Is it Good to Remember the Bad in Addiction Recovery?



I open the door with my butt, because my hands are full. I’m bent at the waist, dragging a big, green garbage bag through the opening – there are sharp things inside and heavy, misshapen things – they catch on the door frame and the bag rips, trailing coffee grounds and kitty litter. I sit in a comfortable chair and the bag is at my feet. When the time is right, I pick the bag up and put it on my lap – the drippings soil my skirt but I cannot, will not put it down…


Dragging a Bag…

That is exactly how I felt in the early days of my recovery from alcohol addiction. Like I was bringing an unwieldy bag of resentment, fear, embarrassment and regret into every room I entered and every conversation I had. Drinking had been such a big part of my life. The result of my drinking had been so catastrophic, it was like I was hesitant to let go of the spectacle.


I’ve heard others say they have experienced the same thing. It’s as if we feel the need to suffer for our misdeeds. Carry the burden, and when we begin to forget, others remind us. It’s like Sisyphus – pushing a bolder up a big hill only to watch it roll down again.


I found, that as time went on, and as I learned to address my issues and forgive myself, the bag I dragged around became smaller. One of those white, tall kitchen bags with the drawstring top. Soon it was the size of a little bathroom bin liner. And finally (at about year two of my sobriety), it seemed to disappear altogether. I had done my apologizing and atoning and I was ready to move on.


But, Should We Forget?

I was in a group meeting a while ago and we were talking about this subject. Someone said, “But should we forget what happened when we were drinking? I mean, shouldn’t we remember it, so we don’t do it again?”


As it happens so many times when I listen to smart people in meetings, it got me thinking. She was right. And because I am a visual thinker, I envisioned myself holding an itty bitty change purse of drinking memories, frugally with two hands. That’s about the size of the baggage we should keep, in my opinion.


Here’s what I’m carrying in my little bag of tricks:

  • A small tape recorder that plays every scenario to its ultimate conclusion, so I will never be tempted to glamorize drinking again
  • A handful of good memories so that all those years of drinking are not considered a waste of time in my mind
  • The names of everybody who helped me
  • The names of everybody who still loves me (see above)
  • Gratefulness – it’s like the Cat in the Hat’s ZOOM – small but powerful!
  • L’Oréal 140 “Mauved” lipstick


What I’m leaving out of my little purse is guilt. And when those people remind me of how messy I was in the drinking days and in the early days of my recovery I’m going to hold up my little bag of memories like a parsimonious granny and say, “I remember that. But I’ve already apologized. And I am sorry, but it’s time to move on.”


Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.