On November 11th, many people around the world will be celebrating Remembrance Day – a day devoted to honouring the veterans who sacrificed so much in the world’s many wars. Sadly, though we do take a moment of silence to remember them, much of the world still remains embroiled in conflict of one sort or another. Humanity does not seem to have remembered the lessons of the past.
Of course, we may not be able to change the ways of the world, but we can surely change ourselves. As addicts and alcoholics in recovery, we learn the true meaning of the words “Be the change you want to see” and “Let peace begin with me.” If we are unwilling to surrender the battle against drugs and alcohol by asking for help, it is unlikely we will win the war against addiction; and, in surrendering and reaching out, we learn that we were never alone to begin with. Slowly we begin to trust in new powers: the powers of friendship, healing, hope, connection…and a Power greater than ourselves. Yet, if our lives in recovery are blossoming so nicely, why is it important to remember the bitter past at all?
Neither regretting the past, nor wishing to shut the door on it
The third promise in the Step 9 Promises from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” For a non-alcoholic person, both parts of this statement may seem suspect. Why would a recovering alcoholic, who has left their harmful behaviour behind them, not feel regret at the shameful and embarrassing episodes, the financial harms, the broken relationships, the missed opportunities? These things may seem haunting to the average person, especially considering how frustrating it can be to even make a relatively small and common mistake, like losing one’s wallet or missing a flight. How can the addict, whose list of errors is likely far more serious, live without being absolutely overwhelmed with regret?
And, if an addict or alcoholic somehow manages to escape drowning in regret, why would they wish to dredge up these memories over and over by sharing about them with other recovering addicts and alcoholics? At the very least, wouldn’t they want to shut the door on the painful past?
Interestingly enough, “Remember When” is actually a powerful slogan used in the 12-step rooms of recovery. In the right context, remembering the bad old days can be not only a deterrent to relapse, but validation that we are no longer alone – that others once experienced similar tragedies and, similarly, rose up and overcame them. It helps newcomers know that they are, indeed, in the right place, as it reminds old-timers how bad things could still get.
It’s important to remember the good times, too
Most recovering addicts and alcoholics eventually come to terms with a chaotic, traumatic past through the healing processes of treatment, step work, sponsorship, service, therapy, counselling, medication, or any combination thereof. And, they find it important to remember something besides the throes of addiction: the good experiences that recovery brings. Sometimes amid the challenges of daily life, it can be easy to get discouraged, especially in the first few years of recovery when we have so much to contend with. At those times, memories of wonderful sober milestones, from medallion celebrations to graduations and firstborn children, are essential. Remembering both good times and bad has sustained and inspired many a recovering addict, and maybe it will be the same with you!
All the best this Remembrance Day and going forward.