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Moving Memories

Day 4 Years

Today is the fourth anniversary of my first day of sobriety as I started getting serious about recovery. That seems like a noteworthy moment worthy of notes and insights, but that is not really related to what I'm writing about on this day; it's just happenstance, or at least as happenstance as any life event can be from that which I struggle with every day.

We're moving. For the second time in five years, we're packing up, purging down, and moving across town. The reasons are unrelated to my addiction, or at least as unrelated as any life event can be from that which I struggle with every day. But like much of the experience, strength, and hope that those in recovery rely upon in community, I have learned another lesson from the routine that seems to apply to the extraordinary.

One of the goals in moving from one house to another is never to move something that you moved last time and haven't used since. I am not a hoarder, but I do seem to save way too many memories in the embodiment of photos, credentials, knickknacks, certificates, and just about anything that proves that I used to be somebody and I used to accomplish things.

So last week, I was going through my treasure chest of stuff—it actually looks like a treasure chest—trying to eliminate a boatload of useless mementos before the movers show up and charge us for moving them. Again. I've got a box labeled for stuff that I'm keeping, a box where my fading significance is discarded, and lo and behold, I come up with a third box of things that I'm keeping temporally; I've marked that box in big, bold letters, "TO BE DIGITIZED." That's a new way of keeping old crap without paying big college guys to put it on their big trucks when they're not in class. What could go wrong with that plan?

As I sort through my souvenirs, I find myself melancholy and philosophical. I note to myself that if I died tomorrow, 95% of this stuff is going to be cast into a dump truck that my kids—who I believe truly love me—will have backed up to the house for easy disposal of my life, er, I mean my trinkets. Oh, they may have some conversation about who takes my big screen TV and maybe even my collection of vinyl records, but there will be no takers for the Chamber of Commerce plaques, my press passes from a former career, and certainly not the length of razor wire that I brought back from a visit to a refugee camp years ago. So why is it so hard for me to throw this stuff away instead of letting it be a burden to my survivors?

I don't like my answer. I have a very real, almost palpable, sense that if I throw something away that commemorates those smallest of moments that have contributed to who I am today, there's a chance that those moments never really happened or will never be remembered again. That seems to diminish me somehow. It's like a living version of being dead.

Now comes the connection to my addiction.

When I first disclosed my acting-out behaviors to my wife nearly four years ago, I immediately cut off inappropriate connections. I endeavored to demonstrate my commitment to recovery by eliminating everything I could from that life with other people. Over the months that followed, and now over these four years, I repeatedly found myself stumbling over surprises. There were old telephone numbers that I had secreted away, a do-dad that was meaningless except for the memories it invoked, and other trivial everyday items that would take me back to moments I once thought I wanted to maintain.

For good or bad, these moments contributed to who I am today, albeit a sex addict that is fortunate to still be alive, much less still have a life. And those memory makers were part of what nearly took everything away from me, so I'm embarrassed to admit that every time one of these opportunities to do the next right thing came along, it was never automatic. I mean, I liked that shirt that triggered that memory, and those threads had nothing to do with my acting out. So, nearly every time, I would have a brief argument with myself about why I could safely keep the item in question, then, every time, it would go in the trash. Good for me (he said sarcastically).

I know that disposing of memories by throwing away a random gizmo that had no guilt other than by association does not mean that the things I'm trying to forget never happened. I also know that once the trash is taken out, I will never again be triggered into a place I do not want to go by that particular piece of garbage. That's as close as I can probably ever come to making the past stay in the past.

Maybe the best way to keep reminding myself of the good things I've done is to keep all the crap I've collected that is non-connected to my addiction. That way, I'm constantly reminded of those professional and civic moments instead of my acting out moments. Sounds good, but now I'm wondering how much of the innocent memorabilia in my collection is all that innocent. I also think that maybe I need to get back to my task and throw away a bunch of this stuff.

I'm working on it: one picture, one souvenir, one day at a



I hear something in the basement

When I shouldn't hear a sound

Voices speaking there in whispers

People moving stuff around

–The Bluetones, "The Basement Song"


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