Are You in Search of Memory Lane OR Are You Looking for a Detour?

Are You in Search of Memory Lane OR Are You Looking for a Detour?

By Karen Harmon

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But also tear you apart.

– Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

WARNING; this blog contains some hard questions that may be beneficial to your health.

F.A.Q.: “I have read your books, and I marvel at your memory. How on earth can you remember so much from your childhood?”

Answer:I was taught storytelling from my father, but it was not until I started writing down my memories that my past became much clearer.  The more I wrote, the more I remembered.”

When thinking about your childhood, do the memories bring on warm fuzzy feelings and fond thoughts of days gone by? Is walking down memory lane a gentle stroll that invites you to meander peacefully? Do recollections of your mother’s embrace, swimming at the lake, or graduating high school make you smile and fill you with gratitude for a life well-lived?

OR

Do you experience an adrenaline rush of nameless panic, terror, and despair? Are your recollections foggy, few, and far between? Does your past appear like a hard shove into yesteryear, with doors slamming and windows that are dismal and murky? Do recollections of a hurtful word and an embarrassing moment engulf you with debilitating shame? Perhaps flashbacks of an angry parent, a harsh teacher, and toxic relationships cause you to block out parts of your life and establish a habit of avoidance when thinking of the past?

My thoughts and opinions on this subject are just that, my own. But since I have been working on myself (for what seems like forever), my views might interest you.

So, here goes…

The actions that others inflicted upon you were not your fault, and quite frankly, had nothing to do with you. An instruction manual was not attached to your bottom when you were born. Your parents were often flying by the seat of their pants, as their parents had done before them.

More times than not, an eclectic version of days gone by can be readily accessed by all of us, unless those memories are buried and locked away, too painful to access. Sometimes it is out of fear, or maybe you sum up the past as just a form of life lessons?  Perhaps you think I am not that person anymore. So can we please just move on?!

Remembering is not easy.

While perusing social media, it has come to my attention that Facebook pages, Instagram posts, Twitter accounts, and Subreddits showcase looking back as a significant pastime. I am sure you have seen them too, titles such as, Remember the 80s, The Psychedelic 70s, Bring Back the 60s, or Meanwhile, Back in the 50s…

All groups seem to profess the same thing—their era was the best and the most fun, with common phrases such as “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and various memes like “To all of you that still listen to 80s music, cheers”  or “Sometimes I wish I could just rewind to the old days and press pause… just for a little while.”

The whimsical collection of reminiscent anecdotes and humorous illustrations state each era’s childhood or teenage years were the easiest to get through, the grooviest, and simply the best time in their lives. Often these groups feel sorry for people from other eras and other groups. Or they gloat and boast in a comedic teasing and taunting sort of way.

My point remainsmany of us can find joy in reminiscing, whereas many find only pain.

Meanwhile

Medical journals that promote health and well-being, acclaimed by physicians, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, analysts, advisers, life coaches, and even some gurus, express that we often suffer extreme consequences by not addressing the root cause of our pain. For example, it has been proven that carrying around past hurts and trauma can lead to addiction, depression, and other health issues.

Consequently, problems at work, at home, and in our relationships will arise if we cannot access those bad feelings and skeletons in our closets.

When a harrowing experience is recorded as a memory, the emotional charge of that memory makes it so potent that our brain sometimes sends false signals, warning us that specific thoughts and reflections are detrimental. We just might perish if we stir things up. The agony may feel unbearable. As a result, we block it out, push it down, reach for a drink or a cookie, take a pill, or smoke something other than a cigarette, or perhaps both. Which in turn numbs the pain while still being socially acceptable. However, these stimulants do not take the pain away.   Rather, each in turn prevents us from remembering and sharing our past.

What if the same amount of acceptance was given to our fears and tears, as to our happiness and joy?

Stop crying, or I will give you something to cry about. Many of us were raised with this demand. Therefore, we learned early on to stifle our tears, to trap and lock down our pain, leaving it to eventually fester and implode.

We try to bury and forget the bad stuff, but for some reason, through the hands of time, the ticking of the clock, the turning page of each calendar year, the icky parts have a way of reappearing and surfacing in one way, shape or form. We become triggered by the world around us and specific acts of others—someone cutting us off while driving; the way a sales clerk looks or doesn’t look at us; a waiter who takes longer to bring our food; a crying child, a barking dog or a person sitting next to us chewing food loudly. And the list goes on. We may snap back at the individuals or share what a jerk they are or how this one incident ruined our entire day.

Perhaps there is a reason why we struggle with topics of current prominence in our society, because they do act as triggers. Why do people not get my point? we might think.

Is it simply the actions of others that set us off and annoy us, bringing our past hurts and early trauma to the surface? Maybe their patterns are clashing with our patterns?

Mental health oppression at its core is the suppression of emotions.

What if the same amount of acceptance was given to our fears and tears as to our joy and happiness? I am repeating this, as it is worth repeating.

The by-product of remembering is the feelings that arise. 

Through conjuring the memories of my past hurts, I have learned a lot about myself.  Unequivocally, my personality can be a tad quirky, sometimes eccentric, and some say, “witty, kind, and empathetic.” Relatable to some and comical to others. The road I have walked, my past experiences, and the path I chose or accidentally fell onto, consequently have (obviously) made me who I am.

I have grown to like myself, and hopefully, it shows. However, the process of remembering and working through the complex parts of my past was not initially all feelings of happiness, contentment, and joy.

The following thoughts are hard to admit…

It’s not over yet, the healing and growing part. But my fear has subsided immensely, and now I look forward to and anticipate the bumps along the way—or the potholes from my past. For those who know me, I have always avoided adversity and confrontation, at all costs. But, for the record, I am starting to welcome it—sort of…

The first time I went for counselling, I thought I would fix a struggling and broken marriage. What I ended up working on was the aftermath of the death of my father and my mother’s mood swings. That old “layers of the onion” routine.

Some of MY tricky bits

Growing up, our home was sparsely decorated. My mother did not sew or profess to be a Suzy-Homemaker type. I was not deliberately taught life lessons, but was rather told what to do, and never why. When I was four, my mom had me practice printing my name on the back of an envelope that contained the heating bill, as we were flying out the door to kindergarten. One time she smashed a whole stack of dirty dishes on the kitchen floor in a state of frustration. She often stated to anyone within earshot that I was horrible at math and not athletic. She wore floral print house dresses with wadded-up Kleenex in her pockets, while all my friend’s moms looked considerably different. Sometimes she even wore a wig that looked like a helmet with curly hair sprouting from it. My mom never hugged me or said I love you. I was the youngest of four.

At first, these memories hurt and made me feel sad, until I investigated further.

I wrote my story and took the plunge by walking down memory lane, no matter how dark it sometimes got. In doing so, my mother’s love became crystal clear.

Sometimes we discover good in the not-so-good.

The bad memories brought good ones. I saw my mother’s eyes shining with admiration every time I spoke. I felt my mom’s intolerance towards my teachers when many of them stated there was no use in Karen going to university. I had visions of a kitchen chair dappled in flour, with me standing on it next to my mother as my tiny arm stirred while she measured ingredients. She always left just enough on the wooden spoon, the beaters, or inside the mixing bowl for me to taste the cookie dough. She was always very frugal. On one occasion, we made baking powder biscuits and cornbread for my Grade four class because the teacher asked for volunteers. I beamed with pride when Mrs. Macleod complimented me on how perfect they were.

When my dad took my brothers fishing, my mother and I went to movie matinees over town. During these flashbacks, I was reminded that our car ride was filled with chatter between my mother and me. Her heartfelt stories entertained me and gave me a window into how it used to be in “the olden days.” Swimming lessons and skating lessons were a constant, and so was the memory of my mother sitting on a hard bench, nose in a book, rarely looking up to cheer me on. But she was there.  Sharing salty crinkle french fries from the concession stand after the lessons made everything worthwhile. I can still see my folks holding hands, going on fancy dates and vacations. They set an example of how a relationship could be. They rarely argued and always laughed at each other’s jokes. I gained a sense of humour from my parents.

My mother’s love was hugely evident once I could get past the ambiguity of sorrow. These fond memories (that accompanied the bad ones) appeared like magic. I discovered my mom was the best mom for me, and I would not trade her for the world. The good feelings are more robust now. I weeded out the bad ones and mowed them down.

Ultimately my recollections and writing about them have brought me tremendous healing, and therefore, peace.

All in all…

The past can feel like a scary, foreign country; they do things differently there, but it is worth the journey back. I know you will not regret it.

What about you?

Can you evaluate yourself and pinpoint a time from your past that was painful, upsetting, and even life-changing? Maybe it hurts way too much to think about. If that is so, may I just say, “Please try. You won’t be sorry. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you can bring yourself to venture in, I will encourage you on with a ‘Way to go!’”

Here is your Assignment

Share one hard memory with a close friend or a counsellor. NOTE: Being a good listener is essential when receiving someone else’s truth, blow-by-blow, and version of their story. I highly recommend you choose to share your difficult, scary memories with a person who does not interrupt you but rather JUST LISTENS. Better yet, before sharing, set the stage by asking the person if they have time and space to listen and then you will do the same for them. Explain before you do the exercise that advice and a solution to your past hurts are not required, but just to listen, please.  

Summing up, I say, “dust off the cobwebs, dig deep and expel the whole jarring ordeal to a trusted, tried and true friend or counsellor.”

The by-product of remembering is the feelings that arise.

We remember

We survive

We heal

We are

We

WE are all unique and wonderfully made and in this together.

R.I.P.

Mary Frances Lillian Bonner

1921 – 2007


23 Replies to “Are You in Search of Memory Lane OR Are You Looking for a Detour?”

  1. This is so well written Karen, as always! I love it and I really love how you honour your mom. Thank you for being so real and vulnerable and for sharing what you have learned on your journey so far.

  2. Thank-you for sharing how you remember your memories. For teaching us how to take memories from our past whether good or bad and make them into our very own healing journeys. Some memories of the past are ones we long for. Some we would rather forget. But as you have shown this is all part of who we are. And as we remember it brings peace and healing.
    Thank-you for being so open and honest and sharing your past with us.
    Love the picture of your Mom and you.

    1. Thank you, Lee-Ann! After I wrote and posted the blog, I wished that I had mentioned my sister. She is a perfect example of how remembering hurts and heals. At 72 years old, she had a few memories, but once she started telling me her story for the book, her recollection increased big time. Some were very painful, but she got through them. Even hearing her stories about the bullying and numerous other things she endured was hard for me. But it seemed as though after she opened the flood gates with a few tears, she had remarkable revelations about her life. Thank you so much for reading my blog. And your feedback is awesome, always so encouraging!

    1. Thank you Judy! I simply adore hearing the stories of your past. You have so much wisdom. Every time you open your mouth I know, I will benefit! Thank you for being you!

  3. You are one person who can make me think deeply into my past. You have given me the tools to dig into my life without rushing me to do so. I remember the box in my closet which contained my writings and you encouraged me to open it. I did. By doing this, it unleashed my past and pushed me into going through years of pain. Thank you Karen. More to come ❣

    1. Thank you so much, Anne! I forgot about that box in your closet. What a fabulous description of one’s memories, “the box in the closet.” You, my friend, have been so supportive of MY writing journey, and now it is my turn to give back to you with encouragement. I am thrilled to be on your cheer team, and I am so excited to one day read your story. No rush, of course. xo

  4. You are one person who can make me think deeply into my past. You have given me the tools to dig into my life without rushing me to do so. I remember the box in my closet which contained my writings and you encouraged me to open it. I did. By doing this, it unleashed my past and pushed me into going through years of pain. Thank you Karen. More to come ❣..

  5. This is wonderful. Thank you for reminding us that remembering the past can help heal wounds and create new, positive memories.

      1. I admire the courage, the passion and the honesty which has gone into all of your books, Karen. Keep writing, so many want to and so many don’t. As an aside I noticed that ALL of the comments posted here are by women. I, however, am a MAN so be assured that the books have a cross gender appeal as well.

        1. Thank you Peter! I am always honoured when another gender reads my blogs and books, so again, thank you! Coming from a fantastic author and blogger such as yourself, I appreciate your comments and encouragement.

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