Mementos, Symbols, and Keepsakes

By Ken Wells - 03/28/2022


Series Three: Blog Sixteen

When I was a kid my dad carried a buckeye with him in the pocket of his work pants for good luck. A friend at church always had a rabbit’s foot in his pocket for the same reason. The parents of one of my friends at school who were Catholic decided to sell their house so they could move to a new one. They took a small statue of St Joseph and buried him upside down in their front yard. They believed that the saint would help them sell their house quickly in order to turn him right side up. They sold their house in two days.

Symbols and mementos have meaning and purpose. A crucifix is important to a Christian. A conch shell is meaningful to a Buddhist. A bear claw is sacred to a Native American. The Star of David is hallowed by Jewish people.

Keepsakes are also treasured. Some guys save the baseball card collection they built up when they were kids. After a wedding, a couple will dry the flowers and preserve them as a keepsake of their love. Some people carry a special rock or an engraved bracelet that anchors them in memory to someone special.

Addicts often overlook the value and purpose of mementos, symbols, and keepsakes. Maybe, like me, they grew up in an environment where symbolism, keepsakes, and mementos were never emphasized. The symbols of the church–the cross, healing oil and the altar–were used to abuse me. So, of course, Christian symbols were always rejected by me and by others who had the same experience. In truth, addiction actually helped me to forget the symbols associated with Christian faith. Many addicts took keepsakes, symbols, mementos and sold them to gain access to their drug of choice. They were the first things to go to satisfy an immediate craving. The organizing principle of addictive rationale was about getting what you want when you want it and using any means to achieve it.

In healing and recovery, symbols, mementos, and keepsakes reappear for addicts as precious.  Recovering addicts covet the chips and medallions that mark length of sobriety. The journey in recovery is long and arduous. The daily grind of doing next right thing is carried out in the common experience of daily living. Addicts know that the challenging tasks of recovery must be relentlessly addressed every day. There are struggles like remaining sober, healing a broken relationship, maintaining good standing at work and addressing past experiences of abuse that claw at the heart and trigger self-sabotage.

Scrapes and strains are realities that must be managed. Noting progress and growth helps to endure the trials and tribulations that are real for every recovering addict. It helps to establish ebb and flow in recovery. The journey is not only an uphill climb. It’s important to take time to celebrate victories and to establish rituals and symbols that remind you of hard-earned gains. Symbols and mementos are important markers and reminders of who you are and the direction toward healing you have determined to go.

One couple whose trust was eviscerated by alcoholism and infidelity chose to transform the darkest day of disclosure to one of hope through a symbolic ceremony by attending a mass, lighting a candle, renewing their vows, and then taking a walk around a well-lit city pond late at night while holding hands in quiet solitude. They do this each year on the anniversary of the disclosure. 

Another addict places a picture of his family on the dashboard of his car to help ground himself when he is driving to and from. He shared that when he is tempted to cruise for a sexual hit, go to a strip club, or visit a massage parlor, the picture helps to bring him back to the center of his values.  Another addict put a picture of his daughter as phone wallpaper to help him not seek a sexual hit through his phone. A partner to a sex addict placed the phone number of her sponsor as phone wallpaper to help when she is tempted to monitor her partner’s whereabouts. She said the phone number is a symbol reminding her to reach out to manage her fear and anxiety.

I carry a red rock that has “Yes you can” engraved on it, reminding me that I can achieve pursuing my own brilliance and deepen my serenity. I wear a bracelet with a peace sign reminding me that in the presence of pain, I can know deep peace within. A friend gave me a black rock with a bracelet saying that “we have been luckier than most” that reminds me that commitment to friendship is deep and everlasting. These items are symbols and keepsakes that anchor me to my destiny, clarify my recovery journey and remind me of my personal brilliance as I live out the tasks of recovery each day.

Have you created symbols that represent important meaning to you in your recovery journey?

Are there keepsakes that serve as reminders of where you have been and point toward where your future lies?

Are there recovery mementos that you could gather to mark your progress on your journey in recovery?

In your recovery, gather mementos that remind you that you are an unrepeatable miracle of God. Allow the symbols of recovery to remind you that bringing yourself back to your center is the way through every addictive urge. Accumulate keepsakes that remind you that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backwards”, Soren Kierkegaard.

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