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.