We put in so much effort to remember happy occasions (e.g. birthdays, wedding anniversaries). We mark these dates in our calendars, save reminders on our phones, take pictures, post them on social media and even make the occasional “throw-back” reference. Despite these efforts, it’s inevitable that one day, we might not remember these moments as vividly or as spontaneously as we have before. Naturally, we get occupied with living life, hustling through daily tasks, creating new goals and making newer happier memories.
So why is it difficult to forget the not-so-great moments? No one makes the effort to remember the bad times. If it was up to me, I would never have to relive those memories again. As Brene Brown wrote about numbing emotions “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” I suppose memories work the same way. Our brain is not wired to select between favourable and unfavourable memories. However, not all memories are created the same, the memories that our brain tends to store are the memories that have the strongest emotion associated with it. Emotional events are more accessible than non-emotional events. It is a form of human survival through self-protection.
Today marks one year of my break up. Loss anniversaries can be difficult as we may have flashbacks and re-experience several uncomfortable emotions. Remembering is also our brain’s way of processing a traumatic event. Emotion processing is a normal and unavoidable part of grief (i.e. loss of safety, familiarity, trust, friendship, etc.). Days leading up to today has been an emotional roller-coaster ride because flashbacks are NOT fun.
To anyone who may be re-experiencing unwanted emotions, through flashbacks and triggers of places and events, here are some things I’ve learned in taking care of myself:
- Be kind to yourself by focusing on your progress. Despite the discomfort and setbacks, I am doing much better than I was a year ago today.
- Be kind to yourself by NOT comparing progress. Loss affects everyone differently, so do not ever compare. Comparisons are not only a thief of joy, but it is also an unfair way of validating yourself. We cannot truly know what someone is going through by looking at photos or through their social media updates. We tend to only broadcast positive moments. You won’t be able to truly know the feelings someone is experiencing without talking to them.
- Be KIND to yourself. Surround yourself with support, do what your heart desires, find comfort in things that ground you. Give yourself permission to “ask for help”, consider seeing a psychologist that specializes in addressing issues on trauma or grief.
- Practice gratitude. Honour and be thankful towards those who have loved and supported you on your journey. Be grateful to being alive and to having new opportunities to live your best life.
- Stay present. Focus on what is in front of you. The time and situation are no longer the same. The worse is already over.