relationship, working a specific job, or socializing with a particular group of people is integral to your happiness, it’s entirely possible to find a way to make it work without compromising your sobriety.

The important thing is to be honest with yourself about why you want to hold on. Including positive elements from your past when intentionally building your new life has far greater potential to be harmonious with your priorities than using old familiar comforts as a safety net or crutch to make these changes less scary. 

Of course, you are always subject to bias, especially when it comes to sentimental attachments; for complete transparency, consult with a healthcare provider, counselor, or recovery resource who has your best interests at heart.

Nostalgia can even play a direct role in forming your new lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for people in the early stages of recovery to feel the need to “punish” or “correct” themselves upon recognizing the errors of their ways, especially after what may have been a prolonged period of destructive behavior. 

While you shouldn’t be overly hard on yourself, you do have the opportunity to use your past as a barometer for your present. As you encounter challenging situations, forks in the road, or circumstances similar to ones you’ve faced before, keep the old you in mind. 

With some work, asking yourself, “What would the old me do in this situation?” can become a valuable tool for finding a different, more positive path this time around. Don’t just relegate your past to the dustbin of history — learn from it by actively making new decisions.

As you navigate your new life, strive to strike a balance between learning from your mistakes and holding on to the parts of yourself that serve you well. Be patient as you rebuild yourself, as recovery is a lifelong journey that can affect you at the deepest levels of your identity. A truly effective approach will treat the person, not just the collection of symptoms. We take a fully integrative approach to recovery at Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Using evidence-based therapy modalities, holistic services, and personal support designed for your individual needs, our goal is to set you up for success. Recreate your place in the world by combining the best of your past with the new mindset of your present. Recovery is transformation, not substitution; take what you like most about yourself and grow it into a lifestyle of health and commitment. Call (800) 643-2108 to learn more.

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert
RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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