I’ve been working on a coming of age memoir and I’ve had to dig deep into my past to dredge up memories more than a decade old.
Memories of my past bring up memories so sweet, I can taste my joy, or memories so dark, I risk being swallowed. In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to explore a lot of sweet memories and I find myself longing to return.
I have a history of trying to go back. When I was in the Navy, stationed in Florida, I would fly back to Oregon and Alaska, trying to recapture what I had years ago. Sometimes now I reconnect with old friends, trying to summon old relationships to the present. But it never works. Instead, it leaves me with new memories of disappointment, because nothing is ever the same.
While you’re gone, the world keeps turning. You are a new person. Old friends are new people. We constantly grow and evolve. The pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together anymore.
The disappointment happens trying to reconcile what was, with what is.
While we can’t go back in the past, we can learn from it. The thing I love about memoir is that I am looking at my past with a critical eye. I’m looking for the story that connects those polaroid moments of my life.
With my happy memories, the first thing that comes to mind is the feeling I have in my chest of being weightless, as if I could float out of my skin with joy. So in picking apart my memory, I look around for the reasons for that joy. Was it a person? A place? An experience? If it was a person, and they are no longer in my life, what about that person made me feel joy? Was it their humor, or their passion? Can I find people in my life now with those same personality traits? If it is a place that no longer looks the same, what about that place did I enjoy? Was it the delicious ice cream? Or the soft sand? Was it the place at all or the feeling of exploring somewhere new?
Often when we try to go back, we end up disappointed because people and places don’t spark the same emotions as they did in our memories. When we expect things, we are hoping for a certain version of reality; so when reality is different, we find ourselves disappointed. Instead of trying to go back to our past – to a time we can only recreate in our minds, we can try to recreate those emotions in our current lives.
By being able to recreate joy, we no longer need the past to feel it. We can create new memories of joy in the present.
Likewise, if we are struggling to get over dark memories, we can think about what emotions are associated with our pain. Do we have shame? Regret? Grief?
We cannot change the mistakes of the past, but we can analyze them. Why did we hurt that person? How could we have changed our behavior? We need to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes, learning valuable lessons to get better. If we were wronged by someone in the past, we can learn the characteristics they had that made them toxic. We can identify the red flags so we don’t make those mistakes again. We can look at how those painful experiences made us stronger and wiser, putting them into a positive light.
Our present is like a camera reel, constantly rolling. We are living it. Trying to recreate the past means missing the opportunity to create new memories in the present. How can we fill our present with the joy we miss? How can we eradicate toxicity or avoid shame and regret in the here and now? Our past is a lesson on creating a better present, and a better future.
Comment below! What is a sweet/dark memory you have of your past, and how can you use it to make a better present?