There are all of these reminders. A bright orange sun dipping at the horizon. A new blue morning sky just enough to see a friend. A hummingbird hovering. A real life hug. A speaker at a meeting who helps you stay clean. So many reminders edging themselves into our lives – to remind us of what?
In parashat ve’ethanan, Moses reminds us of the experience at Mount Sinai, of the Israelites’ journey through the desert, of when and where they broke trust, of the Ten Commandments, of our beginnings as strangers in the land of Egypt, of the goodness of life lived in Covenant and trust with God and one another. Moses calls on the Israelites’ memories and the memories passed on to this generation of Israelites by their parents not for the memories themselves, or even to solidify their identity as a people. Moses calls on their memories to call to their souls.
The Sefat Emet teaches: “Memory is a point within, one where there is no forgetfulness.” In other words, memory is another word for soul. Moses calls on our memories to call on our souls: Remember your past, remember your souls. When you remember Mt. Sinai, your long journey through the wilderness, your breaking trust with God, the Ten Commandments, your enslavement in Egypt, your Covenant with God and one another, then you bring to mind your soul. And when, in Rabbi Heschel’s words, your soul is “alive in your mind,” then you will take the next right action. And when you take the next right action, Moses says, “then you will live” (Deuteronomy 4:1).
We know this story: Do the next right action so that you will live. This is how we live in recovery. We go to meetings, read the Big Book, pray, look at the world around us in wonder, connect with friends – all to remember, to rediscover the place that has no forgetfulness. And when we do this, when we bring our souls alive in our minds, our souls make our decisions for us – not the disease, not the afraid and hurt inner child, not the resentment or loneliness – our souls.
These reminders are given to us every moment of every day. I need only to think of what a wonder it is that I breathe, that my body is processing food, that I am created b’tzelem Elohim, “in the image of God,” and I am reminded of my own soul. When I make a mistake, I am reminded by the people around me how I can live and do better. When I look at my daughter (who is up way past her bedtime playing with the lamp next to me), I am reminded of miracles and mystery and growth.
And on days when these reminders are hard to perceive, when they seem scarce, I can go seek them out – in a meeting, in prayer, in service.
Getting into recovery is hard. Maintaining recovery is harder.
And when I stop seeing and seeking these reminders, I cease to be in recovery. I was speaking with someone recently who said: “I’m just over it. I hate meetings. I hate hearing about what you were like when you were in your addiction.” It’s another way of saying: I hate the part of myself that’s an addict. I don’t want this burden of meetings and reminders. Can’t I just be normal?
You are normal. You’re a normal addict. And like all addicts and all non-addicts, you need reminders to maintain the Covenant you have with yourself and your Higher Power.
You alone work your program, but you cannot work your program alone.
The external reminders through meetings and service and sunsets bring you back to your soul, returning you again and again. Moses knows this when he calls on memories – on our souls – and reminds us to keep the Covenant with God:
“It was not with our ancestors that Adonai made this Covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today” (Deuteronomy 5:3).
If desperation brought me into recovery, what will keep me here?
Reminders that bring life to my soul.
Reminders that clarify the voice of my soul among the muddle of words and thoughts.
Because, reminded, I am willing to let my soul choose. And my soul will always choose living, and living well.