Memories

Today I thought I’d give myself a little break from coming up with a topic to write about. Instead I’d like to write about a few memories that make me happy. I’m hoping that by doing this it will put me in a good mood and help me enjoy the rest of my nice, rainy day off. So here are five memories of mine that bring me joy.

One: The drunken sleep overs I used to have with my two best friends in high school.

Despite all of the problematic things I went through, high school was still one of the best times in my life. I was very lucky to have a very close knit group of wonderful people around me. It was especially nice to spend the night with my two best friends, let’s call them Bailey and Ally. Young and full of teenage angst, nothing was more gratifying than sneaking around after our parents went to sleep and getting into their liquor cabinets. Drinking was never more fun than when it was forbidden. I still remember one night in particular that Ally, Bailey, and I even snuck a couple boys into my house. We had so much fun and they brought us some weed to smoke too. I distinctly remember having my first cigarette that night. We were standing out in the warm night air, there was a hardly perceptible drizzle of rain coming down. In that moment with my best friends in the world, I felt completely and utterly content.

Two: Making forts at my mom’s office.

When I was a preteen, I used to spend a few days every week in summer at my mom’s office. She worked for a local college and they had a summer program for kids around my age so that employees and students didn’t have to pay someone to watch their kids after school let out for the year. Even though I was still a very awkward little weirdo, I managed to find myself a group of friends there. The other girls in my group were a few years older than me, but that made me feel cool to be included. One of our favorite things to do (especially if it was stormy out) was to move together a bunch of tables and cover them with blankets. Then we would go inside and hangout in our nice little fortress. I can still recall that feeling of togetherness and comfort that it always gave me. Although I don’t think about that place often, it still holds a lot of precious memories for me.

Three: Walking to the park in my hometown.

Many times throughout my childhood and adolescence I walked from my house to a little park in town. We lived on a back road on the outskirts of a small town, so it was quite a substantial walk there and back. I used to walk there with my sister and grandma. We’d often get some Reese’s pieces or a can of pop from the little corner store. As I got older I would walk there with my friends when they would come over. In middle school I would often walk there alone to meet a boy in town that I dated. I still remember getting butterflies when he would call me and ask if I wanted to go to the park. That’s even were I got my first kiss all those years ago. I honestly haven’t thought about that in years, but it brings me just as much joy as it did back then.

Four: Talking with my friends on the phone and AIM for hours on end.

When I was a kid, talking to your friends was a much bigger deal than it seems to be now. We didn’t have phones glued to our hands to text people sporadically throughout the day. We set aside time specifically for talking either on our landline phones, or on Aol Instant Messenger (AIM). I actually still really miss AIM. It was better than texting because, for one, you could type on an actual keyboard so you could have more in depth conversations. You also knew that if someone was active on there that they wanted to talk to people. I hate the way texting doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end and you never know if someone is busy or just ignoring you. Even though the advances we’ve made in technology are supposed to bring us closer together, I felt much closer to my friends before smartphones existed. I used to call one or more of my friends on the phone every day. We would talk for hours about everything and nothing. A few times my friend Ally and I would even be on the line in complete silence, just watching a movie together on TV, then discussing it during the commercials. I long to go back to those simpler days.

Five: That Christmas in College were we all bought each other toys.

I used to have a really awesome group of friends that I hung out with my second or third year of college. Sadly since then we have all drifted apart. A lot of the memories from that time have been blurred or obliterated by copious amounts of alcohol. There is one that stands out in my mind though. One year for Christmas we decided to buy each other kid’s toys instead of normal gifts. We had all been missing our childhoods and thought it’d be fun to have a kid Christmas one last time. We all went to Ally’s parents house to spend the night. We drank a lot, opened our gifts, and played together with our new toys as if we were kids again. It was so silly and stupid and special. I am really grateful for that experience. It warms my heart.

So there you have it, five random memories from my life that make me smile. It definitely did feel good to write about all of those things. I have truly had a wonderful life. There are so many of these kinds of memories that we forget we have until we go searching for them. I’ll definitely make more posts of this type in the future to see what other gems I am able to unearth. What are some memories that make you happy?

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Shame

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Shame is a powerful emotion. It grips us, stays with us. While other memories fade, shame seems to linger, just as poignant as it felt in the moment, for years afterwards. I can still remember some of the very first moments in my life that made me feel ashamed. The first was in daycare. I must have been only three or four years old. We were going around the group, introducing ourselves maybe, all I can remember is that after our turn, we got to pick a toy from this massive pile in the center of the circle we were seated in. Immediately I fell in love with this florescent yellow/green duck stuffed animal. The rest of the world seemed to fall away as I focused on how I had to have it. I began to feel panicked that another child would choose it before I could. Who wouldn’t choose that magnificent duck?! This panic led me to speak out of turn. In desperation I tried to take my turn early so I could secure the duck, but was gently chastised and told I had to wait. That is my first memory of shame. A shame so sour that even though I did end up getting that duck (still have it today at my mom’s house) the moment was ruined anyway.

I also have another very early memory of shame. It was my first day of kindergarten or one of the first. My family and I were seated around the table having dinner. I was telling everyone how my day went at school. There was a boy I knew because our fathers were friends, and I had always had a crush on him. At one point during dinner I proudly announced that I had told this boy that I loved him. To this day I can feel that sickening silence that followed. My mom, dad, and sister all stopped and stared at me dumbstruck. I immediately recognized that I had done something wrong. I don’t even remember how that incident ended, nor if it was ever brought up again. I just remember that bitter piercing shame.

I’ve read before that shame has a profound effect on us. I don’t need to be shown much evidence to believe that it’s true. We can all feel the power of shame in our own lives. Sometimes I wonder how those early memories of shame have bled out into the rest of my life, how they changed me. Generally shame is a social emotion. It is a cue that what we’ve done is not socially acceptable and that it could put our place in the group/society at risk. This is why it strikes us so intensely. It is a defense against behaviors that could get us ostracized. Although like most remnants of our evolutionary history, in the modern day sometimes it can be a hindrance instead of a help.

I’m actually not sure if anyone else experiences this, but I feel shame about things even when I’m all alone. And not about anything that would make sense to feel shame about. There are moments when shame grips me deep down, in my core. I feel ashamed to exist, to be who I am. For example, sometimes I’ll be having fun dancing and singing in the shower only to be suddenly overcome with shame. It’s hard to explain why. I guess I’m ashamed of feeling good about myself, of what other people would think if they knew how I had just been feeling and acting. It doesn’t really make sense even to me. But because of these feelings up until recently I would hardly ever allow myself to dance, even all alone.

It makes self-love and self-acceptance very tricky for me. Because my shame primarily seems to come from moments of feeling proud or liking myself. It usually follows intense happiness or joy about something I’ve done or am doing. Like this blog for instance. I love writing on here everyday. It makes me happy and I’m not doing it for anyone but me. But there are still moments when I feel ashamed of the things I’ve written. I think to myself: how dare you think anyone cares what you have to say, it’s so embarrassing that you prop up this false image of yourself online. I think similar things about anything I create. I’ll be so happy with it and desperately want to share it with others, but when I do I feel ashamed. I’m ashamed for thinking anyone else would care, for wanting to “show off.” I never fully believe any compliments I get. There is always some small part of me that wonders if they are just being nice.

All of this shame I harbor inside of me is just another example of how I tend to take life too seriously. Shame only works if you care about what people think of you, if you have an image of yourself you are trying to protect. When I imagine the times when I’ve seen someone else do something embarrassing or shameful, I don’t care much. At most I just feel pained because I am empathically sharing their embarrassment. I want to start facing my shame, to get acquainted with it, to know what makes it tick. And eventually to make peace with it. Shame is a product of the ego. I hope to someday let them both go.

Loving & Letting Go

What is grief, but love persevering.

Unknown

I’m still working my way through Les Miserables. As I near the end, I feel confident in saying it has become my new favorite book. I am going to be very sad once I’ve finished it. There are so many beautifully worded commentaries on the human condition. Things we all know well, but put in a way that reminds us of the mystery and beauty of being alive in this world. The last thing I read that really struck me was about love.

I believe it was called the great paradox of human existence or something to that effect. It has the potential to save, to transcend, while equally having the power to destroy and condemn. What a cruel world where we must have the very thing that may ruin us. There are so many contradictions in this life. Our challenge seems to be to let our love be stronger than our fear. A difficult task.

I am constantly being confronted with things that confound my black and white thinking mind. How am I to devote myself whole heartedly to a love that I can’t be sure of? How am I to hold onto this love inside while also letting go of the pain? It seems like I used to feel everything all at once, so sharply, and now I feel nothing at all most days. Neither is ideal. But I don’t know how to negotiate a happy middle ground.

I read something the other day about it being possible to still love someone, but to also let them go. For me this feels impossible. Which is what leaves me in a difficult position. I desperately want to keep my happy memories and the love I have in my heart. But I also want to be able to let go and move on. How do I do both? If I focus on letting go, my heart closes. I feel hatred and betrayal and disgust. If I try to push these feelings aside and recall more tender emotions on the subject, it once again becomes too painful to let go. I feel myself clinging desperately onto some chance of reconciliation.

It’s always been much easier for me to forget someone if I have a reason to hate them. However, this hatred tends to also taint all of the nice memories I’ve made with them. Is it really possible to have both? To cherish the memories while also accepting there will be no more? Maybe it is something that I’ll be able to master someday with more practice. Maybe it just gets easier with time.

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Memory

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Memory has always been something that fascinates me, like dreams. Another mysterious inner activity of the mind that we struggle to fully understand. Both my memory and my dreams are private worlds that only I may enter. It’s an interesting thought. Reality can be confirmed by those around us experiencing the same things. How are we to know if our solitary memories and dreams are “real?” Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. They are real to us. Therefore they influence the way we see and interact with the world.

Lately I’ve been asking people about their earliest memories. I’ve done this a few times in the past as well. Even though I always seem to get similar responses, I never cease to be shocked and frustrated. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever asked has told me about a memory from before they were in school. Even kindergarten memories seem to be rare for people. This is just so hard for me to believe. Do most people really not have any memories from early childhood, before school? Before 5 years of age? That just can’t be true. I can’t imagine going through life like that.

The excuse is usually, “Well, I have a really poor memory.” But so do I! My friends will tell me stories from our adventures together in college and I’ll have only the foggiest recollection of the whole scenario. There are handfuls of people I’ve met and even slept with that I don’t remember at all. Sometimes it feels like my memory is a jar of sand with a crack near the top. All of my early memories seem to be safe at the bottom of that jar, but memories from recent years slip through the crack and are lost forever. I used to have a nearly photographic memory. However years of drug and alcohol use have all but destroyed it. But I just thought a deteriorating memory would encompass every memory, not just more recent ones. Perhaps my brain is able to hold onto the memories it keeps, but is just hit or miss when it comes to forming new memories.

Either way, the fact remains that even will this poor memory of mine, I am able to remember countless things from a very young age. I have tons of memories from before I went to school. I have memories of my grandmother watching my sister and I and the fun we would all have together while my mother was at work. I can remember going to preschool when I was 3 and 4. I remember the friends I made. Even snippets of conversations, the toys we would play with, the ones we weren’t allowed to and how frustrated I was by that. (There were finger paints and giant blocks that we were forbidden from using to my confusion and dismay.) I can remember a lot about kindergarten too, not just one or two memories.

It is honestly scary to me that no one else has these kinds of memories. It makes me afraid that I will someday lose them. It makes me want to start writing it all down for myself. It also makes me doubt myself. Do I remember these things? Maybe these are false memories. Maybe none of those things really happened or happened differently than I remember. Maybe I am just remembering the times throughout my life when I have recounted these memories to others.

What I used to consider my earliest memory is now suspect. I was only 1 or 2 years old. I was in my crib, throwing a tantrum, throwing binkies out onto the floor. I wanted my original binkie. Like the first one I ever had, if that gives you an idea of just HOW young I was. But it had gotten old and used up so my mother threw it away. (This I only discovered from telling this memory to my mom when I was younger.) Even at the time she was shocked I could remember that. And at the time I truly did. But now it feels more like I am remembering the story, not the actual experience. There are some of my very very early memories that feel this way now, but with others there is still that feeling of being transported back in time in my own head, that bodily sensation of being there again.

Part of me doesn’t fully believe people when they tell me their first memory is from when they were 9 years old or something. It just seems absurd to me. I question if it’s just that they don’t want to tell me their earliest memories. Perhaps that’s too personal for me to be asking. Or maybe they could think of earlier ones if they really concentrated and put more effort into it. I just cannot accept that I am rare in remembering things from when I was 3 or 4. Or that I could possibly be mistaken in thinking I can. That’s what actually unnerves me the most. Because those memories mean a lot to me.

I want to hold onto as many memories as I can from those early years. Those years of simple bliss, of being so lovingly cared for, marveling at the whole world, learning, exploring, loving everyone and everything with the innocence of a child. Maybe I will write as much as I can remember down and see if I can at least confirm it with my mom, grandma, or sister. That might give me some peace of mind on the matter. For now, I am going to keep asking people in the hopes that I can find more people that share these memories of early life. Please help me out by leaving a comment letting me know when your earliest memory is from. And if you’re comfortable doing so, let me know what the memory is about as well. I would love to hear from more people.

Visualization

I have recently become very interested in visualization. I’ve heard about the benefits of using it in meditation mainly. I’d like to start learning more about it. Even just daydreaming is apparently beneficial. I used to daydream a lot when I was younger. I don’t know when I stopped doing that. Maybe it was once I had been let down one too many times as a teenager. I began fearing my daydreams, thinking I was just getting my hopes up, setting myself up for disappointment. But now I think I did myself a disservice in viewing it that way.

Even though I now see that daydreaming is perfectly healthy and can be a positive, mindful practice, I still have lingering negative feelings attached to it. When I think about daydreaming, I am thinking about imagining things that haven’t actually happened or things that might happen in the future. Visualization can include daydreams, but it is distinct in the sense that you can also visualize places you’ve been, people you know, even things you have felt. For instance, yesterday during my short meditation, I was unable to settle my mind enough to focus on my breath. Instead I decided to picture myself seated on my favorite giant rock along the river. I went through every detail of what it felt like when I was there in the past and put myself back in that mental space. Allow me to take you there with me for just a moment.

It is summer. The smooth surface of the heavy stone beneath you is cool despite the warm air all around. You breathe in. The air is thick and soft. You breath out. You feel a gentle breeze pass over you. You hear it rustling the lush green leaves that surround you in this private place. Mixing with bird songs in the distance and the crisp collision of the waves against the bank, it creates a symphony that sends shivers down your spine. The earth is breathing too. It has its own soothing rhythm. Even with your eyes gently closed, you know it is very bright out. The sunlight creates a reddish hue on the backs of your eyelids instead of the blackness that usually resides there. You can feel the prickling heat of the rays against your skin, your shoulders, your cheeks, your open palms.

Wasn’t that pleasant to read? Did you feel the sun? Did you hear the rustling leaves, the waves? Isn’t it amazing how vividly our minds can reproduce these things for us wherever you are? I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I visualized this beautiful summer day that I nearly wept. I don’t have much experience with visualizations like this. Apparently they can get even better and more detailed with regular practice. I enjoyed that meditation so much that I even went through a catalogue of moments like that in my memory as I fell asleep last night. One that I was particularly struck by was the memory of a day last summer.

I try to practice my yoga outside whenever I can. It would probably even be nice to do in the snow, but I can never get myself to overcome my hatred of the cold to try. I have a big backyard and usually have my cat and dog outside with me as I do my daily practice in the shade of a big tree near the rusty orange creek that runs along the road behind my house. If it’s rainy I will sometimes still do my practice outdoors, just under my small covered porch. It’s just big enough for my yoga mat, and it’s a little slanted towards one side, but I like to think it’s a nice challenge for my balance. Last night the memory of one of those days practicing on my porch as the warm rain fell hard just a few feet away took my breath away. What a beautiful moment! A moment that was just for me. A moment that I can return to whenever I want. I let the sound of that far off rain soothe me to sleep.

It made me wonder how many other sweet simple moments I have stored somewhere inside my head. I had never really thought to look for them before. I am excited to start searching. I also want to start actively collecting these moments. When I discover myself in one of them, I want to practice using mindfulness to store as many of the small details as I can so that I will be able to reproduce it for myself later on. This life is so strange, isn’t it? I’ve inhabited this mind for over 27 years now and I am still discovering new ways to use and enjoy it. Do you practice visualization? What kinds of things do you like to visualize?

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Valentine’s Day

I have had a strange history with Valentine’s Day. For most of my life I was indifferent to it. I did enjoy creating those boxes in class and receiving cards and cookies. Thankfully when I was young, everyone was required to make a card for everyone else. I’m still horrified at the idea that there was a time when unpopular little kids were left empty handed with only the feeling of utter rejection and isolation on this “day of love.”

As I got older, I grew to detest it. I still don’t know if it was just the corniness and commercialism or if it was an attempt to distance myself from the fact that I never had anyone to share my love with. Whatever the reason that began this feeling though, it continued even into the years when I did have a boyfriend. I remember the first year we were together and he bought me a giant bouquet of flowers and had it sent to my classroom. I was humiliated. Red from ear to ear. I had to carry that embarrassing thing around with me the rest of the day. Of course, as far as he ever knew, I loved it.

By our next Valentine’s Day he knew me much better. Instead of a showy display, he got me a box of gourmet vegan chocolates, paid his mother to leave so we’d have the house to ourselves for the night, and presented me with five hits of acid and some ketamine. (I had recently gotten my wisdom teeth removed and raved about how much I enjoyed the laughing gas. He said ketamine was the closest street drug he could find as far as effects go.) To this day, I count that Valentine’s Day among one of the best days of my life.

It is hard to believe that was six or seven years ago now. So much has changed and yet, nothing has. In the years since then, I’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day as my cat’s birthday. (The acid that night inspired me to adopt her. I even named her Lucy.) And I guess that’s just one of the tricky parts about life. The good and the bad are so many thread inextricably woven into the same cloth. To trace along one, you inevitably stumble across the other as well. These precious memories of mine are, for the most part, too painful to recall. What a cruel joke of memory that the past can be soured by the present.

Maybe it is just an art I need to practice more, accepting and honoring those twinges of pain that impinge upon my happy nostalgia. There is beauty and growth that blooms from pain. When you look at a flower garden, you don’t often focus on the filth and rot and decay that has fertilized the soil. The longer I live, the more I come to understand that life is all about focus. It is a blessing to realize this and the fact that attention is a muscle that I can train with practice.

As for today, I will wrap myself in gratitude. Things are not perfect. They have not gone exactly as I would have liked. But so much unexpected beauty and love has come to me regardless. Lucy has truly brought me all the love and joy that a first child should. We know one another, love one another, and have grown with one another. She has been by my side through some of the darkest times in my life. She has been my strength and my purpose when I had nothing else to get me out of bed in the morning.

Today I choose to focus on that marvelous, miraculous bond we share. Today is a day of love. I have all of the love I could ever want or need from Lucy and her sister Sybil. We are a family that transcends species and language through unconditional love. And that is truly something to celebrate.

Trading Pain for Pleasure

How much pain are you willing to put up with to keep someone close to you? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time now. Some days I feel like I would sacrifice anything just to have that special connection. Other days I wonder if it’s really worth it, if I’m just addicted to reopening old wounds in a desperate attempt to feel something again. I can never decide what would truly be best for me. Should I try to protect myself and try to give up these feelings? Or should I follow what I feel no matter how painful the outcome? Can I really trust these feelings? Or am I deluding myself?

I always feel like there are two sides of me constantly arguing with each other. My brain, my logical self says, “Move on! You are being stupid. This is pathetic. You are romanticizing the past. There is nothing but suffering to be had by clinging to a memory.” But my heart, my emotional self says, “Nothing else makes me feel like this. Nothing else makes me feel anything. That has to mean something. I don’t know what, but I can’t ignore this pull. Everything else seems grey by comparison.” My brain interrupts in protest as I try to express this ineffable feeling, “You are a literal crazy person. You are one of those creepy, stalker, weirdos. You’ve lost sight of reality.” The shame and embarrassment of this likely conclusion usually halts me in my tracks, keeps me from acting, keeps me from even pondering the question anymore.

I am so terrified that any further attempts to reach out will only reinforce this idea in the mind of this other person. Is that how they see me already? Would they be right in seeing me that way? Maybe so. For the longest time, I felt cheated and insulted by the idea of mere friendship. Now I am horrified that I turned my nose up at such a generous offer. After all that I have done, I don’t really even deserve that. And maybe because of those past mistakes, those egregious, selfish acts, I should resign myself to this bond being forever severed.

I’ve genuinely never felt closer to anyone, never been known so deeply by anyone, never cared to know anyone else so deeply in return. But perhaps this fixation, this constant clinging, is what has been preventing me from developing any other significant relationships. Then again, I always come back to the question: Is it even up to me? Am I even able to truly let this go, even if I decided I wanted to? It seems like right now, the best I can manage to do is go numb, to not think about it. In fact, just writing this all out has left me emotionally exhausted. I think it’s about time to stop for now.

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