Memories of Using -- Benefit or Curse?
If you’ve ever attended a 12-step or other, group-style session, you are probably familiar with how a testimony is patterned. It starts with a story about using, moves into all the horrible consequences, and ends up with how much better things are with sobriety. Some of the stories are years, or even decades old.
If you listen to the ‘tragedy’ part, you will often hear true regret. There is real, understandable emotion there. The story teller is reliving those times, the stupid and cruel things they did and the crimes they committed. In the narrative, this serves the purpose of contrasting how much better things are now than before, but there are a couple of views on how valuable it is to keep these painful memories and regrets alive.
One school of thought is that to forget the past is to risk reliving it. This group will tell us that without a reminder of the dangers of addiction, we are more likely to slip back into our inborn pattern. Keeping the regrets at the fore serves a useful, albeit painful, purpose. The second school of thought is that by rehashing ‘old news’ over and over again (at multiple meetings or sessions) we are just binding ourselves to a past that cannot be changed and chaining ourselves to a situation that no longer exists, except in our minds. They say that these reminders serve to keep us thinking and involved with our drugs or booze by revisiting active addiction – by recalling the bad, we necessarily remember the good feelings we had.
There is evidence for both sides. Certainly, in our everyday lives we remember not to touch the hot stove because we know, for sure and certain, that it hurts when we do. On the other hand, there is evidence that shows (brain scans) that merely being involved with the subject of using awakens cravings we otherwise wouldn’t have. In other words, we are in some danger when we recount our drug-using/boozing days.
Why this isn’t a rhetorical question
So why would it matter if we remember with regret how things used to be? We can’t forget, can we?
Science marches on…
Research in memory has made some interesting findings. There has even been talk of a ‘memory erasing drug’. Right now, the research is focused on how we ‘set’ memories, short term memories that may or may not become longer term.
Besides the drug front, where interest is in the brain mechanisms that make and destroy memories, there is also progress with non-drug attempts that use behavioral psychology techniques.
So, if something becomes available, would you use it to remove your regrets? Would you ‘erase’ your past drug or alcohol use?