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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Memories Do Not Have to Equal Suffering


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I met a recent divorcee the other night. I could feel her suffering behind the memories as she recounted the story of her marriage and its demise. The memories were weighted down with the pain relived in the moments or the anguish at the eventual outcome. The memories themselves were like a minefield, one deviation and you’re faced with an explosion of pain.

I remember being that same way. Every memory was laced with suffering. Every image brought with it the piercing pain as though the blow was freshly delivered. Every recalled fact opened the door to other memories, like dominoes made of lead, quickly burying me under their weight.

For a time, I thought that I would have to forcefully remove all memory of my former life. I wished for some type of amnesia pill to grant me a spotless mind. I saw memories and suffering as eternal bedfellows, forever linked together. After all, they are two things that others can never take from us – our memories and our suffering.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when my suffering divorced from my memories. There was no lightbulb moment, no flash of epiphany. Rather, I would sometimes startle with surprise when I realized that a memory came to me without its cruel partner.

I could remember without the pain.

I could see the past without feeling it.

I could allow a thought without it leading to another.

If your memories are entangled with suffering, try the following:

-Retell your story (writing is awesome for this!) until you feel some distance from it. Practice this. Make it matter-of-fact even when it doesn’t feel that way. Rewrite it as dryly as possible, removing the emotion. You’re training your brain how to perceive the pain.

-Pay attention to your physical symptoms when you remember certain facts. Does your stomach drop? Do your hands shake? Does your voice tighten? Focus on relaxing those physical symptoms. It’s often easier than directly addressing the mental pain and it sends the mind the message that it doesn’t need to suffer. (PTSD After Divorce)

-If you find that one thought leads to another and another, institute a distraction policy. You can choose to interrupt the pattern before it goes too far. Change the subject, move your body or switch gears. The more you allow a pattern to occur, the more easily your brain will follow the route in the future. Instead of letting your pain dictate the journey, try building your own road.

-Be selective in your memories. You have thousands to choose from; pick the ones that make you happy. Or select the ones that make you grateful for where you are now. Assign a purpose to a memory. Let it do its job and then file it or release it.

-See yourself as the one operating the slideshow of your life. You are the one that controls the images that appear. You can choose which slide to edit or remove.

-Reframe your memories. Edit out the painful parts. Pan out to see them as part of the larger picture. Zoom in on the smiles.

-And, as much as I hate the sentiment, time really does help heal wounds. In time, the memories will lose their sharp edges and the pain will soften. I promise. (Dulling the Knife’s Edge)

Memories are ghosts from the past. They may frighten, but they cannot really harm you. The suffering comes from within.

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15 thoughts on “Memories Do Not Have to Equal Suffering

  1. This is outstanding. It took me 15 or 20 years to get over the emotional hurdle attached to my divorce. Your suggestions above would have been handy. Now I wonder what took me so long because I’m over it all. 🙂

  2. I’m just now beginning to turn this corner. Harder for me was training my brain to stop wanting to share new restaurants or cool discoveries with her. Great post.

    1. I can’t even tell you the number I times I started to send him a text or call him to tell him about something I saw that he would like or find funny. It was a reflex and it lasted quite a while…

  3. I am a year and a half out. For some reason the last few days have been difficult. Sad again when I thought I was through it. It is easier said than done to put it all in perspective when I spent half my life with someone I thought I knew. I have been reliving the gory details in my mind. I get so angry at myself for not just getting over it. I read your words and thank you for them. I will just keep going through it. I don’t want to be angry wither but I am. Rats…

    1. Healing does not speak calendar and it is not linear. Those sad days and angry sparks are normal and not a sign that you’re backsliding. It’s a huge adjustment; it doesn’t occur overnight.

  4. I really needed this information today. My husband left recently and I am soaking in every bit of your advice, suggestions, encouragement… I keep finding myself sulking back into the “what if’s” and “why me?” …it is all so unreal and fresh. Everything you speak of is so true. Last week I was seriously wishing I could have electric shock treatment to erase the past 22 years.

    1. I felt that desire to erase my memories too! I thought back to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with envy.

      I promise it does get better. The “whys and whats” no longer seem so important once you embrace the “what now” and start building your new life. The memories are no longer like looking into the sun as they soften and fade with time.

      Hang in there;)

  5. This de-tangling of memories and sadness becomes even more difficult if you, like many divorced fathers, see your children much less often or become estranged. While it is much better after 4+ years (in the early days just seeing a family come into a restaurant together would send me into a deep sadness), it is something I am still struggling with.

    When traveling to a family event a few months ago, the woman I am currently dating could tell a sadness enveloped me – even though I could not figure out how she knew since a I tried to put on a happy shell. Attending family functions as a family was something I always treasured, now they make me sad, as do recalling what were happy family times together. They all seem tainted now.

    1. That does seem like such a painful place to be. I can’t imagine how hard it is to go from daily contact with your kids to sporadic when it’s not your decision. I hope that you’re able to build relationships with them when they’re older and have more choice. You will always be their dad.

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