Last week, I backed out of my garage wearing my black mask, heavy winter coat, and bright red mittens to grab some last-minute gifts for Christmas on this Covid-19 year. I celebrate without the religious fuss.
Inside the store, as I tried to social-distance while perusing the aisles full of holiday hoopla, I remembered past celebrations and what those entailed:
As a kid-lots and lots of gifts under the tree (my mother loved to buy stuff and wrap it); Sidra, empanadas, and late-night Argentine ham dinner with all the fixings; opening gifts after midnight on Christmas Eve. (One day of happiness for my toxic family.)
As an adult-visiting my ex’s large family in the small town he grew up in and visiting house after house of relatives (something I never got used to); red-velvet cakes everywhere; picture-taking. (Whatever.)
And this year-celebrating with only a few gifts under the tree with my young, adult daughter and current husband with lots of to-die-for vegan food.
Things change. They change a lot. And they change when we least expect it. Life is not stagnant, ever, and we are left with only memories, whether good or bad.
Memories make the holidays difficult for many people – memories of the great times or memories of dreadful experiences. It’s good to remember ALL OF IT; it’s okay to cry about it, too. It’s okay to shed tears for people who have left, those who have died, those whom you miss, those who have hurt you, or situations that have ended. Crying makes you human. All of this is part of life, isn’t it?
Three things stand out about memories:
Memories stick. Whatever makes you elated or puts you in despair will create an imprint in your mind, a memory. Whatever left an emotional scar will stick. The good news is once you remove the emotional component from the memory and heal, the memory’s interpretation changes.
You learn to accept the memory as a time of growth and not pain. You choose to give meaning to what you experienced. Gratitude for the experience develops. You fully accept your painful experience but are no longer harmed by it.
Memories fade. In time, memories that stuck will fade. Details are not as vivid, and you might forget the pain. They say time heals all wounds. I’m not sure that is entirely true, but if all else fails, you will eventually forget most of the pain you experienced.
Memories are it. Memories are ALL we have in the end. Think about it. What we remember and how we remember it is all we have. Every day, we create more memories. Make them count.
I am not an expert on the psychology of memory, but the moral of the story is to not allow your past to harm your present. If you’re stuck remembering the hurtful past, reframe your interpretation of what happened. Here is an example of how to do that:
When I was an impressionable ten-year-old, I had to wear an eye patch after having surgery to correct strabismus, eye misalignment, and amblyopia, lazy eye. For a long time when remembering those days, I would feel anxious and sad. Until that time, I was bullied, laughed at, and unpopular for the way I looked with a crossed eye. In time, I learned that by remembering the abuse, I was only harming myself. No one was laughing at me now.
Those were hurtful memories, but I chose to remember them differently on purpose.
I chose to remember how lucky I was that my parents could afford surgery to correct my eye and that the operation was successful. I chose to think about how great I felt after my eye muscles were corrected, and how the surgery helped my self-esteem. I chose to remember the eye patch as a major turning point in my life. I chose to remember my growth as a result of my experience.
Now, when I remember that part of my childhood, I see a sweet, scared little girl who chose courage, tenacity, and survived. I see the bullies as ignorant. I don’t imagine myself as a victim; I treasure those moments because I chose to remove the emotional pain involved and see the experience as a time of learning and growth.
What experience comes to mind that you can choose to re-interpret? What memories are contributing to some pain you are feeling during the holiday season? Can you reframe them?
Yes, easier said than done, I know. But life is not easy, is it? You can do it.
This year has been hell for most of us, but still… smile, be present, love whoever is in your life right now, give it all you’ve got, have the time of your life. MAKE NEW MEMORIES and REFRAME THE BAD ONES.
Happy 2021 to you and yours!