We have memories of everything that we have experienced in our life. They come and go in a random fashion in our mind. Sometimes they are pleasing and we enjoy the remembrance. Other times they bring us some pain. They are fleeting.
But when something is emotionally unresolved, we can consciously use our memories to keep the thing alive in our awareness, and it becomes clutter. We constantly reanimate the experience as a way of keeping it present in our hearts and minds. Maybe we deeply regret what happened and keeping it alive gives us the feeling that we can change what happened. Perhaps we miss an experience and want to keep reliving it rather than live our life as it is. Essentially there is unhappiness with what is and this forced remembrance is a way to try and graft the past onto now. It takes a toll on us by severely limiting our emotional availability in the moment. It instills a deep satisfaction with our life right now. It fills our life with frustration and dissatisfaction because we can never make things as we think they should be.
One of my recent clients was longing for a relationship that she had in the past. She had many mementos of a man who was no longer in her life. When she spoke of him, there was sorrow in her voice. At the same time I felt she was thirsting for connection. Even though they were no longer in contact, she tried to recreate the experience of connection that she once had with this man. I think this was hard on her because the fantasy recreation could never reproduce a feeling that once meant a lot to her.
She had some audiotapes of his voice. As she talked about them I could feel her heart tighten. I sensed this hurt her because as much as it reminded her of him, it was also evidence that he was not in her life. I asked her to play the tape. I felt it would help her see this in the light of the present. She resisted. She told me she hadn’t listened to the tapes in many years.
I told her about the sorrow that I saw in her physiology from keeping this alive and the toll it must be taking on her. I said that pretending to keep these memories as something that was real would keep away the experience of an actual person in her life. I said, “Would you like to continue living with this fantasy person, or would you like to experience your life with an actual person?”
She put the tape in the player and hit play and listened to his voice. As she listened, her chaotic emotions evaporated. I could feel her coming back into the present moment. The clutter tangle in her body had unraveled. She stopped the tape and took it out and tossed his tapes. She said the memory of her old relationship suddenly lost its appeal. She said it was more pleasing to think of actual person taking the place of a fantasy. She wanted to leave herself open for that.
I did the same thing for myself yesterday. I had some videotapes of a cable access I did many years ago. I loved writing and shooting the shows. But I hadn’t watched the tapes in a long while. I felt resistant to tossing the tapes. I remembered the part of me that used to want to create a funny TV show on a big scale. Hanging onto the tapes was keeping that experience alive for me. But it didn’t feel good. It didn’t fit my life and it hurt my heart. I’d rather leave myself open for the creativity I experience writing this blog, and my humor blog, and my songs, and whatever else comes along.
I tossed the tapes and felt a strong current of life replace the sadness. That’s the feeling I was looking for all along.