As much as we want to leave the past behind us, it comes up for re-examination every once in a while. Memories resurface during the holidays, people say things that resurrect an old hurt, or in my case, we go digging in the past as we write.
This week, I am remembering and writing about the most horrific time in my life. I am writing from the point of view of an innocent eleven-year-old girl facing confusion, pain, and betrayal by the very people who I expected would protect me.
The emotions that memories bring up are real, and our body’s response is real too, but they both stem from thoughts—dancing with ghosts that are not here in the present moment. Whether you lean more towards the scientific realm of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or The Work by Byron Katie, we have been taught to question our thoughts and turn them around to thoughts that serve us better. As scary as it can be for me to dive into the deep dark past, I also know that I can change what is on the screen of my mind at any second.
My advice if you are writing about the past, or have it resurrected for you… face it and embrace it. Most of us respond to unpleasant emotions by trying to avoid them. Wine, screens, and the plethora of life’s other distractions. I have found that avoiding the ghosts just invites them back when we least expect it. It also atrophies our resilience muscles. The more we face the unpleasant feelings head on, and let the wave eventually subside, the more we learn to tolerate them.
Of course, I dealt with the most horrific parts of my past in therapy and I am not suggesting you white-knuckle your way through life’s most difficult moments. As I am writing about my past, the emotions come back, but they are fuzzy and duller than they had been at the time. I am taking my time writing about it, taking many breaks, and practicing being in the present moment when I’m not exploring the past.
Luckily, I don’t dance with my ghosts everyday or for very long, but they are important characters in the story of who I was and who I am becoming. Writing about my life gives me a chance to practice self-care and exercise my resilience. If you have some ghosts come out to play over the holidays, or while you are writing, know that they’re only thoughts, and you can change your thoughts at any time. Take care of yourself and distract responsibly.
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