Proactive Memory Building

I was riding with a friend along the back streets of Palm Springs the other day, headed to my home after some shopping. “Here, let me show you a shortcut,” I said, directing him to turn onto a certain street.

He hesitated a first, then made the turn. It wasn’t until we were two blocks down the street that he confessed, “This is a street where I used. A lot. You know, it’s the first time I’ve driven down it since getting clean. I’ve always avoided it until now. Didn’t want the trigger, you know?”

I immediately apologized. Of course, I’d no idea or I wouldn’t have directed him that way. But I noticed something different about my friend. He didn’t seem triggered or anxious. Instead, he was gently smiling to himself.

“You okay?” I asked, concerned, as I knew he had less than six months sobriety under his belt.

“I’m more than okay,” he said. “This street is now going to have a completely different association for me. Now whenever I pass it, or even drive down it, I’m not going to think of all the using I did here, but I’m going to remember this ride with you. I’m going to remember how we spent a lovely morning together and had a fun, clean and sober time—that life was good to me and I was good to myself on the day I drove down this street.” His smile was genuine. “I’m going to make a new memory to replace those using memories of my past. Thank you,” my friend said. “This is big for me.”

It made me consider all those places in Los Angeles where I did most of my meth use, those certain locations that would trigger me and how those triggers were changing over time. Ironically, a sober buddy’s house near Sunset Junction in the Silverlake neighborhood of L.A. is located not too far from one of my dealer’s sketchy old apartment building. (I’m sure the dealer has moved on by now—arrested if not evicted, as there were dozens of people who came to his door daily and neighbors had already begun to complain.) But nevertheless, every time I’d drive through the Junction to my buddy’s place, I’d think about those late night, tweaked out drives to my dealer’s apartment, the parking illegally in the handicapped zone because I was only going to be five minutes max, and it was 3 AM anyway, etc. Of course, I’ve found that, as the years roll by, this using association with Sunset Junction has faded a lot, but… I haven’t gone as far as consciously choosing to make a new memory to replace the old ones. Not until recently, that is.

I learned something from my newly sober friend that day. And, lately, I’ve been consciously attaching the memory of all those clean and fun times at the Junction that I’ve had over the last year with my sober L.A buddies—the great coffee shop and restaurants we’ve been to, the leather boutique, the comic book store.

Heretofore, I’d just let those older dark memories fade with time. Now I’m proactively creating new brighter memories every time I go to the Junction. It’s an interesting little mind trick. And, so far, it’s working well for me.

You might want to give it a try. Try proactively making new sober memories of certain places to replace the older, darker memories from your using days.