To Remember or To Forget

to remember or to forget

Do you ever feel confused about whether recovery is a journey about forgetting or remembering?

In the months following my husband’s big disclosure, the theme of “Remembering” came up over and over.  In fact, my husband wrote a list at this point of his goals for recovery.  It looked like this:

  • Attend weekly Recovery meetings.
  • Do daily Step Work.
  • Get a Sponsor.
  • Help Beck to forget.

Even then, there was something I didn’t like about that “Help Beck to forget.”  Not only did it seem a little self-serving, but isn’t that what he had been doing his entire life?  Acting out, hitting rock bottom, confessing it, and then…trying to FORGET?  It didn’t seem like this “FORGET” thing had worked out so well.

Forgive and Forget?

We often get the advice from well-meaning but ill-informed people that we need to “Forgive and Forget.”  “Let it go.”  “Move on with our lives.” This seems to imply that forgetting is a part of the healing process.

This has not been my experience.

The Blessing of Full Disclosure

In fact, not until two and a half years into my husband’s full sobriety (that includes progressive victory over lust, browsing the internet, scanning crowds…all of it), when we did Full Disclosure with a Qualified Therapist did the real healing for my husband really begin.  This is also when I was able to grasp the peace and freedom of  a deeper surrender.

For my husband, Full Disclosure was the first time he had ever shared his full story out loud from the four-year-old beginnings to the almost-forty-year-old rock bottom.

This was the first time even he himself had ever really looked at, and REMEMBERED, the whole story.  And it turns out that this remembering was the first time sobriety went deeper than Band-Aids.  For us, remembering is where the real healing started.

Remembering Through EMDR Therapy

Both my husband and I are now working EMDR therapy with a qualified therapist.  Once again, this is all about remembering.

This Monday was my first full session.  Midway through the session my brain flipped into the night my husband disclosed his affair.  I felt a tidal wave of grief, fear, and pain completely consume me until I truly felt that I could not continue on.  The tucked-away files of my brain were opening and literally forcing my body to relive this excruciating night.

I was almost desperate for the two days after the session, so afraid that I was stuck back in that familiar black hole.  The physical symptoms of my trauma had returned, a locked-up neck, a constant headache, a fuzziness in my thinking, a pressure in the back of my skull, an almost constant weeping from my eyes.

What was I thinking actually PAYING someone to do this to me?  

I was never going back.  What was the POINT?!?

Then, a miracle happened.  Somehow, magically or miraculously, depending on your point of view, I was able to come out of the black hole. How did I escape the darkness?

I remembered the crucial tool of CONNECTION, and reached out multiple times to my sponsor and others.

I remembered the importance of EDUCATION and sought the advice of another EMDR therapist who assured me that the pain I was feeling was a normal part of this process, and that my therapist was not actually a sadist.  She also encouraged me to continue to process, because if the pain was so intense, it meant there were parts of this experience that were still unresolved for me.

I clung to my belief in the SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE of a Higher Power and surrendered and accepted the pain I was feeling, and asked Him to use it to teach me.

And through both my Higher Power and WORKING MY STEPS, I was able to use Steps 6 & Step 7 to turn this most painful memory into a beautiful, freeing experience.

Healing Through Remembering

As I allowed my brain to process and REMEMBER this painful memory, I realized that one of my defects that had surfaced in my Step 4 was connected to this deep pain.

I realized that the depth and intensity of the trauma associated with this specific memory was because my brain had interpreted and internalized these false beliefs that horrible night:

  • You are not enough.
  • Your value is completely dependent on being able to exceed others’ expectations of you.
  • You are responsible for other people’s happiness.
  • If you fall short, you are worthless and pathetic.
  • Nobody who really knew you could ever love you.
  • What just happened to you is concrete proof of all of this.

As I allowed myself to sit in this horrible pain and listen again to these horrible words that had circled my soul like vultures for those long months, even years, it began to dawn on me that “I do have choices concerning my own recovery.”

This wisdom that I had heard 2 years ago at UCAP sunk deep into my heart.

“You are not the voices inside your head.  You are the soul inside who gets to choose which of the voices to listen to.”

Pain is the Pathway to Progress

As I continue to work towards healing, I am planning on going back to EMDR and trying to REMEMBER even more.  I am expecting the pain.  Hopefully this time it won’t completely bowl me over.  But, if it does, I will accept where I am at and ask my Higher Power to meet me where I am.

Why would I choose to REMEMBER when it would be so much more comfortable to forget?  Why would I pay someone to DO this to me?

Because underneath the pain is where I find the truth of where my deepest, darkest trauma is coming from.  And it turns out, I can change that script.  I can choose to listen to a different voice.  I can ask my Higher Power to remove those false beliefs and character defects from me.

Pain HAS been the pathway to progress for me.  And the amazing thing is this: after that kind of rain, the sun shines through warmer and brighter than you have ever known it before.  And you should see how those flowers bloom.


18 thoughts on “To Remember or To Forget”

  1. Becky,
    This was incredibly beautiful. Timely for me. (triggering to tears) I was just wondering today am I supposed to remember or forget?!. My husband is a master at forgetting…and moving on. Pretending. No disclosure yet after working for more than a year with UVC therapists. UGH! I hope pain will be a pathway to progress for me.

    Someday…somehow…I hope to see (and feel and smell) “the flowers bloom”.

    Thanks for lighting the way.

    1. Much love reaching out to you. No more forgetting. No more “moving on.” No more Band-Aids. Time for true healing. You make your own healing choices one day at a time and flowers are sure to come. Keep working it.

  2. Thanks for sharing Becky. I also want to remember. The truth will set me free. It’s not knowing the truth that is so painful. Knowing the truth helps me to know what I need to do to heal. And remembering is important for me.

    1. One of my favorite quotes that a friend shared at Group a long time ago: “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” -WB Yeats
      Facing the truth is one of the BRAVEST things we will ever do!

    2. Thanks for your comment that “knowing the truth helps me know what I need to do to heal.” I’m working to really figure out the reason why I need a full therapeutic disclosure from my husband (more than because our therapist wants it to happen), and that phrase provides good insight for me and feels true.

  3. This is so so beautiful and honest. I really appreciate the visual of “vultures circling” -it is such an appropriate one. I know I have felt the same thing in my own life.

    I have never done EMDR, though I’ve heard of it, so it’s nice to hear your experience with it. So interesting!

  4. Love this! My husband’s full disclosure is planned for about a month from now and I am downright scared when I sit and think about it. He has spent the past few months remembering and putting pieces together to create his disclosure and I’m over here like “I can’t remember details or timing, any of it!” My brain has shut down that pain and I struggle to remember even though I want to.

    It’s been interesting to hear how family has reacted to us going through this process. His parents’ reaction was “Why would you share those things?” In other words: “FORGET!!!”. I choose to remember.

    P.S. EMDR sounds really interesting. I didn’t even realize that was an option.

    1. Thanks for sharing Emma! Stay connected to your support through that Full Disclosure. If it anything like ours was, it will be a painful, starting-over, growing time for both you and your husband. Time to keep that sponsor on speed-dial, work your steps, surrender, grieve, and allow your Higher Power to work His magic. Keep reaching out!

  5. what a powerful story and I’m glad I saw this link come up on my twitter feed. . .

    pain is messy and hard and you are such a strong person and thanks for sharing for others…

    REMEMBER since forgetting isn’t a growth word, but REMEMBER is

    1. Love that … Remember is a growth word!💜….EDMR I read is supposed to remove the pain from theTrauma?.Triggers bring the Trauma tight to me , like a face plant . I cannot forget anything and i don’t want to.
      Thankyou for this blog

      1. Yes Sue–EMDR is really remarkable in how it helps the brain re-wire those reactive circuits around the trauma. It’s like you can view the incident from a place of sanity instead of being swept up in the trauma. EMDR is not a walk in the park, but it is so healing. It’s a perfect example of “Pain is the pathway to Progress.”

  6. The Christian writer C. S. Lewis wrote about the need and the method for change. He noted that repentance involves “being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right,” he said, “but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience with all of us. I totally agree the importance of remembering. There is so much value in remembering for me. As I have worked my 12 steps and dug deep into the things my Higher Power helps me remember I can clean out all the yuck that for years has held me down from progressing in life, more importantly from truly connecting with God.

    1. Thanks for your insights Tosha. I love the CS Lewis quote, and how it really relates to how 12 Step gets us unstuck from the yuck that has held us back for our whole lives. Deep cleaning is never fun, but is so so worth it.

  7. What a great reminder of where I’ve been and what I need to surrender today, in this moment.

    From the White Book it says:

    “Living inside our illness, we were blind to it. In recov­ery, the addiction begins to lose its hold over us, but it is necessary that we never forget what we really are. Had we seen but a little of this, it might have saved us years of agony and inflicting our madness on others. If we can help other sexaholics understand the true nature of what they are doing to themselves and others and encourage them to join in a fellowship of recovery before their malady reaches the malignant stage it did with many of us, we will indeed be grateful.”

    Thank you for sharing. To forget is to invite an addict back to his vomit. (Proverbs 26:11)

  8. Thank you all for your thoughts and feelings. My husband had been acting out for 23 years before I caught him. I found an email he had hid from me. I saw a lot and he disclosed details of hows and why’s— he was committed to answering all my questions. I had to stop asking at one point because it hurt too much. I felt i knew enough.
    We separated for several months and he began recovery.
    There were some questions he didn’t answer- he couldn’t remember. I believe he couldn’t but it scares me what things he is able to forget— like who was the first one during our marriage.
    I feel he needs to disclose all for his growth more than mine but is that up to me?
    He sees an addiction therapist but she is not a C-SAT.
    I feel he is so committed to sobriety but is scared of deep recovery.
    I’m learning patience and “ progress not perfection” but this is hard stuff.
    Thank you!

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