Wednesday, October 21, 2015
How to Transform Miserable Memories into Opportunities for Healing
By Micky Wolf
I’ve mentioned in previous postings that my childhood wasn’t exactly peaceful at times. Given my father struggled with alcohol addiction most of his adult life, our small family endured the roller coaster ride of emotions, chaos, and destruction that accompany such an existence.
Given his penchant for blaring the stereo when he was drunk, there was a day when I thought I’d never be able to enjoy music, especially classical and rhythm and blues, as an adult. In fact, there were occasions when I would hear a phrase or just a couple of notes of certain arrangements or singers and feel the awful twists of the gut that instantly recalled a particular incident associated with the violence of the past.
Events experienced leave imprints on our hearts, minds, and souls in the form of memories.
A pleasant, joyful recollection is one thing.
Those that are almost surely guaranteed to summon feelings and thoughts of misery or suffering, not so much.
Ponder what might be floating around in your memory bank at the moment. Hopefully, most of what resides in the corners of your recollection is pleasing to envision.
But what are we to do when the bits and pieces of the past—years ago, last month, or yesterday—manifest as prickly, painful reminders of the cruel or unloving actions of others? Or, in some cases, poke our psyche with the miserable consequences of our poor choices and actions?
It would be convenient if there was elixir we could swallow or a treatment we could consent to that is legal, safe, and ethical and would erase every nasty or unpleasant picture or image from our brains. Since that’s not a reality, let’s consider possible options.
…there’s a time and place for compassionate counseling, spiritual guidance, and lifestyle changes, all of which will likely go a long way toward ameliorating the debilitating effects of unresolved memories.
One of the most important issues to consider before you engage with any helping professional is how willing are you to do the work in order for these interventions to be truly effective? Your level of commitment is not an indication of your worth or value. There is no right or wrong when it comes involving others. Nonetheless, wanting something to change without taking action is a surefire way to keep the engine in neutral.
…there’s a time and place for doing the work. What does that mean? For most of us, that means putting our shoulder to the plow, our hand to the wheel—or in the case of the miserable memories—trusting the Divine to help us bring our thoughts, feelings and emotions, the set and substance of those memories, into the light.
Taking the following two actions has been integral in helping me make peace with the past:
#1) When the thoughts and emotions tickle your awareness, feel the depth of the misery as recorded in the memory, and then let it pass through your being until its energy had expended. Any power they may have had is released—neutralized—not unlike what occurs when a dam is opened.
#2) Be open to seeing the good in what seems otherwise dark and miserable. When I realized my father’s hurtful behaviors, fueled by alcohol and the blasting stereo, occurred only when he was drunk, I also realized those actions and behaviors were his, not mine. In the process, I could begin to enjoy certain music in a fresh, new way. The truth is, were it not for him, I’m not sure I’d have such a deep appreciation for the classics.
The great theologians, philosophers, and spiritual guides, past and present, remind us of the blessings that abound when we summon the courage in our human spirit and lean on the steadfastness of our Creator God to accompany us through the process of exposing our painful wound-memories.
Unfortunately, our tendency is to believe that by confronting the unpleasant past face-to-face, we will experience more, and deeper pain. That may be true. However, there’s a greater Truth—this kind of suffering will not last. How do we know? Look at a scar on your body. The faint outline of the injury or surgery is a reminder of what happened but the wound itself has since lost its power to cause suffering.
God’s love, mercy, and grace is our best hope for a joy and peace-filled life. But that will mean humbling ourselves—owning our woundedness and brokenness—before the One who can transform our misery into something truly memorable.
Are you willing?