Recovery slogans are reminders of what works
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
One of the things that can seem both maddening and reassuring about various programs of recovery are the cliches and slogans that are used so frequently.
They’re repeated in our literature; they hang on the walls; they’re said by those who share their experience, strength and hope. As a newcomer, I used to wonder why in the world it seemed necessary to constantly spout such mantras. Were they any more effective having been said and heard for the hundredth time as they were the first?
The answer, I grew to learn, is yes. Addicts and alcoholics are a hard-headed, stubborn bunch; it takes a great deal to get through our thick skulls. Even more insidious is the convenient way we have of forgetting things: Not just what’s said in a meeting, but what it was like before we came to a program of recovery.
I’m no neuroscientist, so this is just conjecture, but I believe that the brain protects itself by forgetting — not actual events, but the negative emotions associated with them. When I recall certain positive milestones in my life, the emotions I felt at the time come rushing back. The first time I pulled out of the driveway as a teenager behind the wheel of my first car ... the first time I kissed a girl ... the first “Star Wars” toys my dad brought home one afternoon as a surprise. Excitement, infatuation, wonder ... I can close my eyes and picture those events and remember exactly how I felt when they happened.
And while I still remember the darker times in my life, I have much more trouble recalling how they felt. I remember having ear surgery the summer after my second-grade year, and I remember that I was scared to death, but I can’t close my eyes and feel that fear. I remember the first car wreck that I had, and how I was crushed and depressed that my first car was totaled when another car plowed into me, but I can’t summon how that depression felt.
I sincerely believe that’s the brain’s way of protecting itself. Good times and good memories are surrounded by the halo of blissful emotions that accompanied them; bad times and traumatic events simply become place markers in our memory banks, because to hold onto the dark emotions with which they’re associated would cause long-term psychological trauma. That, I believe, is what afflicts those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — the brain can’t let go of the terror and panic and guilt and anguish, and it’s a constant reminder of a very painful time that affects the present.
With time, addicts and alcoholics gradually “forget” the pain and misery associated with active addiction and alcoholism. With more than 11 years clean, I can still vividly recall how low I had descended, and I remember how I felt at the time — hopeless, helpless, degraded, unworthy — but those feelings have dissipated as I’ve stayed clean and put my life back together.
That’s why I still need to go to meetings. That’s why I need to hear those slogans and cliches over and over again — so that I don’t forget where I came from, and I always remember the tools that helped me get better.
In meetings, newcomers — those just starting out along recovery’s path — remind me of my own misery. I may not be able to channel the misery I felt 12 years ago, but I can feel theirs because they share it, they exude it through their pores and their mannerisms, and in so doing, they help me. They remind me that it doesn’t get any better out there, that drugs can still destroy lives and bring untold amounts of agony to those who lose themselves in them and that if I start to think that perhaps I’m “cured,” I can go back to that state of mind in a heartbeat.
And that’s where the slogans come in. “Easy does it.” “Meeting makers make it.” “One day at a time.” They’re simple mottoes with profound messages, and with a brain wired to forget what almost destroyed me and could easily do so again, I need to hear them. I’m grateful for them, and I hope I’ll continue to follow the advice of another one: “Keep coming back.” Just for today, I plan to do so.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.