The memory disease

"It is by self-forgetting that one finds..." --St. Francis of Assissi
“It is by self-forgetting that one finds…” –St. Francis of Assissi

Authors Michael W. Clune and Tao Lin discussed their recent books for Believer magazine.

Tao Lin points out a theme of seeking to get outside oneself as a response to “internal malfunctioning or uncontrollable-seeming, undesirable behavior.”

He points to this passage from book, White Out:

The only way to recover from the memory disease is to forget yourself. You see, I was in a memory trap. In order to get out I had to forget myself. In order to forget about myself, I had to be sure there was something outside to grab on to. But the memory diseases had trapped all my senses. I couldn’t see outside. In order to get even a glimpse of what’s outside, I had to forget myself completely.

Clune frames it in the context of his recovery:

The practice of getting out of myself has been crucial for staying off dope, and I kind of wanted to protect it from analysis. My experience with addiction convinced me that there was no getting out from any place within myself. My memories, my impulses, my reflexes, my relationships, my goals, my future, past, and present were all terminally infected. So to escape the memory disease—to escape addiction—I had to start over, outside me. How to get outside?

The first step was forming new habits. Every night, I just wrote a list of things that are good to do, and the next day I read the list and did them—did them until I didn’t have to read the list anymore. Brush my teeth. Eat a banana. Work on my dissertation for three hours. Take a walk. Go to an NA meeting. Repeat. Pretty soon I’m a different person. The self isn’t really that solid; it’s mostly composed of things from the outside world. And habits are the tape and rope and staples that get things outside stuck in us.

Sometimes people tell me they’re scared to get into recovery, because they’re scared they’ll lose the “real me.” I’ve never been able to understand this. I’ve always been very happy to lose the real me, it’s just hard to find takers. Habit is a taker.

This really resonates with my experiences in early recovery.

I love the framing as a memory disease and self-forgetting via seemingly unrelated actions as a path to freedom. Very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading more from him and thinking more about it.