Advanced Recovery Topic – What to do with all the Toxic Memories...

Advanced Recovery Topic – What to do with all the Toxic Memories in Long Term Sobriety?


A reader writes in and asks:

“Hi Patrick,

I’m an alcoholic. I drank for 26 years non stop before I quit in 1998. As I begin my 11th year of being clean and sober, I have a question. What do you do with all the toxic memories once you get sober?

I find, at moments in my life, the shame, the guilt, and the horror of it all, is still with me. ”

So the question becomes: what do we do with all of those toxic memories?

- Approved Treatment Center -


Good question. I would agree that the toxic memories are probably always going to be there. Here are some ways in which I have dealt with them myself:

1)I did a fourth and fifth step with a trusted sponsor – this lessened the impact of those memories, because I shared them with someone else and found out that I was not so horrible of a person. If you have secrets that you have never shared with another human being, you can probably get a ton of relief by going through this process. Find someone who you trust and talk it out. You will get some relief from doing so.

2) Used them as a tool for helping others – there is a quote from the promises of AA: “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can help others” (or something to that effect). This principle seems to hold true for me, as I have been able to connect with other addicts and alcoholics based on some of my experiences. The main idea is that we can see when others are on the same path that we were on, and we can explain to them where that path got us. Thus our experience can serve as a warning to the right person.

3) Looked back and saw these toxic memories as a necessary part of the maturing process – I did some stupid things in my active addiction. But I have made peace with those things and I can understand that it really was part of what I had to do in order to grow. Even the toxic relationships I was in served a purpose. I can see how my actions and decisions today are benefiting from those toxic experiences that I once had to go through. I can even find gratitude for some of the misery and chaos that I once went through, because it was part of my path and it got me to where I am today.

And here is another bonus tidbit: “Normal people” (who are not addicts and alcoholics) probably have a few toxic memories of their own. They just never self medicated over them. So don’t assume that as a recovering addict, that we are somehow special or have more baggage than the rest of the world. Everyone has had their share of ups and downs, of good times and of bad. We are not so unique in that we have a “haunted past!”

My number one tip: take that toxic memory that pops up and force yourself to find the gratitude in it. Turn it into a positive.

Anyone else have any techniques for dealing with those toxic memories from their past?


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