Why Our Memory Is Critical for Recovery

Addictions strike at the very roots of our physical and spiritual nature. As physical beings, our lives can be full of all the pains and difficulties of animal life. Yet, we also endure suffering through our souls, intellect, and memory. As C.S. Lewis put it, we live as “that terrible oxymoron, a spiritual animal.”

The ultimate cure for our addiction is to rely on the Lord, and that might come in the form of things that do not make sense to us at first. As we sought to rely on our various addictions to “cure” our maladies, we eventually realize there is only one true cure: God. And through Christ, we come to see everything in a new light.

The stigma of therapy becomes humbling and freeing work. The awkwardness of talking to strangers becomes the strength of being accountable to a support group. The fear and shame associated with admitting our mistakes become the healing waters of honesty. What was impossible before becomes possible with God. 

This doesn’t happen easily or in the ways we expect. It happens on God’s terms—not our own. Thankfully, we can turn to the Catholic Church and the sacraments. And like St. Augustine, we too can find rest for our restless hearts in God.

As human beings, we have been given the powerful gifts of memory and intellect. Consider a dog or cat. They are wonderful and simple creatures. It’s part of their charm. However, it’s incredibly difficult for them to undo habits and the emotions associated with their memories. Unlike us, they don’t have the gift of self-consciousness. 

Due to our ability to do reflective thinking, this internal soul searching, we are able to undo our habits and not remain emotionally trapped by our memories. God gave us the ability to see into ourselves and thus understand the world. So, we must look inward to begin the work of healing from our addictions. By looking inward, we display a willingness to let God see and heal us as well.

When we enter recovery, we admit that we have lost control and that our habits have become addictions. Through a strong commitment and the helping hands of those around (and above) us, we progress through the steps to learn more about ourselves and our addictions. The memories of our past are transformed, and sometimes we may even feel like our “old self” was another person altogether. 

Our memories are important to recovery and a path to our salvation. As we do in Step Six, it’s from our memories of wrongs we’ve committed that we’re able to recall our defects so that we can ask God to remove them. That’s when God’s healing light begins to illuminate the dark spots we have ignored or covered up with years of addiction. And while our memory can offer us painful reminders of how we have failed God and others, under the healing light of Christ it can help us grow in holiness and love.

For example, we can use the gift of our memory to test our present moment. We can ask ourselves certain questions, weighing the answers against our past experiences rooted in memory. Will a certain event or person  I’m about to encounter cause me to brush up against my personal boundaries, offering a temptation for relapse? Does this encounter offer something healthy and good for me that I’m tempted to avoid? Does this put me in harm’s way and tempt me with habits of my old life? Does it move me closer to the Lord or further away?

The more we look inwardly at ourselves and become familiar with our tendencies and histories, the more we can use them to steer away from what is false and seek what is true. As addicts, most of us have gone through a lot. And this means we have a lot of experiences in our memory to draw from to help us grow in wisdom.

As Catholics, though, we can also tap into the memories of others for our recovery and spiritual journies. We have Scripture, the Church, and the lives of countless saints. Every saint, scholar, layman, clergy member, and mystic who wrote and preached did so for each and every one of us. The unity of the Body of Christ offers us a great and vast memory from which to draw!

We are all called to make individual steps every day and discern whether we are moving closer to God or not. And we have the gifts of both our individual memory, illuminated by God, and the collective memory of the Church to help us.

When we approach the Lord in daily prayer we can turn away from what gives death and embrace life by forming new habits and memories—memories steeped in joy and love. Through God’s grace, let’s learn to use our individual memory and the collective memory of the Church to find healing, grace, and a new life rooted in Christ.

 

Michael of Louisiana is sober from several addictions that have plagued him due to the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Through constant striving and compassionate awareness, he works to share the gifts given to him with his parish and community in order to give thanks to God.