As a high school freshman, I sat in the school counselor’s office, counting numbers backward. To test my aptitude, he told me a series of random numbers (36, 71, 42, and so on) and asked me to recite them backward. I got a perfect score every time. I didn’t understand why he was so impressed—my memory has always been strong.
A powerful recall runs in my family. My great-grandmother touched my curly hair and ruminated. When she lost her hair to diphtheria as a young girl, she felt devastated. But when it grew back curly, she felt joyful. I learned from her that visual cues and feelings are keys to retrieving memories.
However, my powerful memory can be a curse. My sister is two years younger than me, and has no memories of our parents being together. She says I have an advantage. But the painful memories of those early years outweigh the good memories. She doesn’t remember when our dad left, but I do. She doesn’t remember the arguments and difficult adjustments, but I do.
Those painful memories are ghosts that haunt, spectres that pop up unbidden, tying me to the past.
Two years ago I shared the first 75 pages of my unpublished memoir with my best friend. Those pages catalog my earliest memories, and I will share some of those with you on this blog in upcoming weeks. Her first response surprised me. She said, “What a heavy burden it must be to carry those around.” The memories do feel like burdens that weigh me down. They are my history, so I don’t want to erase them. But I have had to learn how to handle them so they don’t overwhelm me.
Simply writing my memories out has been therapeutic. Once I unlock them from their cages, they lose some of their power over me. As I write out a memory, I discover a new part of myself. So much sadness, but so much beauty too.
The memories have turned into blessings because they have brought me healing. They help me understand why I respond to situations now in ways that seem irrational. For example, I still struggle with fears of abandonment. Sometimes when I kiss my husband goodbye in the morning, a thought surfaces: Maybe I’ll never see him again. I know that thought is tied to fears that originated decades ago. I have to take those thoughts captive and tell myself, “This is now, that was then.” Simply being aware of those tendencies helps me grow, and the memories have been catalysts for healing.
Another way memories have become blessings is they make me a better mother. I do not want my children to go through the pain I went through, as far as it depends on me. My memories propel me toward good for my children, and they also help me become more compassionate toward those who have painful memories. My goal is to connect with others through this blog so we can find understanding and healing together.
How have your childhood memories shaped you? How can your memories be gateways to healing?