We forget things. Our memories are weak. It’s a feature, not a glitch.
I was sitting outside recently, listening to the interminable November rainfall drop from the sky and smash onto the rocks below the deck, when I thought that maybe I was a fraud.
I thought that maybe I should be better, more recovered by now. Maybe I wasn’t ever sick? Maybe it was a mistake, maybe I imagined things or exaggerated their severity? Maybe I was always fine? Perhaps I should apologize to the people in my life for all the drama?
And then I stopped overthinking. I was doing it again – minimizing the past. I was that sick and things were that bad. They’re still bad, some days and sometimes.
Where does the minimizing come from, I wonder? And, if I’m willing to do that, why can’t I then simply let things go? I cling to the past at times and let it define me far too often. I worry sometimes there’s an element of petty vengeance: see what you did? I’ll refuse to recover and show you. This ignores the fact that “those who done you wrong” rarely care.
I’m not the only one who minimizes and rewrites the past. We’re not nearly as unique as we wish we were. We have much in common with a great many.
But why do we forget? Why can’t we always hold the reality of our memories in front of us always?
Is it because doing so would diminish our ability to thrive?
How can I heal if the wounds remain as fresh as they were when they were inflicted? What kind of life is it if you determinedly freshen your grief every day? What could you ever accomplish?
The answer is, not much. If trauma stayed fresh, anyone who was ever a victim would be incapable of moving on to anything else. We’d relive it until we went mad. I seem to be trying to, at times.
What do I gain from keeping it fresh? Not peace, that’s for sure. It’s not problematic that memories become more distant with time. The soft-focus helps us live with the unbearable. Keeping the wound open stops any possibility of healing. Even if it does occur, the healing is wrong because the process was interfered with, and warped.
When I’m not busy picking at my wounds and minimizing the severity of the injuries, I have time to obsess over this thing or that. I’m not wedded to any specific subject: it’s the obsessive behaviour that has my allegiance. Thoughts pop up and start to spin about with increasing speed and intent, smashing around the brainpan and bringing the hard-to-deal-with emotions along for the ride. My brain hates me and therefore chooses to focus on the ugly, imperfect, nasty, and old. God forbid I ever let anything go.
(It’s not just the done-to-me I obsess about, but also the sins of the “I committed” variety.”)
Does anything good come from deliberately inflicting ourselves with pain?
I need to learn to let go. It’s not the harm that makes us special, it’s the recovery, and for that, we need distance. Distance from our emotions is what helps us deal with the chaos and complexity of life in a reasonable way. We can’t be in our feels all the time. Am I a horrible person because I reacted badly to a note from a crush in grade four? Do I need to continue beating myself up because of a mean comment I made thirty years ago? Probably not. Would I be better served by leaving the wounds undisturbed so the tissues can heal? So I’ve been told.
Good mental health is one of the upsides of time and ageing. If we can let go of our imperfections, our mistakes, and our judgement, we can get to healing and grace. We don’t have to stay miserable. It doesn’t mean ignoring or minimizing the truth or the past. It means yesterday doesn’t get to share in my present or future beyond aspects of character development.
It’s a relief, viewing the past with grace-filled detachment. Or so I imagine: I’ll let you know when I get there.