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Memories and Sharing at 12-Step Meetings

Alcoholic insanity is described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as the inability to bring to consciousness with sufficient force the adverse consequences of previous drinking experiences—consequences that would prompt a reasonable person to prefer abstinence. It follows, then, that sanity—for the alcoholic—could be defined as the ability to remember: to associate the idea of a first drink or drug with the inevitable disaster that usually follows.

This association is often first made, and is continually reinforced, in the context of a sharing session in a 12-step environment. The constant repetition of the basic theme—What I was like, what happened, and what I’m like now—serves to (hopefully) cement in place the connection between using a substance and the individual’s negative history of subsequent results.

This is not simply a matter of saying “Think it through,” although this is a popular saying at 12-step meetings. “Thinking it through” is exactly what alcoholics and addicts are incapable of doing: this is the essence of the First Step’s emphasis on the obsession of the mind. However, attending meetings and being immersed in an environment of admission to powerlessness tends to help us organize our memories in a healthy way, such that denial is brushed aside and the truth of our problem becomes apparent to us.

We cultivate this and it serves as a motivator to do the rest of the Steps, as recognizing the problem is not itself a complete or adequate solution. As a result of the Steps, we then have recovery to share, further reinforcing the new associations we have confirmed about substances and how damaging they have been to us. In a virtuous cycle, this “Keeping it green” helps to maintain our willingness to continue doing the work that recovery asks of us.

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