Memory Books: Growing Up Through Recovery

As I work with clients in the Retreat Center, I often think about the wasteland they’ve had to cross … littered with drugs, broken relationships, pain, blame, abuse, excuses, broken promises, lost opportunities and lost lives. It’s a glimpse into hell. But in sharing their recovery journey, I have the privilege to learn about them as they were before addiction and celebrate their rediscovery of life and love.

Because so many are affected by addiction in our nation, I think it’s easy to not see the cost to each individual and the heartache for each family. Today I’d like to share just a few memories of a client, so you can see her as I do now.

I remember the day she brought in her memory books. She had asked me in a previous session if she could bring in her memory books. It was a bit unconventional, but also therapeutic under the circumstances. I enthusiastically obliged.

Weeks later I met her in the waiting room and was curious to see her spunky little self, carrying a rather large box.

“Well what do you have there?” I asked.

“My memory books!” She replied.

For the next hour, I had the privilege of bring led on a journey through pages of her life.

I saw photos of the adoring eyes of her parents as they first held their only child: a beautiful, dimpled, baby girl. I was transported to different places and times as we panned the first 18 years of her life.

…sports awards carefully kept, graduation certificates in chronological order, locks of blonde hair tied with pink ribbon from her first haircut

…photos of best friends, Halloween, Christmas, Grandparents, day trips to petting zoos and family vacations

…the visible angst of middle and high school

…changing hair and clothes styles, changing friends

…the comforting familiarity of miscellaneous pets

Four books packed full of love and life.

I was aware of a lump in my throat, a tightness in my chest, and tears brimming in my eyes as we laughed and I listened to my client tell the stories of her life. A beautiful baby girl. Wanted and loved.  Cherished.

My mind went back to two years ago when she had been missing in action…to a time when she had stopped showing for appointments. Her voicemail full. Her desperate parents leaving messages, “…She’s gone back out. She’s on the streets. She’s using again. Heroin. Please pray…”

Then, after many long weeks, she had tenaciously surfaced. She got back into recovery. Completed residential treatment. Began taking the proper meds under the addiction doctor’s care. Repeated intensive outpatient groups and refreshed her coping skills. Kept her therapy appointments.

She bravely labored through the grief and pain which gave birth to insight and change that influenced those around her, including her parents, who began to recognize that perhaps they had inadvertently loved too much. Perhaps their love held pressure and expectations that were crippling. And they were changing too.

As we had paged through her life I realized we were closing the chasm between her childhood and being an adult. Between a vague, fragile sense of self to a growing strength of autonomy and true identity.

I reflected often on the memory book session in the following hours and days. I pondered the meaning of the books. The session had the feel of a celebration. As we had paged through her life I realized we were closing the chasm between her childhood and being an adult. Between a vague, fragile sense of self to a growing strength of autonomy and true identity.

My heart overflowed with gratitude as we shared her life that hour. For the privilege of participating in a precious redemption. For answered prayers. For a life lost and saved. For relationships mending. For a miracle stubbornly emerging out of brokenness.


Jacqueline Gerlofs, LPC, CAADC, is a licensed professional counselor at Pine Rest’s Retreat Center. She earned her bachelors of Arts at Cornerstone University and her master’s degree at Western Michigan University. Jackie has worked with Pine Rest since 2013.

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