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Coping with your Memories
It Only Hurts When I Remember
One of my favorite movies is "The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind". It stars Jim Carrey (in a rarely understated performance) and Kate Winslet and is about a couple coming to grips with no longer being a couple.
Set in the present day, but with the premise of a technolog that will erase memory permanently, it is a provocative study about the nature of memory and how we can become trapped in memories, both good and bad.
The story has the female lead availing herself of this new technology to erase the memories of her failed relationship. When the male lead sees her following the procedure, she has no memory of him. This leads him to also decide to erase her from his memory as well.
The movie follows the story of these two people having erased each other from their memories, but finding themselves thrown together again and eventually learning of their mutual choice to extract each other from their lives.
It's a concept that is ripe for discussion! Imagine if there were such a technology available! It sounds so appealing to be able to pay a fee, spend a few hours sleeping and awaken without the memory of this person, or time in your life that now causes you pain and angst. No longer do you feel the need to cry about this failed relationship, for you have no memory of it. You can keep living your life and never have to think about lost love, jobs that didn't work out, pets that passed away. Nope, all you have to do is live in the moment without any negative thoughts of the past!
Sounds appealing, right? Ah, but what if we look a bit closer at what else we might be giving up along with our sad or negative memories.
When Good Memories get Attached to bad Memories
Very little in life is black and white, but more often shades of gray. In that vein, memory is much the same. In the midst of a memory of a failed love affair are also all the happy memories of the love affair when it was happy. One cannot selectively remember; it's just not how our brains work. We are not like computers that isolate a fact, save and store it. We are complex human beings living with all five of our senses, and memories are captured within all of those senses. We simply cannot remember only one side of a memory, but will have multiple emotions and thoughts surrounding it.
In the movie the waiting room of the place where people go to have their memories erased is filled with people that are suffering. Many people are openly crying and carrying with them boxes of memento's associated with the person or situation that they wish to erase. They have exhausted themselves grieving over the lost love and are eager to awake from this procedure blissfully unaware of the ache they feel for this loss.
But, they probably haven't considered all the positive memories that they are giving up along with the sad ones. Or, perhaps their misery is so acute as to be willing to throw away the good with the bad. The nature of sadness and grief is such that one doesn't always look into the future very far, but is more concerned with survival in the moment. When one is not able to sleep or eat and feel like they are floundering, to rid themselves of the offending memories probably feels like a pretty great idea! And, I admit I found myself contemplating this as of course there are a few very sad memories that I would like to be free of.
But, I have thought this through and decided that even if it were possible to erase my memories I would not do it. I think the cost of giving up those good memories is just too high a price for me to pay.
Cherish those Memories
I was thinking about my late husband recently and realized that although he's been gone for more than thirteen years, I still miss him very much. And, as I prepared to write this article I was thinking about the nature of memory and how it is so interwoven with other memories over time.
For instance, if there were truly a way to erase memories and I had taken advantage of that, I would no longer have a moment in the day that I thought about him or recalled times we spent together happily. Oh, it would be nice to think that I wouldn't feel that ache of missing someone who I loved with my whole heart and who left my life far too soon! It would be lovely to never have to remember how he suffered from his illness, or the memories of his funeral or the struggles of learning to live without him those first weeks and months.
But, think about all the hopeful, loving, funny and happy memories that I would no longer have! I would never remember our first date, or our first kiss, or the time he made me laugh so hard I got the hiccups! I would never think about how it felt to be so loved, or remember all of the trips we took, love we made, laughs we shared and fabulous meals we ate together!
I don't know about you, but I am not willing to give up all those good memories to lose the sad ones. Of course, I am not hurting now after all of these years the way I did in that first month. If somebody had offered me this option of erasing memories in those early days following my husbands death, perhaps I'd have been willing to do it? I guess it's a moot point, since such technology does not exist. But, it does make me think about the nature of acute grief and sadness and that while we are suffering we likely aren't capable of making the best choices for ourselves.
We can get so uncomfortable in our pain as to want it gone at all costs! We can be our own worst enemy at times like these because we are only looking to free ourselves from the pain, and not the big picture. I think that the pain is part of life; part of life that we must accept and learn to integrate. We simply aren't meant to live a life free of pain or strife or loss. We are fully dimensional beings and as we go through life, it is inevitable that we will experience pain. Oh, there are people who will refuse to love another person because they are so determined to never bear the loss of love. But, to love and to live is to accept that pain inevitably will find you.
I believe that what's needed is not to erase the memories of sadness but to learn to incorporate them into the happy memories so that we can feel the full spectrum of emotion and memory.
Balancing the Good with the bad
I think it's helpful to see your memories as a treasured gift! As human beings we are blessed to have the capacity to remember details of our lives. It is an absolute gift to be able to look back and have all these memories of time and people that have touched our lives. We are better informed each day by our ability to remember and make choices based on those memories.
When sad, painful or negative memories become overwhelming it's time to cope with them, not erase them! I think it can be helpful to journal about painful memories. Write about the memory and how it negatively impacted you and then, write about how you are doing today. It can be very helpful and powerful to note that you have kept moving and have come a long way from the time of the negative or sad memory. You can remind yourself that in spite of the pain you have had over the situation that you are not stuck or enmeshed in it, but you can lovingly release it.
Try to take that negative memory and recall something positive that happened around it. For instance, when thoughts came up for me about my late husband that were heartbreakingly sad, I would cry as I feel it's best to express the emotion when you feel it. But, as time went on, I got better at incorporating a happy memory with the sad one. Maybe I'd be thinking about his illness and how sad it was to see him get sicker and waste away; but at the same time I can remember how we were more intimate and closer to each other than ever before in our marriage. Remembering that love and closeness then leads me to remember all the joy and laughter that we shared together. It doesn't exactly take away from the sadness that the original memory brought up, but it adds another dimension of memory and the full memory is a good one.
For me, memory is a blessing! Maybe there are some tough ones to deal with, but the good ones are tied up along with them. There is simply no way to lose the bad memories and retain the good ones. So, I'll just keep those memories and cherish them. I'll cry when the sad memories come up, and I may laugh at some others. And I will consider myself fortunate to have the ability to remember so many wonderful things!