One of the things you will likely have to deal in sobriety is drinking memories. These thoughts can involve a romanticised image of drinking, which can then trigger feelings of nostalgia for addictive behaviour. Drinking memories are natural and are not usually a sign that you are doing something wrong; it is vital, though, that you know how to handle these when they arise. Here are just six tips for dealing with drinking memories in recovery:
Romancing the drink refers to a situation in which you start enjoying memories of the times alcohol seemed to make you feel good. Perhaps you fantasise about ‘glory days’ when you partied all night with friends or spent long afternoons sitting in beer gardens. The fact that you are only thinking about drinking, and not actually drinking, can make this seem like a harmless activity; but it is harming your sobriety. It acts as a drain on your motivation for sobriety, easily leading to a relapse. It will not be possible to prevent memories of drinking from arising, but you can decide not to indulge them.
One way to counteract memories of the good drinking days is to deliberately remember the bad times. Try to picture how you felt at the end of your drinking – it must have been pretty bad or how else would you have developed the motivation to quit? Think about all of those times when you had to apologise for things you did while under the influence. Remember the feelings of guilt, remorse, and powerlessness. Remembering the bad times can act as a counterforce to positive drinking memories, and it should prevent you from romancing the drink.
Memory is an extremely fickle function of the mind, and the stuff we remember is often inaccurate and misleading. It is as if the brain wants to glamourise the past. It can mean that, when you look back on your childhood, you may remember some wonderful times but forget all the times you felt upset and hurt. Scientific research into witness testimony provides plenty of evidence of how unreliable memory can be.
It is understandable that drinking memories will pop into your mind – this is probably a behaviour you engaged in for many years. If you resist these thoughts though, it just causes them to intensify. It is similar to somebody telling you ‘not to think about kangaroos’ – the more you try to do this, the more you will end up thinking about kangaroos. Dealing with drinking memories is a type of balancing act – you do not want to indulge in them, but you also do not want to put effort into pushing them away.
Mindfulness is the ability to observe whatever is happening in the present moment without judgement. It means that when a drinking thought arises, you can just look at it objectively without resistance or attraction. By looking at your memories this way, you will see for yourself that they can’t harm you – memories just rise up in your mind and fall away again so long as you allow them to.
The one thing you definitely do not want to do with these drinking memories is to use them as an excuse to beat yourself up. You do not really have much power of these thoughts because they can be triggered by anything in your environment – it only takes hearing an old song on the radio to bring up these memories, for example. Making yourself feel bad over these thoughts is not only being unfair to yourself, but it could also be paving the way to a relapse – i.e. ‘I feel bad anyway, so I might as well just drink’.